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October 24, 2016updated 26 Oct 2016 4:49pm

Overcoming legacy resistance to move accounting to the cloud

Automating trivial tasks in accounting can free up staff time for more valuable jobs.

By James Nunns

One of the great benefits coming out from the advances made in technology is its ability to automate the mundane and trivial tasks that are often extremely time consuming and bring little value.

The automation of these tasks can help to free up staff to do more valuable jobs.

BlackLine, which bills itself as the unified cloud for accounting and finance, is a company that is aimed at moving businesses past their legacy systems to modern systems.

CBR’s James Nunns spoke to Mario Spanicciati, Chief Strategy Officer, BlackLine, about what BlackLine is and what it hopes to achieve. 


JN: Describe your solution in technical terms

MS: “BlackLine is a completely cloud-based solution that connects with ERP systems via FTP transfers, web services, and purpose-built “connectors” to deliver two-way

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Mario Spanicciati, Chief Strategy Officer, BlackLine.

Mario Spanicciati, Chief Strategy Officer, BlackLine.

integration. BlackLine’s platform allows companies to integrate any and all of their ERP systems within a single platform that unifies financial close and account reconciliation processes whether they are using one system or multiple on-premise and cloud-based ERPs.

“Accounting processes executed in BlackLine, including adjusting journal entries, intercompany transactions, and open items clearing can also be automatically sent back to ERP systems so all information is up to date and accurate, everywhere. BlackLine’s platform embeds workflow management features across the platform to track work progress, maintain segregation of duties, escalate alerts, and ensure auditability of processes and results.

“Lastly, BlackLine has built a patent-pending reporting framework that can instantly process millions of records at a time directly onscreen. Everyone from a staff accountant to the CFO can build custom reports on a controlled environment – not in spreadsheet – to meet their unique needs for management and financial reporting.”


JN: What problem does it solve/opportunity does it create?

MS: “BlackLine was created to automate repetitive finance and accounting tasks to liberate accountants to focus on more strategic pursuits and realise their potential as real business partners. Finance departments can move beyond outdated processes and point solutions to a real-time automation, where controls and period-end tasks are embedded within day-to-day activities – ensuring more accurate and insightful financial statements and an efficient financial close.

“CFOs and FDs are under an increasing pressure to not only complete what is perceived as their ‘traditional’ role, but in times of economic uncertainty, businesses look to CFOs and FDs to make strategic decisions to help balance the business. This coupled with the added compliance pressures mounting up for CFOs and FDs, it is no surprise that the finance market is looking to automation to alleviate some of this, and also power-up the finance department to become a finance specialist– rather than be a number-pusher stereotype.”


JN: Why is it unique?

MS: “BlackLine is unique as it provides a holistic approach to something which has been complex and task-heavy – on a basic level, it replaces Excel whilst making finance workers’ lives easier, something which the market hasn’t been able to crack yet.”


JN: What language is it built in?

MS: “BlackLine is available in 16 languages.”


JN: Which best describes your technology: It is a cloud solution. It is a SaaS solution. It is a third party platform solution

MS: “It is a cloud platform with solutions offered as Saas.”


JN: Describe the culture of your company

MS: “Trying to avoid the cliché of ‘customer first’ but this is actually true in the case of BlackLine. Our CEO, Therese Tucker first created the concept of BlackLine when a customer described how difficult it was to track who owned what reconciliations in a spreadsheet.

“That was the sparking-point for an entirely new market around replacing spreadsheet-driven processes with software that provides enhanced control and automation for accounting and finance departments. Even though we now have 1,500+ customers in over 120 countries, we still believe we have the straight-forward thinking and process-driven approach that you would usually associate with a green, new company.

“This is our mantra across the business, so a fresh, open and straight-forward approach is what you will find at BlackLine.”


JN: What do you see as the biggest challenge to your market in the next six-months?

MS: “The biggest challenge we face, and will continue to do so over the next six-months, is resistance to change, to move away from what they have been doing for years and to place their trust in modern systems.

“Businesses are aware of compliance pressures, performance and strategy pressures, but ultimately if they are not prepared from a cultural perspective, they will continue running-up to the same issues day-in, day-out – month-in, month-out.

Accounting reconcilliation software from BlackLine.

Accounting reconcilliation software from BlackLine.

“That is fine if a business is happy to have their finance department work overtime at the end of month, each month, without fail – we are starting to see businesses wake-up to the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way, but culture change is always a barrier for some businesses.”


JN: What are the challenges you see around technology adoption within your market?

MS: “The finance department isn’t always traditionally seen as an early adopter of new technology. The current economic outlook – including Brexit impact – has meant that businesses are still conscious of keeping a close focus on technology investment and utilisation, plus the age-old security challenge, but those who have experienced the benefits of finance automation in previous roles are pushing for similar changes to be made in new settings – as the instant benefits outweigh the initial reservation.”


JN: What is the biggest challenge – humans or technology – within the IT infrastructure?

MS: “It is a catch 22 situation as without the technology, humans cannot embrace automation but without true end-user engagement, technology cannot reach its full potential.”


JN: Who is your target end-user and what keeps them awake at night?

MS: “Our target end-user is the CFO or FD of mid-sized to enterprise level business based either in one or several global regions. One thing that can keep our end-user awake at night, especially if they are from a global business, is compliance, control and transparency.

Handling the specific compliance regulations – both understanding and complying – plus having the granular visibility on financial processes can cause a massive headache for a global CFO or FD. Not only will this keep them awake at night, it will also make their job near impossible as, in theory, it would be similar to trying to complete finance processes blindfolded!”

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