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Houlihan Lokey builds a foundation for growth with Oracle Cloud ERP, and expects greater rewards for automation ahead.
By Mitch Wagner | August 2021
When global investment bank Houlihan Lokey set out to modernize its enterprise resource planning system, Chief Information Officer Allen Fazio warned his team that it would be a thankless task.
“There are no statues built for people who put in ERP,” Fazio says. And because ERP touches so much of the business, the stakes run high. “It’s maybe one of the hardest things you can do as an IT professional.”
But the US-based Houlihan Lokey is growing quickly, especially internationally, and needed a new foundation for that growth to increase automation, so accounting staff can spend more time on business issues. The bank also needed to manage business risks more efficiently and enhance capabilities such as multicurrency support.
Fazio understands and respects the human side of technology. “When you do these big projects, it’s a lot of late hours and creates stress on relationships,” Fazio says. The risk, he says, is that the project suffers as team members lose patience and trust in one another.
“What makes me proudest is the professionalism and resilience of the team,” he says. “The relationships are as strong today, after a major system implementation, as they were when we began the journey.”
Houlihan Lokey is an American multinational independent investment bank and financial services company founded in 1972. The firm provides financial advice to big public businesses, closely held companies, and governments, on mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, distressed M&As, and more. As of January 2021, it’s been the #1 US M&A advisor for the past five consecutive years, according to Refinitiv.
The company chose Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP when upgrading from a long-serving Oracle JD Edwards ERP installation because the cloud service met key criteria, such as robust support for automation, strong risk management capabilities such as Sarbanes-Oxley controls, and a good track record for integrating with third-party apps. Additionally, Oracle provides support for international jurisdictions’ individual regulatory requirements, some of which can be complex and strict.
“Everywhere we turn, automation is allowing us to manage a much larger organization at a cost point that is not changing.”
And the bank wanted an established vendor with a long track record. “We didn’t want to go with some new startup that had the risk of going away or was just not fully built out,” says Ed Taniguchi, chief accounting officer.
Houlihan began the transition in 2018. The implementation team “lived in a fishbowl conference room,” says Richard Kadeg, vice president of IT. Midway through the transition, work went remote for COVID-19. “By the time the pandemic hit, we had such a close relationship with everybody, we could finish each other’s sentences,” Kadeg says. “Everybody was great partners. So, the transition to remote work was pretty seamless.”
Houlihan Lokey’s accounting team has a clear desired outcome for the Oracle Cloud ERP implementation: “Getting rid of those boring, mundane tasks, so you can actually spend time working with the business,” says Sally Easton Thomas, Houlihan Lokey’s chief accounting and financial officer, Europe.
For the Europe team, Oracle Cloud ERP is lightening the burden of calculating value added taxes (VAT), managing Brexit, and working with tax authorities that are seeking to digitize communications.
But what does it really mean to build a “foundation for growth” with your ERP system, like Houlihan Lokey set out to do? Again, it’s about automation. Houlihan Lokey has already seen benefits of automation under JD Edwards and is looking forward to even more with the new system.
”We’ve doubled our revenue in the last five years, and our accounting team has experienced only marginal growth, allowing us to improve our margins by keeping our administrative costs low,” Fazio says. “Everywhere we turn, automation is allowing us to manage a much larger organization, without the corresponding increase in costs.”
Over the past nine months, Houlihan Lokey has been consolidating its systems on Oracle, and next year it plans to add modules including procurement, planning and budgeting, automated account reconciliation, and lease accounting. Those additional modules will provide the greatest automation gains, Easton-Thomas says.
”We’ve put the basics in and now it’s time to home in and make a difference for our business,” Fazio says.
One important job was importing JD Edwards data into Oracle Cloud ERP, to eliminate the need to refer back to JD Edwards—giving the bank a single source of financial data instead of straddling two systems.
Tracy Turnbull, a vice president and team leader for application support and development, led this critical effort. Migrating that JD Edwards information was a big project, requiring a lot of work and great care to import 6.5 million records to cover two years of general ledger history, and three years of transactional activities for 12,000 projects, as well as reprocessing 17,000 individual client invoices and receipts to ensure users would have historical data in a single system.
Turnbull led the data migration and systems integration while still tending to her day job. She and her team made significant sacrifices to get the job done. “My proudest moments were watching the team walking through data problems and solving them, bridging the transition between the legacy system and Oracle,” Turnbull says.
As a global bank, risk management is of course essential to Houlihan Lokey. The bank implemented Oracle Risk Management and Compliance before going live with Oracle Cloud ERP, to help take the burden off its applications security and audit teams. Oracle’s long track record in security also was important to Houlihan Lokey. Oracle Risk Management and Compliance helps the organization automate manual processes and controls related to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, significantly reducing both labor and risk for the bank.
6.5 million: The number of records imported from JD Edwards into Oracle Cloud ERP
“Job one is just getting things streamlined and automated so controls are better,” Taniguchi says. “It saves us a lot of time. And when you do manual processes, there is the risk of people doing them improperly and keying things wrong.”
Taniguchi thinks big automation benefits from this effort lie ahead for his team: “We get excited when we find new ways to cut time on things and fully automate them.”
Oracle Risk Management supports role-based controls for users and applications, providing segregation of duties (SoD), with safeguards to separate data and protect processes against breaches. Oracle Risk Management includes an AI-driven SoD scan tool that identifies conflicts and provides recommendations on how to fix them. “Trying to identify a new audit baseline on any new system is challenging,” Kadeg says. “But at least we had the right tools and the right methodology in place to leverage as we went through that journey.”
In addition to relying on the strong relationships across Houlihan Lokey colleagues, this project also leaned on the Oracle team. In addition to having the flexibility to change plans midstream and add modules, such as audit compliance, the Oracle team had the knowledge to understand Houlihan Lokey’s business.
"We couldn’t be happier,” Fazio says. “Whenever we needed expertise, whether it was around taxes in Europe or digging deep into the project management module, Oracle was there to help.”
Illustration: Wes Rowell
Photography: Courtesy of Houlihan Lokey