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How ServiceNow is reinventing the financial close

Once a quarter, I used to do a vanishing act that any professional magician would envy. 

Along with scores of accountants worldwide, I vanished into accounting’s month-end close cycle. That’s when we take all the work that's happened organization-wide during a month and prepare for quarter-end when we prepare financial statements for stockholders, SEC regulators and the management teams. We collect data, create and input journal entries, run roll-forwards and waterfalls, monitor controls and reconcile accounts. It’s all manual, time-intensive work. To pull it off, I would disappear for days (or weeks) at a time.   Best part of all, we do this every month!

Needless to say, invisibility has its downsides. For family and friends, working late nights and weekends meant I missed out on holiday dinners and kids’ soccer games. For the enterprise, it has a negative ripple effect, slowing many finance-related workflows. And finance teams are even invisible to each other. The right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing—or what remains to be done to complete the cycle.

The finance close process is a necessity. But necessity is the mother of invention. At ServiceNow, we’ve invented a solution to take the pain out of this painstaking process— Finance Close Automation (FCA), the first app in our new ServiceNow® Financial Operations Management (FOM) product. Like all ServiceNow apps, it runs on the Now Platform®. Today, with the Now Platform New York release, we’re able to share this powerful app with customers for the first time. FCA automates key workflows within the close cycle, saving time, boosting productivity and reducing errors. It makes task ownership and management transparent, revealing hidden bottlenecks. Best of all, by making the invisible visible, it makes for happier CFOs, controllers, auditors and, especially, accountants.

It’s been an exciting journey to get to this product release. Here’s how we got there.

When accountants ‘go rogue’
Before I came to ServiceNow four and a half years ago, I had spent my whole career doing nothing but finance and accounting. I studied economics in college and spent a large portion of my life in FP&A. 

Here’s the not-so-secret secret about accounting: It’s stressful and very demanding, especially during the close cycle.

At ServiceNow though the finance team has grown over the years, we still faced challenges to effectively support the business at our rate of growth. During the monthly and quarterly close cycles, my team was pulled in a million directions. I knew we’d need to gain efficiencies in our operating model for long-term sustainability

In my role as VP of finance and corporate controller, I would attend a lot of meetings where people described ServiceNow as a task and workflow company. The dots practically connected themselves: In accounting, we do the same high volume of tasks, or simply work, with the same workflow. I spoke up as often and loudly as I could: Couldn’t we create a solution to automate the close cycle? 

Under the radar and amid growing business demands, I decided to “go rogue.”  I frequently had access to IT people to support our ERP integration. In 2015, I asked the team to start  building a solution on the Now Platform to automate our work. Did I know what I was doing? No. Bear in mind that as a corporate controller, I was a pure practitioner, not a product manager, but I had a pretty good idea of what functionality we needed. 

We started slowly and went through multiple iterations with my team, who constantly gave me feedback on what was and wasn't working. During this time, I also consulted friends at other publicly traded companies, fellow nerdy accountant-types who were happy to give their sage advice. Everyone was eager and willing to contribute because we all shared a common goal: To improve the lives of finance professionals and save them from disappearing into the void of the close cycle.

Real-time transparency—and real outcomes
After refining our financial close tool across countless iterations, the product we’re launching now is surprisingly close to what we envisioned when we started building it back in 2015. 

Previously, the close cycle at ServiceNow took roughly seven days. Twice daily we had check-in conference calls with 30 people to track where we were at in the morning and again in the afternoon. There was no such thing as real-time visibility. 

With FCA you don’t need two conference calls a day with 30 people. You just open the app and it tells you in real time who is ahead and who is behind, what is ready to be approved and what needs to be focused on, without you ever having to bother somebody. A click of a button shows you which tasks every single person owns and how far they are from completion - the best part of our solution is that we do the work in ServiceNow.  Bottlenecks are instantly transparent. Historically, if something was going wrong with the close, you would need to get on a call and ping five or six people to find the root cause. Now you can get that information in seconds.

We also use machine learning to predict where problems might occur. Do you foresee a problem on the horizon? The app proactively calculates that for you. You go from needing to be head down and reactive to truly being able to be proactive. That makes the process easier and less stressful.

Best of all, automation allows our accountants to gather and input data faster and check their work for errors in real time. That frees up time for them to focus on higher value tasks. It cuts a grueling 12-hour workday to a manageable eight hours. Thanks to this solution, we’ve been able to shave a full day off of our close cycle, and our accountants have been given time back during the close.  

As a finance nerd I prefer to let numbers tell the story. Using FCA, we’ve saved an average of 551 hours during the month-end close process. We’ve achieved a 13% increase in month-end close efficiency. We have been able to shift the equivalent of 3.7 full-time employees from manual tasks to more strategic activities.  

On the heels of our internal success with FCA, we had the chance to showcase the power of FCA with PayPal. When PayPal went live with the app, the feedback we got from them was dramatic. After their first month, they reported their fastest financial close in two and a half years. Equally if not more important, they told us their finance employees were much, much happier.

As part of a strategic agreement, Deloitte is the Lead Launch Partner for ServiceNow’s Finance Operations Management product. With Deloitte’s background and expertise in the world of finance, they’ll help customers to realize the benefits of FCA.

FCA is just the beginning.  We want to create a connected suite to leverage digital automation to ease finance workloads for many of the core processes within the office of the CFO. That is our roadmap for the future. The roadmap starts today by bringing visibility to accountants who too often disappear into the darkness of the close cycle.



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