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Life beyond spreadsheets: A controller tells how ERP and EPM Cloud changed the way she works

How more automation and fewer manual processes have changed the role of financial controller Sarah Murphy.

By Margaret Harrist | April 2021


Life beyond spreadsheets: A controller tells how ERP and EPM Cloud changed the way she works

Legions of financial professionals and accountants are drowning in spreadsheets, and yet they’re conflicted about moving away from such manual and tedious work tools. They have a love/hate relationship with those familiar columns, rows, and pivot tables.

But Sarah Murphy has made the move—and she’s here to tell you life is better.

“If you’d told me when I joined Oracle seven years ago how far we would have come or how different my role would be today, I don’t think I’d believe it,” says Murphy, a senior financial controller working in Oracle’s Global Controller Organization. “We’re not only performing critical tasks quicker, we’re doing it better, and we have opportunities to add value too.”

Murphy has traded in most of those time-consuming parts of her job for the automation and advanced capabilities of Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP and Oracle Fusion Cloud EPM. Today, she and her team in Oracle’s European operation no longer spend hours and days manually preparing reports and reconciling numbers; they instead focus on advanced analysis and business-partnering on strategic projects.

Familiar view, real-time data

Murphy and her team still see spreadsheets on their screens—that’s the beauty of Oracle Smart View for Office, which works seamlessly with Oracle Cloud EPM and lets users view, import, manipulate, distribute, and share data in Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint interfaces. It provides finance with a familiar user experience but without all the time-consuming manual work, because the numbers in the cells are generated automatically from Cloud ERP.

“Now that we’re in the cloud, within just a few clicks, we can get a real-time view of our global, regional, or entity-level results displayed on the spreadsheet right before our eyes,” she says. ”Previously, our data was loaded incrementally. Time is of the essence during the monthly or quarterly close, so it’s comforting to know that the numbers we now see before us portray an accurate, up-to-the-minute picture.”

It’s not just during the month- and quarter-end close where Murphy and her team reap the benefits of having real-time data. They can also use Oracle Smart View to retrieve the latest statutory results for each of Oracle’s subsidiaries, which enables them to make decisions faster.

“As fiduciaries, we often need to make assessments quickly,” she says. “We can now check our entities’ statutory results with just a few clicks in Excel, which fast-tracks the process and allows us to make those decisions with confidence. This has been hugely beneficial in terms of managing our international subsidiaries’ statutory compliance.”

Uniformity and ease of reporting

Another disadvantage of relying on manual spreadsheets for Murphy and her team was that Oracle’s entities around the world used 32 different charts of accounts.

In addition to moving finance systems to the cloud, Oracle has also moved to a single, global chart of accounts, delivering consistency across reporting segments for all legal entities. For Murphy’s team of financial controllers, this change made many routine tasks, such as consolidations, much easier.

“We no longer need to manually convert different sets of numbers using mapping tables,” she says. “We wanted to get away from manual interventions because they’re risky—and in our world, risk is a no-no.”

Eliminating manual accounting

The global chart of accounts allows the finance team to take advantage of Oracle Cloud ERP’s multi-entity, multi-currency journal capabilities.

“This is a truly global approach to accounting; we can record an accrual, for example, using a single journal template and it populates every entity’s books in one go,” she says.

 

“Now that we’re in the cloud, within just a few clicks, we can get a real-time view of our global, regional, or entity-level results displayed on the spreadsheet right before our eyes.”

Sarah Murphy, Senior Financial Controller, Oracle’s EMEA Global Controller Organization

This functionality has reduced manual accounting by 45% since the move to Oracle Cloud ERP. For Murphy and her team, that means they can use the time they save to review by exception, investigate anomalies, and partner with other business functions across Oracle.

“Our role has become so much more satisfying,” Murphy says.

Efficiency of reporting

Murphy knows the pressure finance professionals face, and how frustrating work can be for those out there who still prepare financial reports manually. “Whether it’s a set of statutory financial statements or the quarterly results being delivered to senior management, our standards need to be exacting. There is no margin, nor time for error,” Murphy says.

“We’ve all been there. You change a number in your statement of income, and you need to reflect that same change in multiple places throughout the report,” she says. “Then there’s rounding errors—and when you’re up against the clock and trying to prepare the report for a board meeting, the last thing you want is to worry about a $1 rounding difference.”

With automated narrative reporting in Oracle Cloud EPM, that manual process is eliminated. The deep functionality of the tool ensures financial reports are automatically populated with data straight from Oracle Cloud ERP, and numbers and notes are automatically refreshed throughout the Excel, PowerPoint, or Word documents.

“It’s so flexible. It can accommodate changes effortlessly,” Murphy says. “It’s quite intelligent too. It can even prompt the narrative in the text. It’s brilliant.”

Our vision for an automated close

The growing number of intelligent automation capabilities included in Oracle Cloud ERP and Oracle Cloud EPM mean fewer manual finance processes—and a shorter close. In fact, Oracle can now release its quarterly results within 10 days of the period end—and Murphy and her team can return to nonclose activities.

Instead of spending weeks on the close each quarter, Oracle’s finance organization uses that time to further drive automation and shave even more time off the close process.

“A quicker close means that our team spends less time in a new quarter looking backwards and more time looking to the future,” she says. “Our next major target is to close our books in one day, but the ultimate goal is a fully automated close, one with little-to-no manual intervention. It opens up a new realms of possibility for us: new ways of analyzing our numbers, new ways of performing our role. There are exciting times ahead.”

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Photography: Sekulicn/Getty images

Margaret Harrist

Margaret Harrist

Margaret Harrist is director of content strategy and implementation at Oracle, where she focuses on digital disruption, enterprise resource planning, supply chain, Internet of Things, and SaaS. Follow her at @mharrist.