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Stuck in 'Last Mile of Finance,' CFOs Improve Things by Automating Them

Karen M. Kroll | Oct. 18, 2011
In just four months on the job, Robert Fetterman, vice president of finance with the Oneida Indian Nation, based in Verona, N.Y., has chopped 20% off the time required to complete what's come to be known as "the last mile of finance." And he's not done yet. At two previous companies, Fetterman was able to slash the function from 10-plus days, to fewer than three.

Mapping the Mile

Effectively automating at that late stage requires a holistic approach that encompasses people, data, best-practice processes and technology, Pritchard says.

The Oneida Nation's Fetterman recommends mapping a detailed calendar of all activities that currently make up the last mile, and identifying those that can reasonably completed earlier. For instance, it may be possible to set an earlier deadline for the accounts payable group, even if not all bills have entered the system, and then accrue any that remain, if material.

As the time frame for completing the last mile is condensed, the staff should be instructed to place a priority on the activities that go into it, Fetterman says. When the work is spread over ten to 15 days, finance employees often continue to handle their other responsibilities; the overall process simply takes too long to make it a priority.

Another Job for Software

As more companies focus on automating the last mile, they can choose from an expanding array of technology offerings. What's more, many of the system have been commercially available for several years, and thus can be considered stable, Colbert says.

The approaches being offered tend to be software-based, and can reside in the realm of cloud computing, says Beth Kaplan, Deloitte's director for finance transformation services. Many solutions bolt on to a company's ERP or other enterprise systems. As a result, while some investment typically is required, it tends not to be on the order of an ERP implementation.

The benefits of automating this function can include the cost savings resulting from greater efficiency, while also lowering the risk of reporting mistakes. But successful automation also gains management more timely insight into the company's market and performance. Reducing cycle time, Fetterman says, also "is one of the most important ways to get the finance team to the next level."

When the cycle time gets down to three days at his company, as his plan calls for, "our finance staff can move on to things that are more value-add" -- such as analyzing performance.


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