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It is easy to be critical

by Clinton Jones

March 20, 2013

One of the things that this week's Financials show has brought home is how easy it is to be critical of the job that the back office of any finance department does in relation to working with SAP.

It is an unfortunate situation, one that is often a lot more complex than simply rolling ones' eyes, sighing and saying 'what do you expect'. The reality though is that in the current era of extreme austerity measures in the back office, controllers, book keepers and accountants are often easy and soft targets in the cutbacks. The situation is ironic given that transaction volumes are not on the decline but in fact on the increase.

There is sufficient statistical evidence to suggest that increased regulation, accelerated business change and the push for more back office agility is in fact driving a level of change in the back office that the existing staffing levels are struggling to keep up with.

Many of the folks I spoke to this week, described situations where there was natural attrition in their departments and where the people that left or retired were simply never replaced. The workload was simply redistributed or temporary staff brought in to ease the burden. In such circumstances, what is the backoffice supposed to do?

Automation is an easy choice, however automation comes with its own risks and costs especially when the finance back office has to rely on IT for the 'final solution' for automating processing tasks that can be done, were that there were enough hands on keyboards. From a risk standpoint there is the hope that IT grasps the business requirements well and is able to produce something robust, durable and adaptable as the business changes. Unfortunately in most instances this appears an impossible task and often IT fails miserably to deliver something resilient and reliable in a timely fashion. The horror strories are numerous and this evening I was witness to one tale that revealed horrible delays in the period close, the use of shared service center sweatshops to wade through thousands of corrections and a generally elevated level of miserableness on the part of those in the finance function simply because they asked for a few extra fields to be added to their GL spreadsheet upload program.

The great news for the business and IT though is that there are alternatives, many of which are in the 3rd party tools and solutions domain. Vendors of these products are exhibiting at the Financials show this week and each has its advantages and disadvantages. 

If your business is challenged with a reduced number of hands on keyboards, malformed journal posting processes or simply looking around for alternative ways to work with SAP and SharePoint go take a look. Ask a lot of questions, don't fear to challenge the vendors and most importantly, go at it with an optimism that if you have what you consider to be a broken GL posting process today, you can improve upon it and it may be a lot easier than you think.

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