Webinar reveals that live reporting can save you time when closing the books

How Workday brought continued improvements and efficiencies to closing the books during Covid.

On 3 September, CFO South Africa hosted a webinar, in partnership with Workday, in which Workday’s EMEA financials lead Edward Bass and finance director Brian Montgomery (pictured), revealed their finance playbook for a smarter Finance function in a changing world.

“Finance consists of three things; planning, executing and analysing,” Edward said as he introduced the Workday solution. Workday, which combines finance, HR and planning in one cloud-based system, looked at what a modern finance system should be able to deliver to finance professionals and their stakeholders to make these three steps easier: 

  • Data: Workday identified that finance professionals had to have access to the right data, and that data had to be fast. 
  • One security model: The system also has to have one security model, so that the right people can securely see their data at the right time.
  • Experience: The software also needed to be easy to understand and use. 
  • One version, one audit: With traditional systems, it’s a challenge to turn on an audit, because it slows everything down. Workday has been designed so that audit is on for every little piece of data that moves.
  • A powerful process business engine: When you become a customer of Workday, the solution is configured within a couple of weeks of starting the project so businesses can start to load data and begin to understand it and tailor it to their particular needs.  
  • Machine learning: Finance should be able to benefit so that it constantly monitors your journals and whether or not a particular range of journals looks like it’s vulnerable because someone forgot to submit data. That means, during the month, the system can start analysing and understanding the journals. When it thinks that data is missing, it will bring it to your attention, and you can then start focusing on that close activity much earlier than just focusing on it at the end of the month.

Moving staff around using the system

Edward then handed over to Brian, who is the FD at Workday, to talk about how he’s been able to move his staff around with Workday’s easy-to-use system.

“Given the amount of change we see, particularly with the current crises, there have been some real challenges in different areas of the business and trying to keep everything on track,” Brian said. 

One of the things that presented a challenge was the flow of indirect tax returns which are numerous and come at you on a daily basis and still need to be completed in a timely way despite Covid challenges. “Depending on the country, there’s quite a degree of complexity behind this,” he said. “It’s also an area where you get audited a lot.” 

Brian had to move people from their traditional roles into really targeted roles within Workday’s VAT team to try and gain efficiency in the tax area. “People needed to get their head around how all the VAT reporting works out of the system really quickly.” 

He explained that, when reshuffling the staff, Workday had the opportunity to blend its people with different skill sets to try and move through these improvement projects really quickly, even with all the pressure. 

“In the present day with Covid-19, we went from everyone being in the office to working at home almost overnight,” Brian said. “This is where good systems come into their own. Not because of particular things it could do, but because I didn’t have to worry about it.” 

He explained that he didn’t have to worry about people’s ability to do whatever they had to do in the office, to go through those same steps and do it at home. “We were able to establish that very quickly, which enabled us to, instead of worrying about the technology, to very quickly focus on the people and see how they are doing, and what the new challenges were.” 

He explained that they were able to rebalance workloads right from the start based on what people were able to do and how the team could help each other out. “We’re no different from any other people, we have childcare challenges, accommodation challenges and all the new commitments that Covid-19 brought. In some cases, both parents were working with all their kids at home, saying that they can’t be as productive as they’ve been before,” Brian said. “On the other hand, we had people who were more productive because they no longer had to commute and had a bit more free time.” 

The ability to move tasks to different areas enabled Brian to transfer some month-end tasks to colleagues in the US while he was establishing the cadence of all the international compliance regulations that were coming at Workday. 

Edward then pointed out that, because of the reshuffle of responsibilities, and because Brian had complete access and control over the numbers at hand, he was able to close the month ahead of time. “It is unusual to have someone in Brian’s position on a call like this (on the 3rd workday of the month) instead of working tirelessly on the month end.” 

Closing ahead of deadline

Brian explained that his team is constantly closing and trying to get better at it. “This year we’re moving away from preparing all our international financial statement post year end. Instead, we’re taking a chunk of entities and moving away from that very typical process. We’re moving the accounts to a live quarterly close like we do with our corporate accounts.” 

In doing this, he said that you remove a lot of the pressure from the finance team. “We have almost 40 entities and the majority of them have to close within the first six months of the year, so you’re under huge pressure.” 

Edward added that the consolidation and the general ledger postings are done in the same place in Workday, which means that the consolidation accounting, security, analytics and business engine are the same tool kit. “Because the consolidation accounting is done in the same place, it means you can actually book the adjustments of your books and ledgers at the point of booking the initial transactions, which means you’re already way ahead of the game when it comes to the month-end as well.” 

Businesses can also run their full consolidated pack at any time. “Even if you're early on in their close, you might look and say everything is posted except for accruals, so you can just run your balance sheet, knowing that they aren’t fully in yet and check everything else,” Brian said. 

He explained that businesses can get a lot more strategic about what the team is doing and see when something looks a bit off. “You’re constantly de-risking that process by getting people more and more focused on where they need to be focused, rather than just being a slave to the calendar.” 

Despite all the challenges that Covid brought in, the global economic meltdown, changing compliance scenarios, changes to accounting standards and more, Workday felt that it didn’t have the option to not keep improving. “We had a significant uptick in productivity,” Brian said. “We measure our productivity by all the milestones we set up at the start of the year and we work our way through them.” 

This time last year, Workday was just a little bit over halfway through its financial year. This year, they are already at 76 percent. “We break everything that everybody does down into the steps that need to take place and work our way through it. So, it gives me a pulse at any given time of exactly where we are and what the risks are.”