Closing the Books on Manual Accounting ProcessesBy Wendy Shapiro | Posted 2010-12-09 Email Print
By automating the financial-close process, Atlas Air freed up time, money and resources.
Summary: The accounting department at Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, a global provider of outsourced aircraft capacity, embarked on a multipronged process-improvement initiative designed to help close its books faster, streamline reporting and lower costs. Wendy Shapiro, Atlas Air’s senior director of corporate accounting, discusses how the Purchase, N.Y.-based company achieved its goals.
Two questions that are ever-present on the minds of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings’ senior management are, “Can you close your books faster?” and “Can you do your work with less expense?” But closing quicker and with less expense is a challenge because we have to achieve these goals while holding the same high standards for accuracy and maintaining Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) 404 compliance through documentation and evidence of review.
In searching for a better process, we knew that we had to eliminate the tried-and-tested method of completing account roll-forwards in Excel spreadsheets, printing those roll-forwards and collating the required backup through a series of downloads. Once we had compiled the required backup, we had to conduct a manual routing of those documents for review and sign-off. This process had to be tracked to ensure that all appropriate levels of review were completed, and that took time and consumed valuable resources.
We quickly identified the automation of this cumbersome process as a key target area that would enable our global organization to make the process more efficient. As with any project, maintaining scope and clarity of purpose was essential to achieving successful change and improvement.
In addition, we had to identify the shortfalls of the current process while identifying the potential solutions that would achieve the results we needed. The most obvious strategy was one that offered automation, so we investigated IT software solutions. However, I knew Atlas Air would be very cautious on the amount of resources the solution required because the company was well into its latest growth phase and had many innovative projects in the works.
As the project began to take shape, it became clear that the manual paper-reconciliation process had to be replaced with an automated solution. This initiative had to be implemented quickly to avoid draining valuable resources, and the costs had to be kept to a minimum so other key projects would not be jeopardized. Before presenting the business case, viable solutions had to be researched so that the project’s scope and resources would be adequate.
We discovered that automating the closing work papers and financial-close process overall could be tackled from many different angles. However, most of the initial solutions either were incomplete and required work-arounds, or they were not scalable for a global company like Atlas Air.