What Is Continuous Accounting?

Elizabeth Milne

Continuous accounting is a paradigm shift for finance professionals responsible for closing the books and producing financial statements. “The way we’ve always done it” is to wait until period end, work long hours, and get the end of the period reporting done. This traditional way of doing things is based on repeating what’s been done period after period in the past. The reports are getting done so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Change is hard.

The concept of continuous accounting is not waiting until the end of the period to execute the multiple tasks that need to happen to close the books. With the advancements in technology over the past years, it is now possible to execute tasks required for the close throughout the period. Similar to the concept of a soft close, continuous accounting provides better visibility into financial results throughout the period – live and in real time.

This does not replace the need for a hard close. The annual report sent to stockholders should not change each time the reader opens it. The core essence of financial reports is a snapshot at a specific period of time. However, being able to have better insight sooner into what that snapshot is likely to be can provide great value.

Certain accounting needs to happen during the end of the period, but much can be accomplished earlier than typically executed. Intercompany reconciliation is an example of a task that can be now run throughout the period. Historically, corporate processes would be the bottleneck as subsidiaries would need to wait until period end for them to collect and run matching reports, which were then returned to the subsidiaries that would then reconcile among themselves, make corrections, resubmit, and then run the matching reports again. With the technology that’s available today, subsidiaries can see their intercompany activity along with their intercompany trading partner’s activity throughout the period. This approach eliminates the need to wait until the end of the period to ensure they are in balance. This is just one example of tasks that can be distributed throughout the period, including account balance reconciliation and attesting, certain accruals, review of equity accounts that are expected not to change, and certain allocations.

The period-end closed is not going away anytime soon. The concept of a real-time consolidation during the period will not provide a complete picture as there is much activity that still happens. But it can start the provide a picture of what is going to come.

Change is hard, and this type of change requires technology change as well as process change. It is a different way of doing things, but the benefits outweigh the pain of change. Lightening the workload at a period-end close speeds the close and contributes to better work/life balance. Additionally, the finance department can provide more accurate visibility into the financial position earlier in the period, enabling better operational decisions that impact the business sooner.

The period-end close and reporting is required, speeding that close is desired, and continuous accounting is inspired and admired.

Learn more about this approach and why it’s important for your business. Watch the replay of our SAP CFO Strategic Webinar: “Continuous Accounting.” And read more in our Continuous Accounting Series. 

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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Elizabeth Milne

About Elizabeth Milne

Elizabeth Milne has over 20 years of experience improving the software solutions for multi-national, multi-billion dollar organizations. Her finance career began working at Walt Disney, then Warner Bros. in the areas of financial consolidation, budgeting, and financial reporting. She subsequently moved to the software industry and has held positions including implementation consultant and manager, account executive, pre-sales consultant, solution management team at SAP, Business Objects and Cartesis. She graduated with an Executive MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. In 2014 she published her first book “Accelerated Financial Closing with SAP.” She currently manages the accounting and financial close portfolio for SAP Product Marketing. You can follow her on twitter @ElizabethEMilne

The CFO Role In 2020

Estelle Lagorce

African American businessman looking out office window --- Image by © Mark Edward Atkinson/Blend Images/CorbisThe role of the CFO is undergoing a serious transformation, and CFOs can expect their role to continue to evolve, according to a recent CFO.com article by Deloitte COO and CFO Frank Friedman.

In the futurist article, Friedman says one of the biggest factors that will contribute to the CFO’s significant change over the next five years is technology.

Digital technology is obviously expected to drive change in high-tech companies, but Friedman says it’s industries outside of the tech sectors that are of particular interest, as they struggle to understand how to grasp and harness the digital capabilities available to them.

Working with high tech in low-tech industries

Five years from now, a finance team may be defined by how well it uses technology and innovative business tools, regardless of what industry it’s in. The article outlines some examples of ways that digital technology will increasingly be used by CFOs in “non-tech” sectors:

  • Predictive analytics: CFOs in manufacturing companies can forecast results and produce revenue predictions based on customer-experience profiles and current demand, instead of comparing to previous years as most companies still do today.
  • Social media and crowdsourcing: You may not think CFOs spend a lot of time on social media or crowdsourcing sites, but these methods can actually expedite finance processes, such as month-end responsibilities of the finance organization.
  • Big Data: CFOs already have a lot of data at their fingertips, but in 2020 they will have even more. CFOs in both tech and non-tech sectors who understand how to use that data to make valuable, informed decisions, can strategically guide their company and industry in a more digitally oriented world.

To do this, Friedman says CFOs can lead the way by addressing some critical areas:

  1. Know the issues: Gather the key questions that leaders expect Big Data analytics to answer.
  1. Make data easily accessible: Collect data that is manageable and easy to access.
  1. Broaden skills: The finance team needs people with the skills to understand and strategically interpret the data available to them.

The tech-savvy CFO

The role of today’s CFO has already expanded to include strategic corporate growth advice as well as managing the bottom line. In 2020, Friedman says expectations placed on the CFO are presumed to be even greater, and CFOs will likely need a much more diverse, multidisciplinary skill set to meet those demands.

The article details several traits and skills that CFOs will need in order to keep up with the pace of digital change in their role.

  1. Digital knowledge: CFOs must be tech-savvy in order to capitalize on technical innovations that will benefit their company and their industry as a whole.
  1. Data-driven execution: CFOs will need the ability to execute company strategy and operations decisions based on data-driven insights.
  1. Regulatory compliance: Regulations continue to be more stringent globally, so CFOs will need to be proficient at working closely with regulators and compliance systems.
  1. Risk management: With the growing global economy comes increased cyber and geopolitical risks worldwide. The CFOs of 2020, especially those in large multinational organizations, will need to have the expertise to monitor and manage risk in areas that may be unforeseen today.

The future CFO’s well-rounded resume

By 2020, the CFO role will require much more than just an accounting background. According to Deloitte’s Frank Friedman, “CFOs may need to bring a much more multidisciplinary skill set to the job as well as broader career experiences, from working overseas to holding positions in sales and marketing, and even running a business unit.”

So if you’re a current or aspiring CFO, you have five years to round out your resume with the necessary skills to be ready for the digitally driven role of the CFO in 2020.

The above information is based on the CFO.com article What Will the CFO Role Look Like In 2020?” by Deloitte COO & CFO, Frank Friedman – Copyright © 2015 CFO.com.

Want to learn more about best practices for transforming your finance organization? View the SAP/Deloitte Webinar, “Reshaping the Finance Function”.

For an in-depth look at digital technology’s role in business transformation, download the SAP eBook, The Digital Economy: Reinventing the Business World.

To learn more about the business and technology factors driving digital disruption, download the SAP eBook, Digital Disruption: How Digital Technology is Transforming Our World.

To read more CFO insights from a tech industry perspective, read the Wall Street Journal article with SAP CFO Luka Mucic: Driving Insight with In-memory Technology.

Discover 7 Questions CFOs Should Ask Themselves About Cyber Security.

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Estelle Lagorce

About Estelle Lagorce

Estelle Lagorce is the Director, Global Partner Marketing, at SAP. She leads the global planning, successful implementation and business impact of integrated marketing programs with top global Strategic Partner across priority regions and countries (demand generation, thought leadership).

Get Your Payables House In Order

Chris Rauen

First of 8 blogs in the series

Too many organizations ignore the business potential from streamlining accounts payable operations. In a digital economy, however, this may represent one of the best opportunities to improve financial performance and boost the bottom line.

In its recent report, E-Payables 2015: Higher Ground, the research and advisory firm Ardent Partners made a strong case for accounts payable transformation. “In 2015, more AP groups are accelerating their plans to transform their operations and scale to new heights,” states the report.

The digital makeover

From a payables perspective, how you go about fixing outdated procure-to-pay (P2P) practices is much like the decision to improve an aging home. Do you tear your house down and build a new one, or leverage as much of the existing structure as you can and begin a major home improvement project?

There is, of course, a third option. Take no action and make calls to plumbers, electricians, roofers, and other specialists as needed before the house falls apart altogether. While few organizations would consider a “triage” strategy the best option to address deficiencies in P2P operations, many still do. (Just don’t share that with your CFO.)

This blog post is the first in a series that will examine options for upgrading procure-to-pay processes from outclassed to best-in-class. Continuing to focus time and effort on managing transactions just doesn’t make sense. With today’s business networks, organizations have new ways to collaborate with suppliers and other partners to buy, sell, and manage cash.

Automation handles low-value activities, eliminating data entry, exception management, and payment status phone calls. That leaves more time for benchmarking operations, monitoring supplier performance, expanding early payment discounts, and improving management of working capital – the kinds of things that can dramatically improve business performance.

Where do you start?

To begin, you have to recognize that getting your payables house in order is much more than a process efficiency initiative. While cost savings from e-invoicing can be 60% to 80% lower than paper invoicing, there’s much more to the business case.

Improving contract compliance and expanding early payment discounts are other components of a business case for P2P transformation. According to various procure-to-pay research studies and Ariba customer results, the cost savings from getting your payables house in order are conservatively estimated to be $10 million per billion collars of spend. We’ll break down these ROI components in greater detail in future posts on this topic.

The value of alignment

Another important first step, validated by the Ardent Partners report, is getting procurement and finance-accounts payables in alignment. As this is a holistic process, you’ll need to make sure that both organizations are in sync, and you have support from upper management to make it happen.

Now, back to the question: Do you approach a payables makeover to support P2P transformation as a tear-down or a fixer-upper? If your procurement-accounts payable teams are out of alignment, your P2P processes are predominantly paper, and decentralized buying leaves little control over spend, you’re looking at a tear-down to lay the foundation for best practices payables. We’ll share a blueprint with you in the next post in this series.

Chris Rauen is a solution marketer for Ariba, an SAP company. He regularly contributes to topics including e-invoicing and dynamic discounting as well as the value of collaborating in a digital economy. 

Learn more about how to take your payables to the next level of performance in Ardent Partners’ research report “E-Payables 2015: Higher Ground.

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Chris Rauen

About Chris Rauen

In his role at SAP Ariba, Chris Rauen educates procurement, finance, and shared services professionals on the business value of accounts payable automation, procure-to-pay transformation, and collaboration via business networks. Chris has addressed these topics at finance and shared services conferences, in articles for trade and business publications, and in blogs for online communities. Chris has more than 15 years of experience in e-payables, and holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

Link to Sources


From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Blockchain: Thoughts On The "Next Big Thing"

Ross Doherty

Many people associate blockchain with bitcoin—which is, at least for today, the most common application to leverage blockchain. However, when you dig a little deeper and consider the core concepts of blockchain—distribution, consensus achieved by algorithm rather than opinion, cryptographically secure, private—you start to think about how these aspects can be applied, both technically and strategically, to solve problems simple and  complex. Blockchain is neither a product nor a system – instead, it is a concept.

Blockchain applications disrupt conventional thinking and conventional approaches regarding data processing, handling, and storage. First we had the “move to the cloud,” and many were cautious and even frightened of what it meant to move their systems, infrastructure, and data to a platform outside their organization’s four walls. Compound this with blockchain in its purest form—a distributed and possibly shared resource—and you can see why many may be reluctant.

My sentiment, however, is a little different. Creating a solid basis that harnesses the concepts of blockchain with sufficient thought leadership and knowledge-sharing, along with a pragmatic and open-minded approach to problem-solving, can lead to innovative and disruptive outcomes and solid solutions for customers. Blockchain should not be feared, but rather rationalized and demystified, with the goal of making it someday as ubiquitous as the cloud. Blockchain should not be pigeonholed into a specific industry or use case—it is much more that, and it should be much more than that.

Grounding ourselves momentarily, allow me to relay some ideas from both within the enterprise and customers regarding possible use cases for blockchain technology: From placing blockchain at the core of business networks for traceability and auditability, to a way for ordinary people to easily and cheaply post a document as part of a patent process; a way to counteract bootlegging and counterfeiting in commodity supply chain, a way to add an additional layer of security to simple email exchange; from electronic voting systems through to medial record storage. The beauty of blockchain is that its application can scale as big as your imagination allows.

Blockchain is not the staple of the corporate, nor is it limited to grand and expansive development teams—most of the technology is open source, public, and tangible to everyone. It is not an exclusive or expert concept, prohibitive in terms of cost or resource. Blockchain is a new frontier, largely unmined and full of opportunity.

In closing, I invite you to invest some time to do what I did when I first encountered the concept and needed to better understand it. Plug “Blockchain explained simply” (or words to that effect) into your preferred search engine. Find the article that best speaks to you—there are plenty online. Once you get it (and I promise you will) and experience your “eureka!” moment, start to think how blockchain and its concepts might help you solve a business or technical problem.

For more insight on blockchain, see Blockchain’s Value Underestimated, Despite The Hype.

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Ross Doherty

About Ross Doherty

Ross Doherty is a manager in the SAP Innovative Business Solutions team, based in Galway, Ireland. Ross’s team’s focus is in the domain of Business Networks and Innovation. Ross is proud to lead a talented and diverse team of pre-sales, integration, quality management, user assistance and solution architects, and to be serving SAP for almost 4 years.