In our previous post, we looked at the challenges in managing the period-close process and their implications in finance organizations. In this post, we will review some solutions to period-close management. We will go on to examine the benefits of automated management tools over manual, and the use of real-time reporting tools.
Core to the period-close process is the completion of a comprehensive list of tasks and adherence to the task timeline. While these tasks can be maintained and tracked manually, the use of a period-close management application tool provides many advantages over a manual process.
Standardized Task and Process Definition
The first step in an organized close is identifying and documenting all steps to be performed in a standard period close. Every task for a monthly, quarterly, and yearly close should be documented in consistent fashion for each entity that participates in the period close. The definition should completely define the task, identify who should be completing the tasks, and task timing. Timing includes expected start, duration, and end times.
These tasks can be put in a master schedule and made available to all employees participating in the close process. Each task should be documented consistently with similar tasks to facilitate communication and identify task difficulty. If one business unit lists “Close fixed assets; Close accounts payable; etc.,” then all business units should do the same, and not just “Close all subledgers.” Deviations from the standard plan can be documented and communicated to all participants prior to that period close.
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The applications available today provide a common interface that all employees can access. This interface provides access to standardized tasks and can be set up to ensure consistent, or when appropriate, unique processing.
Employees can see their own tasks, as well as the preceding and dependent tasks, and also the task status. The creation of period-close tasks is easy with many applications providing the option of uploading the initial or recurring task lists from an existing file, if one exists. Task modification, insertion, or deletion is simple and straightforward and can be applied as one-off changes for a specific period or can be made permanent for a change in the close process.
Notification and Workflow
Users can be notified via workflow when a task they are responsible for should be performed. This notification can come via email or by the user reviewing their application desktop for tasks to be performed. The desktop displays tasks, task status, and timelines for completion of the user tasks. Users can see their open tasks, deadlines and missed dates. All of these enable the user to manage their respective period-close tasks.
As the tasks are performed, they are marked closed and based on the system parameters the performer of the next step is notified that they now have a pending task. Hotlinks to the application(s) can be inserted to take the end-user to the specific application they need to use to complete their tasks.
Process Management and Real-Time Reporting Tools
Similar to the reconciliation tools, period-end tools allow users and management to instantly see the current status of the close. These are available via dashboards and reports.
Dashboards also have drill-down capabilities allowing management to understand exactly where they are in the close process, the completed tasks, those to be completed, and if there are bottlenecks that need to be addressed.
To learn more on how to overcome financial close challenges, you can download our entire guide here or below. Otherwise, stay tuned for blog #10 in the coming week!