Closing the books faster: Learn how our very own accounting and finance team uses ACL technology.

Published | Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017


Here at ACL, we’re all about “drinking our own champagne.” We don’t (usually) start the workday with mimosas, but we’re always looking for cool new ways to apply our own technology to the business. We sat down with ACL’s Corporate Controller, Adrienne Taylor, to explore how she and her finance and accounting teams use ACL to ease those month-end pains and close the books faster and more accurately.

We know that Accounting and Finance—even at ACL—loves spreadsheets! How are you integrating ACL gear in your day-to-day work?

Adrienne: I do indeed love spreadsheets! But ACL software brings something different to the table: it’s all about automating daily processes and reports, to give me a sense of what’s happening in the business. Basically, it frees up my team to focus on closing out the month end, instead of pulling multi-system data reports or doing repetitive tasks.

Let’s get right into how it saves you time. Can you give us an example?

Adrienne: Every day, our ACL Platform pulls outstanding purchase card (P-card) expense data from our accounting system and gathers it into a visual dashboard. In a glance, I can see a total dollar amount for not-yet-approved expenses and determine whether this figure exceeds our key performance indicator (KPI). It’s all color-coded and there are bubbles for each employee. I can immediately see whether it’s time for email follow-up, or decide what action I need to take.

Did you have this kind of P-card report before?

Adrienne: Yes and no. We always monitored P-cards, but our previous process was laborious. I had to pull the data into a spreadsheet, combine tables and use lookups to gather employee names, make a pivot table, and then copy the pivot table to sort the data in multiple ways. (It’s tiring just saying it). It was a minimum of 20 to 30-minute process, so I couldn’t do it every day—and it was tough to track the follow-ups. And without a set process, I felt like I wasn’t always fair or consistent about issuing warnings or escalating problems … not that any ACL employees EVER need warnings.

No. Of course not. And now how does your P-card process work?

Adrienne: I track everything in the dashboard and send personal emails for follow-up. But, in a larger or more complex organization, it would be awesome (and simple) to build a quick workflow that sends automated emails, escalates follow-ups and copies managers in the process. I know that’s easy with ACL technology, I just haven’t taken the leap because I prefer a more personal touch.

What else are you doing with the ACL Platform to help clear your plate so you can focus on closing the books?

Adrienne: We’ve set up a daily dashboard for our Accounts Receivable and Day Sales Outstanding (DSO) reports. The ACL Platform pulls the data overnight—and these are the first two numbers I review while my email loads when I arrive every morning.

The DSO dashboard shows digital heat maps divided by region and customer type, which is helpful for an international company like ours. I can see which parts of the world I need to target and then follow up with the appropriate team member or sales manager.

With AR, I used to rely on my team to share any problems or growing issues. I trust them implicitly, but I also worried that I wouldn’t see the full picture. Now I can view a regional and global spread of any overdue accounts. It’s all laid out in a bubble chart and I can immediately narrow in on what matters. I feel confident that we’re working on the accounts that are material to our company.

What else does ACL technology help you to accomplish?

Adrienne: The dashboards are clear and easy to quickly understand. They’re easy to share with our CEO and senior management, and instead of explaining what they’re seeing, they have a clear, real-time picture of where our risks lie. It eliminates a lot of the noise.

On our side, my team and I know where to spend our time and energy, what to focus on, and we know we’re not shooting in the dark. We have full oversight and we generally feel less overwhelmed. And we can address any issues long before they turn into risks that appear on our CEO’s dashboard! We love that, and she loves that across the business, we’re able to row together in the same direction for maximum power.

What other ACL projects do you have up your sleeve?

Adrienne: My next project is to start using analytics to check credit limits. It would be helpful to see when customers are outside those limits and whether an increase is warranted, or if we need to rein it in. I also want to tackle budget-to-actuals. A simple chart with a blue bar for budget and red bar for expenditures would be super helpful. We could compare by department and share the chart with each manager, who could then track trends and drill down to see the details—which would help our teams manage their spend with clear visibility, and less meetings.

I’d also like to ensure employees are using our corporate travel agent for every booking, which is an ACL travel policy. We know some exceptions are justified, but the analytics would make it easy to spot them, document the reasons, and ultimately close them out.

I think our Financial Planning and Analysis team would also benefit from using ACL gear. Anytime you’re doing the same activities each month, there’s an opportunity to automate the reporting and spend your time exclusively on the analysis. That’s where accounting and finance professionals really add value—not in making tables, graphs and reports (which is often where our time is unfortunately spent).

Okay, last question. What are your top three wins with ACL gear that you want to shout from the rooftops? You might be slightly biased, but you’re also our Controller so I know you’ll give it to us straight.    

Adrienne: OK. First: streamlining tasks and eliminating busy work. Anything you do consistently or repetitively, ACL can automate. It saves time and frees you up to focus on meaningful activities. Sometimes I used to feel like our team was always playing catch-up. Now we’re on top of those key areas. Full oversight builds confidence—both in terms of how you’re doing the job, and in knowing you’re not missing something important.

Second: there’s a big ROI. Some of the testing and analytics require upfront time to build and optimize, but they really pay off in the long run. We’ve saved so much energy and frustration. Sure, there was a little trial and error, and I know that ACL Essentials analysis apps would have given us immediate wins—like plug-and-play Travel and Entertainment (T&E) expense analysis, for example. In my case, I wanted to dig into the scripting myself, but Essentials is also a great, plug-and-play way to get started quickly.

Third: stronger relationships with our CEO and Board. There’s deeper trust and a sense that we’re a relied-upon partner, not a back office department. We can deliver the information our leadership needs in a format that’s quickly understood. Even though we’re inside ACL, having a clear way to demonstrate our work is so nice. We’re not just grinding out reports, but providing contextual data to help senior management run the business. I have to say, that feels really good—and we are feeling the senior leadership love.

 

Need an “easy button” for 24/7 oversight risk and health? Learn about how ACL Essentials can continuously monitor your transactional data here.

 

Written by: Adrienne Taylor, Financial Controller, ACL

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