Heads up! The Texas Louisiana Oracle Applications User Group User Conference is coming right here to Houston, Texas on June 14, 2017 at the Hilton Houston Plaza Medical Center. Although it's a little early to register, rest assured that we will remind you closer to the registration date in May. Until then, put a big ole X on your calendar on June 14th because we hope to see you there!
There’s a reason why Apple rewrote the script on personal computers and IBM didn’t; or why Tesla revolutionized the electric car industry and GM didn’t; or, or why Facebook is monopolizing the media platform, and NBC isn’t.
Innovation often originates outside of the existing ecosystem, and account reconciliations is no different. Since 2011, Oracle Account Reconciliation Manager (ARM) and Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS as of 2016) have been beating the traditional industry incumbents out of the water.
Not only are companies switching from an offline Excel process to an integrated and automated solution, they are switching to Oracle from various other account reconciliation tools, including SaaS applications like BlackLine and Trintech.
We have recently converted several customers from either Excel or BlackLine to Oracle ARM/ARCS, so this post will focus on the key differences between these two technologies. Please note that I do not work for a BlackLine implementation firm, so the information presented here is based on BlackLine client interviews and knowledge from account reconciliation industry experts.
Life before the switch:
Prior to the implementation, customers (such as the client case study highlighted below) were often struggling with the burden of increasing subscription costs and delays due to the disjointed data flow between Oracle EBS and BlackLine. As legal entities were evolving in HFM, account certification governance and accountability of those entities was cumbersome. Data was inaccurate, reviewers/approvers were misaligned, and technology was a distraction, rather than an enabler.
How to switch?
The #1 consideration in determining what factor most influenced a customer’s selection of account reconciliation software in a 2013 iPolling survey was the vendor’s technology.
How do you define the quality of “technology” for account reconciliation software? We came up with 7 key areas for comparison:
- Rules engine
- Ease of use
- Task management
As of December 2016, ARCS includes transaction matching as part of a single module, whereas BlackLine separates this feature into a different product offering. In ARCS, you can treat the transaction matching workflow as part of the standard setup process prior to opening a period for users to begin certifying accounts. Administrators or Power Users may validate and confirm suggested matches, in the same way that they may check auto-reconciled accounts without leaving one tool.
#2 Rules Engine:
Surprisingly, my previous implementation of ARCS revealed that over 60% of the accounts could be auto reconciled, based on either thresholds of immaterial balances and/or activity...wow! Every company’s reconciliation policy will differ, however in this case, more time could truly be allocated towards high risk accounts and investigating discrepancies, rather than ticking and tying spreadsheets.
While both tools offer this capability, the abundance of configurable options seem to be endless with Oracle. The below screenshot shows a simple example of how to automatically assign a low risk rating to an account before the profile is copied to a period based on source system and activity dollar amounts:
Just to give you a glimpse, the list of customizable attributes is quite extensive as well:
You can also configure auto submission, auto approval, and prevent reconciliation submission based on account balances or period activity as shown below:
BlackLine allows you to set risk ratings for account profiles when setting up the system and can be modified on a monthly basis. The difference is being able to dynamically set the risk ratings based on the data in the source system and subledger data, rather than what the administrator thinks it to should be when the system is set up. This is a progressive approach to compliance that is enabled by intelligent rule configuration in the system.
As far as auto-reconciliation capabilities, both tools are comparable, with slightly more flexibility available in Oracle to set specific auto-rec rules based on balances and/or activity as shown above.
The reconciliation process inherently requires that data from the source and subsystem is available for comparison to ensure balances tie to your subledger or are certified based on explained balance criteria.
The EPM data management capabilities allow for automatic and scheduled data loads, batch processes, and automated updates through flat files using the EPM Automate utility. If on-premise FDMEE is available (version 126.96.36.199.000), drill-through to source and sub-system detail can be made available, such as being able to integrate with Oracle EBS and SAP through pre-built adapters.
This flexibility is the key difference between these two technologies, as BlackLine requires a specific data set format and file-based data loads, with no visibility into the source or sub-system detail. However, you can still connect to multiple ERP systems, banks, and credit processors.
We felt that the flexibility with ARCS took the prize since it allows for a phased and agile approach to implementing a reconciliation solution where new entities can be easily integrated as users get comfortable with the system and the reconciliation process stabilizes.
#4 Ease of Use
We found that the 20 (versus 8 in BlackLine) pre-built templates for different reconciliation formats available in Oracle ARCS, ranging from Accounts Payable, Receivable to Intercompany, Cash, etc. were very helpful as a starting point in the design/build process. We were able to work with the Administrators and Power Users to customize account analysis and balance comparison formats on the spot.
During the course of the implementation, as well as post go-live, the training tools in both systems are extensive. The only difference being that BlackLine allows you to track training progress by user.
So, what’s the score? We still rated ARCS higher because of the user interface and the availability of pre-built templates that allows the admin team to easily develop additional reconciliation formats in the future.
In terms of workflow, there’s a tie. As a compliance tool, standardized controls, roles, and responsibilities are at the core of a reconciliation process. Both tools allow for sufficient collaboration, tracking, and reviewer/approver duration limits to fit a company’s reconciliation compliance policy. While team-based security is available in both tools, clients have mentioned that it’s not as easily accessible in BlackLine, when compared to ARCS.
This is a tricky one. First, from an implementation standpoint, it’s often easy to overlook the types of reporting that may be required, until Administrators and Power Users are able to visualize the reconciliations in the system. The current process is usually very manual in Excel, that reporting on compliance is a far stretch of the imagination. If BlackLine is already being used, then it’s not much of a paradigm shift.
Here’s the difference: ARCS includes 15 pre-built reports that often meet the customer’s needs in order to track reconciliation compliance by organization unit, reviewer/approver, status, aging, etc. Three standard dashboards are also available as shown below:
Additional custom reports may be configured, however we have noticed that the reconciliation and transaction lists as shown below, provide the ability to add/remove columns as each user chooses. Before you go down the route of creating a new report, explore the flexibility in these views as a potential option.
The list of attributes to choose as columns for reconciliation and/or balance detail goes on…
Oracle ARCS also provides the ability to create report binders which allow easy review of reconciliation data for external auditors or third parties without having to give them access to the system. Whereas BlackLine can often make it difficult to extract this information, without more invasive access for non-users. However, from a reporting standpoint, BlackLine provides benchmarking data for other companies in your industry. While the latter feature is helpful, it’s not usually the deciding factor in what reconciliation tool to use.
#8 Task Management
And finally, how easily can users track their own day-to-day progress for the reconciliations in their queue? You can enable “Action Plans” at the transaction level with the ability to enter a description and a close date as shown below. These fields are reportable in the transaction list feature as well, so a user can track how many follow-up items are pending, such as a reimbursement on an invoice, or a correction to a journal entry, etc.
BlackLine offers configurable user checklists that assist in tracking open items by user at a detailed level. With the task management capabilities offered in other EPM tools (such as task lists in PBCS, FCCS), I wouldn’t doubt that this is on the horizon for future updates in Oracle ARCS.
In closing, our experience has proven that the flexibility around integrations and custom rules allow for Oracle ARCS to best fit the unique reconciliation compliance policies of most environments. Being able to leverage EPM Automate for multiple data load steps, such as copying profiles to periods and loading currency rates relieves the burden of administration tasks from the business. Custom rule configuration enables the business to truly evolve the application as their compliance and audit needs change. While BlackLine is a strong choice, these two features within Oracle ARCS are critical factors in maintaining internal controls and avoiding internal costs related to non-compliance.
EPMI will be an exhibitor at Kscope17, June 25-29 in San Antonio, Texas. Kscope17 is home to the world’s leading experts on Oracle technology.
Kscope 17 offers more than 300 technical sessions on:
- Application Express
- BI & Reporting
- Big Data & Data Warehousing
- Data Visualization & Advanced Analytics
- EPM Business Content
- EPM Data Integration
- EPM Infrastructure
- Financial Close
With over 1,500 attendees, Kscope17 attracts top talent as well as providing the perfect-sized audience, allowing you to talk shop and network with attendees. From Hands-On Training sessions to a full day of Sunday Symposiums featuring Oracle VPs and product managers, you will learn all the latest about what’s new and what’s coming down the road. Click here to check out all content that will be presented at Kscope17.
Tip: Use this code, EPMI, and receive a $100 discount off the registration price.
Be sure to visit us at booth #514 in the exhibit hall. We hope to see you there!
Real-world education. Rousing speakers. Engaging forums and panels. It’s ALL happening at COLLABORATE 17: Technology and Applications Forum for the Oracle Community, April 2-6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. This is the one event that delivers powerful Oracle Applications and Technology education to maximize results for the future. COLLABORATE 17 is produced by three independent users groups – IOUG, OAUG and Quest.
Come for the 1200+ educational sessions crammed with case studies, first-hand experiences and practical application content – stay for the exciting networking opportunities spanning 4 1/2 action-packed days.
Content featured covers information from across 17 tracks, developed for both functional and technical users.
Intensive, hands-on learning through Power Hour Sessions, designed for collaboration and idea generation in small groups.
Interactive time with the Oracle development and management teams behind the products you use.
End-to-end coverage through the Exploration Series, where presenters review a topic over several sessions held on one day.
Networking opportunities beyond your personal and professional networks – including special interest group (SIG) meetings, geographic networking and receptions.
An Exhibitor Showcase packed with products and solutions providers who can help you solve your specific challenges
Unique events such as the Women in Technology Forum — connect with women who are examples of success in a fast-changing environment
COLLABORATE 17 takes place April 2-6, 2017 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Register now via http://collaborate.oaug.org.
ODTUG KScope 16 is just around the corner, and we are excited to announce a slate of events and presentations for the coming weeks ahead and during the conference. Stay tuned for more details!
Don't forget to register before June 9 ($300 off) and use the "EPMI" discount code (additional $100 off). That's a total of $400 savings.
- Your friends at EPMI
Upcoming webinar - "The Right to Bear ARM: Lessons from the Trenches"
Presented by Erik West, VP of Delivery on June 15th at 11 CST
Are you thinking about implementing ARM? Come learn about the uniqueness of this powerful tool that's changing the way companies are reconciling data. We'll walk through a case study of an FDMEE and ARM implementation, tackle important implementation considerations, integration challenges, and key lessons learned. If you're implementing ARM or thinking about it, this session will ensure a successful outcome for your project. Join us as we perform a deep dive into Oracle's Account Reconciliation Module.
Erik is the VP of Delivery at EPM Intelligence.
With a background in software development delivering custom reporting solutions, he took to the Oracle EPM product suite immediately. Since then, he has been involved in a number of implementation and support projects spanning industries and EPM tools. With a passion for delivering high quality solutions, his skills revolve around developing EPM strategies and executing on them using Planning, Essbase, EPMA, ODI, HPCM, ARM, and Financial Reporting.
Understanding that true project success has as much to do with the clients as the consultants, he is also intentional in educating project participants through all phases of an engagement, and enjoys leading custom training sessions as well.
Beyond the world of EPM, he most enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, teaching small groups, cooking great food, and eating "said" food.
EPMI Vendor Presentation – “The Oracle EPM Hunger Games: Crowning the Victors”
Presented by Nihar Parikh, President on June 28th (Session 8) at 9:45 – 10:45 AM CST
Are you feeling overwhelmed with the number of products in the Oracle EPM space? Do you have trouble keeping track of all of the different acronyms, limitations, benefits, and road maps? Join us for our battle royal as we square Oracle products off within the major EPM product arenas, including metadata management, planning, integrations, reconciliations, reporting and analytics. Each battle will impart insights gleaned from real world implementations, industry best practices, and experienced guidance in crowning the victors. Let the games begin!
Nihar is the President at EPM Intelligence.
He has a deep understanding of all aspects of the EPM product suite, thanks to numerous varied technical implementations, including infrastructure & upgrades for the entire EPM product suite. His skills primarily are in designing and developing Planning, Essbase, HFM, EPMA, ODI, DRM, and Financial Reporting.
Nihar is also a certified Oracle University instructor. He serves as the 'right-hand' advisor to many organizations helping build and scale EPM solutions.
In his spare time, he enjoys music, hiking in new locations, and discussing about philosophy, science, and technology.
Featured Presentation - "Hybrid-Enabled Planning (and Essbase): Tips from a Successful Implementation"
Presented by Chian Lin, Solutions Architect on June 27th (Session 4) at 2:00 - 3:00 PM CST
In this session, you'll learn how to leverage the powerful Hybrid Essbase engine with your Hyperion Planning or Essbase application. Learn from our experiences implementing Hybrid Essbase on an 188.8.131.52 Planning application. The benefits of going hybrid with Planning are numerous, including the potential elimination of aggregation scripts, decreased calculation times, and faster plan-type integrations via MaxL. We'll also take a look at the implications for building with hybrid and how those can be accounted for throughout a project's lifecycle. Get started on the road to a faster Planning application and learn some of the intricacies behind developing with the hybrid engine.
Chian Lin is a Solutions Architect at EPM Intelligence.
Chian comes from a background of technical training and support from a number of other firms, working with customers of all skill levels. This skill set has translated well to the EPM space where he works with client stakeholders and end users every day to fully leverage their EPM investment. In addition to training and support, he has developed solutions utilizing a wide range of Oracle EPM products including Planning, Essbase, EPMA, ODI, and Financial Reporting.
When not hard at work, he enjoys baking, cooking, traveling, and playing with new technology.
April 11-13, 2016
We're proud to announce that EPMI will be a Bronze Sponsor for Education and Research at Oracle Industry Connect 2016 in Orlando this year!
Come visit us to see some examples of our industry-specific EPM solutions featuring Oracle's Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS).
We'll be at OAUG's Collaborate16 this month and we're looking forward to meeting you all! Stop by the booth for some great conversations and a few surprises too.
We'll see you in Las Vegas. Stay tuned!
Join us at the Modern Finance Experience event on April 6-7, 2016 in Chicago.
We'll be exhibiting at MFE and demonstrating what can be done with some of Oracle's newest EPM technologies. More information on the event can be found here.
Nihar is a founding partner at EPM Intelligence. He has a deep understanding of all aspects of the Enterprise Performance Management product suite, thanks to numerous varied full life cycle implementations. His skills primarily are in designing and developing data management and reporting solutions. As an entrepreneur himself, Nihar serves as the 'right-hand' advisor to many organizations helping build and scale EPM solutions. In his spare time, he enjoys live music, biking, hiking, swimming, and discussing philosophy, politics, and technology.
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – August 25, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Parikh, what is EPM INTELLIGENCE?
Mr. Parikh: EPMI is a technology think tank and consulting services provider. We advise a range of small & medium business to the Fortune 500 high cap organizations on planning and budgeting, consolidations, and financial reporting practices and software solutions. Additionally, we provide technology services based around Oracle, SAP, and other cloud based solutions.
CEOCFO: What is an example of a common project for you and something a little more out of the ordinary?
Mr. Parikh: We typically go into a situation where the lifeline of the company (producing financials) is a manual or Excel driven process that we replace with a standardized, enterprise solution. In a post-Enron world, where there is greater need for transparency, visibility, and metric-driven performance measurement, we provide a solution that centralizes data and creates a fully integrated solution for greater quality control and process efficiency. In addition, we eliminate manual inefficiencies that go along with monthly and quarterly corporate finance activities. Commonly, we will go into situations where the customer is attempting to maintain unreliable, massive amounts of Excel. Other times, we help perform vendor selection, provide advice on business processes, or maintain and support existing systems.
CEOCFO: Is there a particular point in time when a company is likely to turn to you?
Mr. Parikh: We often see situations where a company already has a system in place and they want to redesign it because the organizational roll up, their consolidation method, and/ or their processes have changed. However, more often than not, organizations are not fully utilizing or do not have a system in place, so we lead them through the full life cycle. First, we assess the current state by gathering requirements to figure out where they are currently and determine where they want to be. Then we will design an application based on those requirements, test, train, and rollout the system to the enterprise. In many instances, companies also turn to us as a trusted advisor to help them define the strategic direction for their financial reporting systems. Our breadth of knowledge across industries, and deep expertise in this space enables us to guide them towards their future outlook and growth initiatives.
CEOCFO: What goes into the process of assessing what a company needs as opposed to what they think or say they need?
Mr. Parikh: Many times companies will have an idea of what they need but they may not be fully aware of what the system can do or what works best across the enterprise and that is really, where our advantage is. We have seen how different industries operate and how different applications work, so we can take what is the best of breed or leading practice and apply those same methodologies in other organizations. We provide a benchmark analysis of their current state, prioritizing their objectives, and then developing a long-term (1-5 year) roadmap of how to get there. The result is a prescription for the future with a combination of integrated people, technology and process improvements. It is sometimes a change for organizations in terms of the way they operate, especially if they are only used to Excel, but really trying to identify what those processes are and translating that to the system is our primary objective.
CEOCFO: You mentioned a number of industries. Do you have a preference?
Mr. Parikh: Our headquarters are in Houston, TX so naturally, many of our clients happen to be in the energy and healthcare sector. However, our methodology and technology are really industry-agnostic. By taking a data-driven approach, we can apply leading practice across finance organizations across industries due to our broad range of experience and the flexibility of the technology. Some other industries we have served include high-tech, hospitality, public sector, higher education, financial services (retail and investment banking), and even airlines.
CEOCFO: How do you reach prospective customers and how do they find you?
Mr. Parikh: Sometimes it is surprisingly word of mouth since the space that we operate in tends to be small. A lot of our business tends to be repeat business but many customers actually approach us before we market ourselves to them because they know who we are, have heard of us or they come from another organization that has a similar solution. Another way we reach out to customers is by sponsoring trade shows, web marketing, and networking with prospective and current clients. We are a Gold Sponsor at ODTUG’s Kaleidoscope (K-Scope) a user group conference meant for Oracle technical professionals. Lastly, we host Lunch and Learns, webinars, and host social events to spread the word.
CEOCFO: What have you learned over time that may have caused a change in your approach or philosophy at the company?
Mr. Parikh: We have learned to hire talented individuals that are truly experts in this space and bring a wealth of experience to each client. Many firms market everything to everyone. However, we pride ourselves on our focus to be the experts in the CFO suite. Secondly, we understand that the relationship between IT and Finance needs to be a partnership. We are able to walk that line and work with the needs of both sides to achieve a joint solution. Since our inception, we have also learned to focus on a local geography, reducing travel expenses for our customers, and avoiding burnout for our consultants. Luckily, Houston’s economy has been booming and this has allowed us to focus on our local market rather than being scattered all over the nation. Rather than trying to be everything to everybody, we would rather be the right fit.
CEOCFO: What are the intangibles that you want in your people over and above the skill and experience?
Mr. Parikh: Obviously skill and experience are a given, but we try to create a culture where people enjoy working with each other. Consulting in general has a high turnover rate. We pride ourselves in the fact that our consultants have been with us since day one and continue to stick around. We try to do that by creating a culture that is fun, lateral, and has an open door policy where managers can communicate with consultants on the ground without hesitation. We have great relationships with our employees and we cultivate that by hosting quarterly company events, weekly calls, and constant 360 feedback. We are always looking for associates who have an interest in learning, because technology changes all the time and to be able to keep up with the latest developments, we have to stay hungry and agile.
CEOCFO: How do you spend your time as CEO?
Mr. Parikh: I actually come from a consulting background, so I have been on the ground and I have seen many implementations. However, I spend my time managing the sales and marketing side. My partner and co-founder, Jay Chaney, handles a great deal of the delivery but we both spend time constantly communicating and visiting with clients to innovate and modify our delivery methodology going forward. We also spend a great deal of time training new consultants, constantly rebuilding, and revamping our training process, learning new products, and staying ahead of the technology.
CEOCFO: Do you find that many of your clients fully utilize what you implement for them?
Mr. Parikh: The enterprise software suites are expansive and some enterprise clients tend to adopt many, if not all of the different features offered to take full advantage of the tool. Others may not have a need for all the features or they will pursue a phased rollout because they would rather not bite off a change too big to swallow. In most cases, our clients want to take on what is most critical for the business at first and then slowly, as the users begin to accept the system, they will start adding more features. The features that are always most critical to organizations are the reporting pieces due to SEC, management requests, investor relations, and Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) compliance issues. We really try to focus on the consolidations and reporting pieces first and then we come into the planning, budgeting, and forecasting disciplines. There is also the analytics piece, which adds on another layer of reporting, such as dashboards that provide a company snapshot for executive management.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to EPMI?
Mr. Parikh: At EPMI, we see implementations through our clients’ eyes. That is how our company began and we continue to operate this way today. We are not an average company, and our growth has more than doubled in two years. Doing more with less is not only our specialty, but also our philosophy. We try not to spend time on things that do not matter to the customer but rather, build solutions that work so well, our customers won’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.