Armanino Blog

Biotech Firm Sequences Software Implementations for a Quick Win

by Jeffrey Russell
July 26, 2018

A clinical-stage biotechnology company had outgrown their ERP and wanted to upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics 365, but they were concerned that they didn't have the time and manpower to devote to launching the new system. Armanino assessed their business requirements and pain points, and found that their finance team could free up resources for the ERP implementation by streamlining the month-end financial close process first.

Finance was devoting significant time to the financial close—manually reconciling balance sheet accounts, doing variance analysis and analyzing vendor accounts. Like many companies, they handled most of the process in static spreadsheets, so they had to deal with broken links and formulas, and touch files multiple times to certify and verify them.

Managing tasks with a manually updated checklist was also cumbersome. Since the checklist lacked version control, if one member of the team had it open, no one else could access it, which led to confusion over which tasks were still outstanding.

Another challenge was that the firm worked with a number of contract research organizations. Invoices for work from the third-party organizations, as well as accruals from clinical manufacturing and general business, needed to be matched to purchase orders. Manual matching caused lag time and often resulted in late adjustments, which would push the close even later.

With so much time focused on the financial close process, employees weren't going to be able to devote enough time to implementing and learning to use the new ERP. The firm needed a quick way to get the ball rolling.

Sequencing the implementation

We suggested they add BlackLine, a cloud-based financial close automation solution, to their technology stack. Automating the financial close process would allow the finance team to spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time on high-value activities, like getting their new ERP up and running.

We determined the best approach was to implement the software solutions in stages.

First up was installing BlackLine's Task Management functionality. With Task Management, the close lead can assign tasks to team members, and the integrated checklist automatically updates as work is completed. Real-time dashboards gave the CFO and controller increased visibility into the close process, so bottlenecks and delays could be immediately identified and addressed. Tracking all close activities on the platform kept the finance team from doing redundant work and minimized time spent waiting for other tasks to be finished, so they could focus on implementing the new ERP.

While BlackLine is platform-agnostic and can pull from any ERP, it has prebuilt integrations with numerous best-of-breed systems, including Dynamics 365. Because of this, it made sense to launch the ERP as the second stage of the implementation. With that connection in place, the flow of transaction information between the two systems could be automated, which would ensure data integrity and minimize human error.

Once connected to Dynamics 365, the final stage was activating the Account Reconciliation portion of Blackline, so that account reconciliation, transaction matching and variance analysis occurred on the platform.

BlackLine can automatically certify lightly used accounts or zero balance accounts, eliminating the need for a person to create a spreadsheet and sign off on the result. Automated transaction matching and exception handling minimizes tedious ticking and tying, and if a previously reconciled account changes because of activity elsewhere during the close, BlackLine will send a notification that the reconciled account has been decertified.

Starting strong with a quick win

Growing pains are inevitable when implementing new solutions, but staging the rollout of BlackLine and Microsoft Dynamics 365 allowed the biotech firm to gain the benefits of both platforms without the problems that often occur when you try to update the workflow of an already overtaxed staff. They recognized the amount of work necessary and avoided plugging in their new ERP without first giving employees the bandwidth to focus their efforts on integrating the new software.

Having the ability to implement aspects of BlackLine in stages gave the company greater control over change management, and fostered greater adoption and increased appreciation for the new tech stack, because employees had time to learn how to use it to lighten their daily workload. Building up momentum with the BlackLine implementation gave the company an early return on investment via a faster close, and prepared them for the wider launch of systems that will improve their financial management for years to come.

Discover how to strategically plan your organization's cloud solutions strategy - from financial close automation and ERP to FP&A, CRM and beyond with Armanino's Strategy & Transformation team.

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