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Want vs. Need - How True F&A 'Domain' Consultants Mind the Gap

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In this blog post, I'd like to share recent experiences of accounts payable and general ledger transformation projects that my team and I have been part of. Our clients are large and global, and we started by putting their process challenges under the scanner to sieve their wants from the needs. The outcome? A cohesive approach that helped our clients realize better productivity.


To think literally or to think laterally, that is the question
Like any BPO service provider with customer-centricity ingrained in our DNA, we tend to take the mantra of "the customer knows the best" literally. Some of us in the finance and accounting (F&A) consulting business are more inclined towards taking notes of 'client expectations' - rather than being 'true advisors' who take a 'prescriptive approach.'

I may not give you what you want, but I will give you what you need
Over the past 10 years, I've been fortunate to work with many Fortune 50 organizations - from developing point solutions in the F&A domain to implementing third-party solutions for F&A processes. And during these engagements, I've often had a ringside perspective of how consultants can make themselves more relevant to the client by asking questions with a singular purpose - to differentiate their 'wants' from 'needs.'

In this blog post, I'd like to share recent experiences of accounts payable and general ledger transformation projects that my team and I have been part of. Our clients are large and global, and we started by putting their process challenges under the scanner to sieve their wants from the needs. The outcome? A cohesive approach that helped our clients realize better productivity.

Example 1: OCR and workflow - minding the gap to see what comes first

What clients want
"I want to implement OCR (optical character recognition) for my accounts payable (AP) function. It will make my entire invoice processing painless and seamless."

What they actually need
In reality, to achieve the above state of invoice processing using OCR there are certain pre-requisites that the AP process needs to achieve. We have tie ups with leading OCR providers. These OCR engines are embedded with our AP Workflow systems. We are transparent in telling the clients that OCR is NOT a panacea for AP invoice processing issues. Technically, OCR makes sense when the top 50 - 60% of the invoice volumes are received from a predictable / 'finite' set of vendors.

Insights from a real-world engagement
We have had interesting conversations with the AP Director of US Based Media Giant - who had similar expectations with an OCR deployment. After analyzing the company's invoice volumes, we pointed out that an annual volume of more than tens of thousands of invoices is received from thousands of distinct vendors. And the top vendor sends only a few tens of invoices in a year! We explained that OCR would not yield any significant benefit in the above scenario, and we convinced the client to conduct a thorough vendor rationalization project to significantly reduce the vendor base.

Results achieved
We implemented a phased program - and the results speak for themselves.

  • Phase 1: Implementing an AP workflow solution (without OCR)
  • Phase 2: Vendor database rationalization project and implementing OCR post that. We started obtaining 70 - 80% OCR Accuracy within 4 months of deployment

Example 2: Process ownership - minding the gap between global and local

What clients want
"I am the global process owner and will be the point of contact for all requirement gathering / process design discussions. I should be able to provide inputs to design a single global process (for 35 countries and 7 regions!)"

What they actually need
Most of us understand the importance of having a single process owner for a successful transition or implementation. However, it is equally relevant for the requirement gathering teams' solution Design teams to consider the following:

  1. Does the SPOC have control over the processes running globally and at the same time is able to address or answer regional requirements of the organization?
  2. Does she/he have the organizational buy-in to drive such changes harmoniously across the globe?
  3. Is the SPOC able to change manage (including addressing cultural nuances) associated with the implementation transcending geographical boundaries?
  4. Does the client organization have a strong 'change management team' embedded within the project?

Insights from a real-world engagement
We encountered similar challenges while designing finance process applications - around functions like balance sheet recons, cash applications and JE workflow solution for a global manufacturing major.

As part of the blueprinting process, we brought to the client's attention the disparities observed across the processes within their organization. Although there was a designated 'global process owner,' in many cases a more detailed discussion was required with a cross-section of business owners to understand local nuances, regulatory requirements, and region-specific work allocation practices.

We jointly concluded with the client that the proposed application will have a common 'core fabric' - which will be uniform across the enterprise with 'local wrappers' - which will be country specific.

Results achieved

  • Within 14 months of starting the discussions - we now have implemented 7 solutions around 40 of the client's distinct business units - and we're still going strong!
  • A single reporting solution - to manage the process performance across the globe

5 imperatives for every F&A domain consultant and practitioner
Based on my experiences, I recommend that every F&A client and practitioner should consider these imperatives to achieve true business value:

  1. Be truly consultative - don't just take notes of what the client 'desires' - but peel the onion and understand the 'true process needs'
  2. Demonstrate subject matter knowledge - and be transparent in discussions
  3. Don't be afraid to tell the client the pain involved in the journey to a world-class organization
  4. Anticipate resistance and propose workarounds for the same
  5. Ensure that a strong change management process is built in place

All of the above can be achieved from the same starting point. That is, to mind the gap between wants and needs. I'd like to hear about your experiences. As a consultant, did you ever tell your client that what they want is not actually what they need? As a client, have your providers ever "surprised" you with a solution that went beyond the remit of your initial expectations?

Comments

Ram, very good write up.

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