Moving to a financial shared services model: the data management challenge

Moving to a financial shared services model: the data management challenge

Jeanette Mifsud of Winshuttle explains how to get the best out of a financial shared services model - even with the challenge of managing huge amounts of data

Moving to a financial shared services model: the data management challenge

According to Deloitte, 88% of businesses who use a shared services approach to manage an organisation-wide business function use it to take care of their financial operations. The finance department is often tasked with looking for ways to become more efficient and, for large organisations, this approach is often the answer to achieving economies of scale for the finance function.

There are many cost and efficiency gains to be had from adopting the financial shared services model and for those organisations considering a move to this approach, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Transitioning separate business units’ processes and data into one single set of systems can be a laborious and time-consuming process which, unless managed correctly could cause the business function to become less efficient, not more.

Avoiding the inefficiencies which often accompany relocating and transforming data into one shared environment is essential if a business is to successfully and efficiently adopt the shared services approach.

Maximising the benefits of shared services

When the decision has been made to move to this centralised shared services model, the first step is to take the existing financial processes out of the hands of the various accounting functions and pass them on to the new central function. This could see one team handling all financial processes but still using a variety of systems – from spreadsheets and home grown software to individual accounting platforms that have been adopted historically by individual business units.

Essentially, what’s being done is the transfer of various workloads into one central location. As a result, organisations can streamline resources and real estate and reduce some of the ‘lag’ caused by moving financial data and tasks around a large and complex business.

However, implementing shared services means significant business change so it makes sense to maximise the benefits from this new approach. These can only really be achieved when the actual financial processes themselves are streamlined, by moving from a variety of systems (some of which may well be outdated and no longer fit for purpose) to one central financial platform, typically SAP.

A major part of this system consolidation is the movement of data from A to B. Financial data volumes can be vast and transferring it manually is slow and time-consuming. However, it is possible to speed the process up by using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to replace the ‘human’ process of entering data from one system into another. For any organisation that wants to manage its financial processes through a central system like SAP, tasking a piece of software to carry out repetitive data entry tasks can save the business a considerable amount of time and energy.

RPA not only helps shared service centres quickly get up and running to quickly boost organisational-wide efficiencies, it also helps minimise any disruption caused by major change to business operations.

RPA in practice

Any large business with a number of subsidiaries can benefit significantly from a shared financial services approach. Accounting functions can transform delivery by consolidating processes across the entire business into one specialist unit. However, a major obstacle to success can be moving processes from a multitude of sources into one core system and business function.

Telecoms provider Vodafone has a shared financial services centre to handle the bulk of the its financial management, processes and transactions including fixed assets, Purchase to Pay, Record to Report and General Ledger.

Handling considerable volumes of assets within one SAP database was a challenge within this dynamic and frequently changing environment. In one area of the business, Vodafone had nine million assets and 100 thousand postings per month which would normally take six months to process.

The task of doing so included using five different SAP screens and two different transactions, so a 100-line item would take up to 60 minutes to process manually. To drive shared services efficiency, Vodafone chose to adopt Winshuttle’s data management software and took advantage of its SAP-specific RPA capabilities. The Winshuttle solution automatically posted data to SAP via Vodafone Excel workbooks, eliminating data entry via the SAP GUI and reducing the processing time to 15 minutes. The results were seven times better than Vodafone anticipated.

“The system works very well for us” says Peter Barta, asset and project accounting team leader, at Vodafone. “Our complicated processes are handled in fewer steps, which reduces time spent on complex postings and allows us to avoid any internal IT debt.”

When it comes to shared services, the end game is all about improving business-wide efficiencies, but the process of transferring data can be anything but efficient if the process isn’t carefully managed. RPA can help ensure a smooth and fast transfer of data allowing businesses to focus on delivering business value and operating a highly efficient shared services model.

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