By Margaret Harrist | April 2020
Finance leaders are looking for ways to cut costs, including fast-tracking investments in technologies that automate business processes and improve insights into company operations. That analysis applies to their own organization’s systems and processes as much as to anyone else’s.
As CFOs consider a timeline for moving to a modern, cloud-based finance system, among their biggest questions is how to make that move.
Ivgen Guner, who as executive vice president of global business finance at Oracle helped lead the company’s migration to the cloud, often advises her peers at other companies on the biggest lessons she and her team learned along the way. Here are six of Guner’s top recommendations:
Most companies struggle with where to start with a cloud implementation and how to keep the process moving, Guner acknowledges—and that’s why a mandate from the top is critical.
“This is more than a technology change. It’s a transformation of how the business operates,” she says. “If you have a decentralized approach to such a transformation, the bureaucracy will always slow you down. It will prevent you from simplifying and eliminating complexity in the system and in processes, and you will not be able to quickly take advantage of new technologies and tools when they become available.”
At Oracle, the senior executive management team was involved in the transformation every step of the way. So were the owners of global processes, who understand specific business functions “from soup to nuts,” Guner says. “We empowered those global process owners to make decisions.”
To ensure that those decisions didn’t inadvertently introduce more complexity for end users or drift from the company’s strategic goals, Oracle instituted a governance model to enable executives to overrule decisions if necessary to meet those goals.
Companies that have heavily customized their applications will see a lot of benefit from standardizing and simplifying their business processes, which they can do either before or during their move to the cloud, Guner says.
That standardization reduces complexity, increases scalability, and makes onboarding acquired companies easier—which was critical for Oracle in the last decade. When the company migrated its finance operations to the cloud, having mostly standardized processes already in place simplified the move. It has since continued to standardize and simplify to take advantage of more of the finance tool’s new capabilities.
Among Oracle’s goals were to reduce finance employees’ time-consuming transactional tasks, as well as simplify administrative tasks, such as filing expense reports, performed by employees throughout the company.
Guner says that the more time spent thinking through the end user experience for employees or customers, the better.
“It’s easy for the core implementation team to get so excited about deployment or the new features or getting as much technically out of the tool as possible that they end up not focusing enough on the end user experience,” she says.
For example, Guner’s organization creates complex planning models using Oracle Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Cloud, but some of those models were too complicated for other employees who needed to use the system. While her team’s intent was to eliminate manual work in Excel, the complexity for some end users drove them right back to spreadsheets.
“One of the good things about the cloud is that you can course-correct very, very quickly,” Guner says. “As soon as you understand why people are not using the system, it’s easy to turn it around and address the issue. You don’t have to wait months or years for an update.”
While Oracle’s move years ago to standardize companywide processes was a distinct advantage, complexity still crept back in over time, Guner says.
“We were on a single instance of Oracle E-Business Suite,” she says, “but as the business and reporting requirements got more complex and as we made more and more acquisitions over the years, we eventually ended up with 32 different charts of accounts that we had to consolidate.”
In the process of moving its finance operations to the cloud, Oracle went from 32 charts of accounts to a single one, which significantly accelerated the monthly and quarterly closes and enabled Oracle executives and managers to have real-time visibility into the data.
Guner says it would have been better if Oracle had made that move sooner.
“Before, when we wanted to drill down into the transaction level, we had to go to each subledger, perform the transactional analytics, and summarize them offline,” she says. “Today, because we have a single global chart of accounts and we’re on Oracle EPM Cloud, we can perform analytics automatically on a daily basis. We don’t have to ask someone to generate a report, because we can drill down to the level of detail we need and the data is there.”
Oracle’s finance team can now close the company’s books, prepare all reporting and required analysis, prepare guidance, and release earnings—as well as publish the 10Q report for the Securities and Exchange Commission—about 50% faster than before, she says.
Guner set a goal early on that Oracle’s finance organization would become what she calls a “game-changer” department—one that leads rather than follows other groups.
“My finance people were focused on transactional activities, reporting, and looking backward,” she says. “Today, most of my team members are partnered with the business. They work with the top executives on down to the third or fourth tier and help them make strategic decisions.”
That transition requires finance team members to acquire or bone up on their leadership, collaboration, and data analysis skills, as well as know the business in depth so that when they see an opportunity to grow the top line or enter a new market, they can bring together the right people and lead the charge.
At Oracle, for example, a finance business partner may see opportunities to introduce new discounting processes based on her analysis of what-if scenarios using Oracle EPM Cloud. She would lead that effort, working with sales leaders, product marketing, engineering, data center management, and line-of-business units to review the findings and explore options.
“We are the ones who will raise our hands to do something first before anyone else,” Guner says. “That requires a change-agent culture throughout the finance organization, which for us has meant constant training to upgrade skill sets, rotating finance team members to a range of business organizations, and hiring people with different strengths than I might have a few years ago. The learning never stops.”
Especially at large, highly complex companies, Guner strongly recommends doing a pilot deployment in a subsidiary or focusing on a single function.
That’s the path Oracle took, implementing cloud applications across all functions of a subsidiary to learn from that experience. “Because it was a smaller environment, we could more easily course-correct,” Guner says.
Oracle started by moving marketing and sales functions to the cloud, then financial planning and budgeting, and talent management. The company also established an accounting hub to consolidate that function and provide more visibility.
“Early wins drive momentum, and they help with uptake,” she says. “In a complex environment, if you’re not delivering immediate value, the deployment will slow down.”
Originally published in Forbes Oracle BrandVoice
Photography: Bob Adler/Getty Images