Accenture operates its business on a single, global instance of SAP® applications such as SAP S/4HANA® for its internal business functions. This posture enabled Accenture to establish a single financial close process, an effort that began from the ground up. A team from Accenture Finance and Accenture's global IT organization focused on rethinking the key components of organization and people, processes and technology.
Strengthened the organization
The first step was to strengthen the organization by creating governance around the financial close process. Governance starts with the steering committee, which includes the corporate controller, global IT leadership and key business stakeholders, and sets direction on the close schedule and processes. A financial close operating committee was also established, representing Accenture’s global functional process areas, to ensure an end-to-end close process view that is integrated and owned by the business.
This step was followed by the formalization of a dedicated, centralized financial close team. This team is responsible for providing day-to-day oversight to the planning and execution of the financial close process, managing the toolset, measuring performance and driving continuous improvement. An important decision during this process was shifting accountability for the content of the financial close from IT to the business.
The final major step was adopting a follow-the-sun approach for executing the close process. This model enables financial close teams to be spread across Accenture’s geographies, allowing the financial close process to run on a 24/6 basis rather than be restricted to US time-zone hours.
The financial close team, together with Accenture’s SAP Finance Transformation domain, applied leading financial practices to industrialize the financial close processes. They focused on enhancing automation, schedule management, incident management and performance measurement processes.
Automation. The financial close team is automating manual and execution-related activities using commercially available tools, such as BlackLine Smart Close. Activities automated include SAP batch processes, validations that were previously manual, communications and close-related status reporting. As a result, 85 percent of the close playbook-related activities are now automated.
Schedule management. The critical first step in industrializing the schedule management process was the development of the financial close playbook. It contains approximately 3,000 automated IT and business tasks that need to be executed throughout the close process, together with their dependencies and timing. Those tasks spanned the financial close process and expanded to include interdependent, critical business processes such as time and expense, management reporting, and forecasting and budgeting. The global process functional area leads are held accountable for that schedule.
The team implemented subsequent processes to establish the upcoming schedule early—up to six weeks in advance, taking into consideration weekends and geographic-based holidays and working-hour schedules that led to a much more predictable schedule. The financial close playbook is then locked one month out. This approach drives stability in operations and work schedule/life balance expectations for Accenture people. The team also operates to a plan that limits members to the business hours of where they are located, but also work as required to meet service level objectives, which include contingency. A tight change control process forces discussions to limit unforeseen consequences.
Finally, a comprehensive communications approach was developed that provides clear, precise and timely information on the close schedule and availability of reports to users.
Incident management. With a better understanding of critical-path milestones in the financial close playbook, the teams could better prioritize the severity of incidents based on time-to-business impact. The incident management process was further enhanced by defining better escalation steps. It was also enhanced by ensuring the right level of leadership was driving the corrective measures, root-cause analysis, preventative actions and recovery options to modify the financial close playbook that minimize impacts to the close schedule. A robust incident management playbook enables the team to manage issues with defined escalation principles.
Performance measurement. The financial close team introduced a performance measurement process for operating the financial close capability and to serve as a baseline for continuous improvement. Three primary metrics were rolled out that assessed whether 1) service level objectives were met (reports delivered on time), 2) support teams operated to their internal plans, and 3) the close schedule contained sufficient contingency time to manage issues and support future growth. Establishing this process later confirmed the importance of achieving process excellence through well-defined processes first as input to IT design and development rather than immediately implementing new technologies.