Financial close used to mean longer days and working occasional weekends for ServiceNow’s Finance teams, but a new app has flipped the script.
Accountants are all about numbers, and the numbers for ServiceNow’s new Finance Close Automation (FCA) app, the first of our Finance Operations Management products, are nothing if not impressive. The app, which is available on the Now Platform® with the New York release, delivers transparency and automation and helps reduce the inherit risks associated with one of the most critical processes in the office of the CFO, the month-end close.
The month-end close has historically been a highly manual, low-visibility process. FCA automates tasks by leveraging our digital workflows and integrations to SAP and Oracle. We complement the ERP solutions and in doing so, reduce the inherent risk of the close process.
Using the app in-house, our finance teams saw a 13% increase in efficiency, saved over 550 hours and shaved nearly a day off of our month-end close. Thanks to automation, the equivalent of nearly four full-time employees have been able to shift their focus from manual tasks to higher value work.
But behind the numbers are people—and for them, the upside of Finance Close goes beyond key performance indicators. Pre-app, teams worked across a tangle of siloed systems without transparency. Accountants sacrificed Saturdays and Sundays to meet unmissable deadlines. And then, like clockwork, the cycle would begin again, often leading to employee burnout.
To gauge the personal impact of Finance Close, we asked three ServiceNow Finance veterans to describe how the app has made their jobs—and lives—a lot easier.
Fireworks on the 4th—finally
Jessica Tobin, Senior Manager of Finance, Strategy and Operations
For years when I was on the accounting team, we didn't get the 4th of July off because it falls on the Q2 close. It's not a major life event, but it’s usually a nice long weekend that most non-accountants get to enjoy — barbecues, friends, and fireworks. Given the tight reporting deadlines and long close process, until we could show we could condense our close enough to not miss our reporting deadlines, we needed to work through that weekend.
During close, we worked seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day. What we learned through this process of developing FCA is that much of that time was spent on non-value-added activities. Every task involved working in multiple systems: checklists, SAP, email, document repositories, etc., which adds a surprising amount of time to the close process.
The Finance Close application offered a single source of engagement to complete the close. The team was excited to see how the application improved their efficiency. Just being able to integrate these tasks into one application, we saved 290 hours a month. When we added in integration with the ERP, we saved another 180 hours. Additionally, the visibility provided through the portal gave the managers comfort on where we really stood during the close process.
With the addition of the Finance Close automation and some operational process improvements, in 2016, we were able to condense our close by 1.5 days and provide the visibility needed to make management comfortable enough to give the team the 4th of July weekend off. It may seem small, but things like this keep your employees happy and reduce attrition. I couldn’t imagine going through a close without this application.
Breaking the email chain
Ting Jiang, Senior Revenue Accountant
I’ve been with ServiceNow for four and a half years. Before the Finance Close Automation application, we did our work on spreadsheets, over email, in our internal ServiceNow instance and in the ERP, all of these separate systems. When we finished a task, we needed to email team members to update the closing status. It was really inefficient and took so much time during the tight closing period. I also knew team members might be busy and it was a constant struggle about how much to check in without annoying people but, at the same time, getting my job done. It was hard to balance that.
Now everything is done in one system. Everyone can sign in and enter their status and I can log in and review the work. The layout of the app is very user-friendly and shows me which tasks are overdue, which are final, and what percentage we have completed. And all the close tasks are listed based on different functional groups, so people can also reach out and check information on other teams very easily. It has shortened our work hours and given us more time with our families.
I can now have normal weekends during month-end close which usually falls on school holidays. My kids want to say thanks for that as well. Communication goes much more smoothly and there are a lot fewer emails back and forth. That alone is a little change, but it makes a big difference. It makes the world of work, work better for us.
No more birthday blues
Amir Jafari, VP and GM, Finance Business Unit
My wife’s birthday is July 16, and unfortunately that is a quarter-end close, specifically Q2. For the last 13 years, it’s become a norm that we would not be able to celebrate her birthday until the close was done.
Chief Accounting Officers and Corporate Controllers are responsible for the month-end close. It doesn't matter which industry you’re in or what your company size is. The complexity may be different, but it's the same structure. We have to make sure our financial statements are correct. We have to make sure that our controls are attested to, from a risk perspective. We have to make sure that our teams have completed all their work and that we never miss our deadlines.
Besides missing my wife’s birthday, I also have three young sons who play soccer, and there were many occasions where I missed a game or tournament because of the conflicts with closing our books. After Christmas, when other families were taking ski trips to Tahoe, I was at my desk preparing for the year-end close. When you're missing time with your family, you’re going to feel bad in the long run. Many people may get used to it, but I wouldn’t say that anybody is ever happy about it.
When I had a chance to build and use Finance Close, it completely changed everything I did on a day-to-day basis. Instead of having to sit behind my desk to complete a close cycle, I could be at my son’s soccer game and monitor what's happening on my phone. The system gave me the ability to, in essence, search for any content and information I needed from anywhere. That’s given me the freedom to spend more time with my family and ensure that our books are closed on time!
To read more about how ServiceNow uses Finance Close Automation, read the case study.