By Aarti Mohan, Oracle’s MEA ERPM Strategy Leader

“I’d love to have everything touchless and close the books in one day, so that we can use the commodity of our people to do what they were hired to do.” – Lisa Blackwood-Kapral, Chief Accounting Officer, Lyft

The above quote is one of my favourites from the Oracle Cloud ERP Virtual Summit. I love it because it’s visionary and ambitious. A touchless close in one day? It sounds too good to be true. Yet it’s precisely the goal that leading finance teams aim for, month by month, step by step.

As companies contemplate their next big move, from embracing new business models to capitalising on acquisitions or divestitures, they can’t afford to be slowed down by manual processes and inaccuracies. An automated close that connects stakeholders and systems is critical for getting timely, accurate information into the hands of decision-makers.

With that in mind, let’s look at five best practices that can help speed up your journey to an automated financial close.

Best practice #1: Address the extended financial close process

It’s important to address the ‘extended’ financial close, which can include the subledger close, identifying irregularities and errors, account reconciliation, tax provision, and submitting filings to the appropriate regulatory body. It’s impossible to improve and automate the financial close process without a clear understanding of dependencies and task durations.

Best practice #2: Focus on key improvements to streamline and connect

Once the entire close process is understood and documented, finance can focus on the areas that can be simplified, standardised, and connected. Consider areas where there are repetitive or lengthy tasks, such as inter-company eliminations, account reconciliation, cash flow, foreign exchange, and minority interest.

Best practice #3: Create a shared, detailed close schedule

It’s critical to share and track the close process anytime. Visible dashboards, often delivered as part of cloud solutions, help improve collaboration and provide timelines. Visibility and predictability are crucial to executives and stakeholders.

Best practice #4: Use intelligent process automation (IPA) and machine learning to improve the extended close

IPA can significantly improve many tasks in accounting and finance that are currently manual, such as account reconciliations, financial close process management, and statutory reporting. IPA is considered the next evolution in robotic process automation (RPA). It layers in artificial intelligence; can observe and analyse data, its history, and its context; can identify new patterns or recommend new rules; suggests how existing rules can be reconfigured to be more efficient – and then applies human judgment.

IPA can also help automate much of the close orchestration and track the status of task completion across multiple systems, automatically kick off close processes as soon as dependent tasks are completed, and update the close calendar so you can stay apprised of where you are in the financial close process.

Best practice #5: Provide timely, self-service reporting

Getting timely and accurate information to decision-makers is the ultimate objective. It’s a best practice to deliver flash and automated reporting in a self-service system where users have secure, remote, 24/7 access. Decisionmakers will appreciate the interactive dashboards and the ability to get information ad-hoc. Finally, take a collaborative approach so contributors can provide commentary and see the progress of financial and management report packages.

Some final tips

Look for areas where there are constant delays and figure out why. Are there constant system kick-outs due to improperly mapped transactions? Are there task dependencies that rely on one person or are not clearly managed? Areas with highly manual or error-prone tasks (such as importing or exporting data via spreadsheets) could be improved with integration or enterprise data management (EDM) solutions.

An automated and connected financial close can help finance teams provide faster, more accurate, and transparent reporting. Companies with an automated close instil confidence in their employees, customers, and investors. Ultimately, a streamlined process can help companies focus their time on strategic analysis to find new growth opportunities such as shifting or creating new business models or making acquisitions or divestitures.

Learn more about the Oracle Finance Starter Kit: Accelerate an Automated Financial Close