Any organisation that exists for hundreds of years will experience more than a few technological changes. Australia Post has gone from horse-delivered mail to using cars and motorbikes to incorporating aircraft. Its internal accounting operation has had to adapt, too.
“When I joined, our reconciliation process wasn’t centralised, which made it hard to change and also hard to review, control and audit,” says Catherine Phan, Australia Post’s senior manager of general accounting.
“We were also using Excel for most things and having to copy and paste data and then store it back on the network drive. Considering the amount of data sources we have, it made everything quite tedious.”
How BlackLine was introduced
Australia Post wanted to bring in BlackLine, a unified cloud technology for accounts and finance, that would automate those tedious tasks, and centralise and streamline reconciliation processes so that everyone saw the same data. But Phan knew the technology alone wasn’t enough.
“Any change is difficult, especially when you’re trying to change processes people are used to. A key lesson to making it work is getting buy-in from the team first.”
“Any change is difficult, especially when you’re trying to change processes people are used to.”
To do this, she didn’t approach her team with a finalised pitch of what they were going to do.
“Instead, we arranged a number of workshops to give people an opportunity to talk about the current process and its pain points.”
These initial problem-focused workshops were replaced by meetings that discussed possible solutions, change impacts and set out measurable outcomes. The agreement was that the team could leverage technology to become more focused on analytical and problem-solving activities.
Why properly managing change is important
Michael Shultz was once a BlackLine customer and his memories of bringing the technology on mirror Phan’s. He says it’s risky to not properly manage change.
“If you say to your people, ‘We’re going to use this automation tool to take work off of your plate’ – and you don’t let them be part of that journey – one of the things I’ve often heard in response is, ‘Are you going to automate me out of a job?’”
Shultz is now director of strategic accounting and solutions marketing at BlackLine. He says its platform makes ‘change journeys’ more appealing.
Phan agrees, saying that BlackLine offered quick wins, including going paperless, automated routine work, powerful reporting tools and a streamlined auditing process.
“We used to have to sit down with auditors as they flipped through all of our paper,” she says. “Now it’s all in BlackLine.”
BlackLine lets accountants evolve their roles
The key to the success of any technology or change initiative lies in making a fundamental difference to the way accountants work, says Shultz.
“One of the biggest benefits I see with our customers is the ability to evolve their roles within their organisations,” he says. “The technology really allows you to leave the weeds and be that business partner, that person that can work with marketing, sales, research and development, and so on, because now you have time.”
What was revolutionary in accounting less than a generation ago has become outdated. And, as BlackLine’s platform highlights, innovations aren’t exactly stopping.
“From a long-term perspective, we will continue to use BlackLine and automation to improve our processes going forward,” says Phan. “If we have a problem, we talk to BlackLine and ask them about what features and templates they might have that we haven’t yet utilised.”
Grabbing the future of accounting with both hands isn’t just smart, says Shultz, it’s mandatory.
“Manual accounting is not sustainable,” he says. “At one point there was paper accounting that was handwritten, then we moved into spreadsheets, and now we're at that next stage.”
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BlackLine has developed a guide to help you establish your vision for a transformed finance function and map out an achievable path to get there. To get your copy of the blueprint, click here.