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By Margaret Harrist | April 2021
As one of the world’s largest investment management companies, with more than $6 trillion in assets under management, Vanguard was well-positioned on a number of fronts when the pandemic took hold last year.
The firm’s business includes management of assets in a range of classes and geographies with varying strategies, as well as other services for individuals and companies. The company has grown since its founding in 1975 without the use of in-person branch offices for its individual clients, so relying on web, phone, and email to make customer connections during the pandemic was simply business as usual. It operates in more than 20 countries and offers more than 430 funds to some 30 million investors worldwide.
Behind the scenes, Vanguard had another advantage: a firmwide strategy to move to the cloud. Oracle is a key part of that cloud strategy, said John Bendl, Vanguard principal, funds CFO, and chief accounting officer, during a recent Oracle Live virtual event focused on cloud applications.
“Running our business in the cloud has a lot of benefits over on-premises data centers,” Bendl said. “Resiliency is much better, and the cost aspects of running on-prem data centers versus the cloud was an important consideration for us.”
But Vanguard was only a few months into moving to Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications when the pandemic hit, which meant that more than 95% of its employees (which Vanguard calls its crew) shifted from working in the office to working remotely. Despite that upheaval and the sudden change, Bendl said, “We wanted to keep the pedal down on the implementation. The Oracle team helped us do that, and we really didn’t miss a beat.”
The company focused on implementing Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) for its financial planning and analysis teams in the summer of 2020, and then moved up its implementation of Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Oracle Fusion Cloud Procurement, part of Oracle Cloud ERP.
“We had an on-premises solution that hadn’t been updated in a number of years because it was highly customized,” Bendl said. “We were many years behind on upgrades. We took this as a chance to step back and look at what the best practices are—and we saw that adopting the Oracle Cloud technology would drive a lot of efficiency and effectiveness but would also help us make the business process changes that we wanted.” (You can listen to all of Bendl’s insights on demand.)
Vanguard’s philosophy in moving to Oracle Fusion Applications was to make no customizations; the applications would be implemented as-is, and the company would adopt the best practices that Oracle supported.
“We did a lot of diligence on that, talking to Oracle customers that had successfully gone through an implementation, and the benefits (of sticking with no customizations) have been huge,” Bendl said.
Throughout the implementation, Oracle partnered closely with Vanguard, with Oracle leaders even embedded in the project’s governance process.
“As we implemented these solutions for ERP, EPM, and Procurement, having Oracle sit on our governance committee really helped us accelerate the process,” he said. “They were actively engaged in trying to help us think about things we might not have considered on our own.”
One of the biggest advantages so far for Bendl and his team has been information transparency.
“The ability to see data across all the finance functions, from planning in EPM all the way through to ERP and Procurement has been really powerful,” he said. “Clearly we’ve seen it help with enhanced decision-making. When you have access to data end to end, you’re able to make better decisions in a more rapid fashion. When the data is fragmented, you’re dealing with a lot of manual intervention, a lot of manual processes. But when you have it all in one integrated platform, the visibility that the FP&A and accounting communities have into the data can help them serve the business partners and help accelerate the journey to improve and to meet our goals and objectives.”
“The ability to see data across all the finance functions, from planning in EPM all the way through to ERP and procurement has been really powerful.”
During the implementation, Vanguard spent a lot of time organizing its chart of accounts in dimensions so the firm would be able to extract data in richer ways, Bendl said—and it’s a step he recommends for others moving finance systems to the cloud.
“It really helps with the data management, and it further enriches the capabilities of the platform,” he said.
The firm has also seen significant boosts to productivity since moving to Oracle Cloud. For example, running the Accounts Payable close used to take half a day; it now takes just minutes. And in Procurement, requests to approve invoices or work orders that formerly required interactions in multiple systems now can be addressed in a single click. Even users who don’t need to interact with the core EPM or ERP platforms see greater efficiencies with simpler procurement processes and more self-service capabilities.
Going forward, Bendl sees the growing number of companies that are moving to Oracle Cloud as a big advantage.
“As more and more people are migrating to the cloud, there’s a really rich user community that’s very willing to share—and that gives Oracle feedback for the product roadmap,” he said. “Oracle genuinely wants that feedback on how to make their products the best they can be for their client base.”
“We think we can even further enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and value that we bring as a finance function, so we’re just as excited about the journey ahead,” he said. “Vanguard has always embraced innovation. We are a technologically savvy firm, and we’re going to keep the pedal down.”
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.