By the Number

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2009-08-04 Print this article Print

In today’s data-centric world, organizations are striving to do a better job of recognizing and containing risks.

By the Numbers

One of the pain points with information technology is that every solution eventually becomes a problem. Dozens, if not hundreds, of different spreadsheets, software packages, storage devices and reporting products eventually conspire to create an unmanageable tangle of systems. When that occurs, tracking data and understanding risk can lead to a black hole of processes and technologies.

Tammie Coley, director of accounting at Cox Communications, understands that concept well. With more than 6 million customers, the third-largest cable provider in the United States has 18 field locations that stream data into the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. In the past, each location had its own accounting team. Maintaining accuracy in a decentralized environment was cumbersome and time-intensive. “Each office had its own system for reconciliations,” Coley says. “While we had good policies in place, there was no efficient way to monitor those policies.”

In some cases, weeks or months would pass before headquarters spotted discrepancies and potential problems. Then auditors or compliance team members had to track down spreadsheets residing on hard drives scattered across the company and find supporting paperwork tucked away in binders. “It was a huge effort,” Coley says. “Our month-end closing schedules had become unpredictable. We needed to improve the efficiency of our reconciliation controls.”

In November 2005, Cox Communications turned to software from BlackLine Systems to roll up manual records and automate data from an Oracle E-Business Suite. The company’s goal was to improve data access and accuracy, establish a more standardized platform, improve accountability, and obtain faster closes and better insight into financial processes.

By automating the systems, Coley says, Cox has managed to trim 1,500 worker-hours per month in processing time. The system also has reduced travel expenses and, most importantly, put data at the fingertips of auditors and compliance managers. Although Cox became a privately held company at the end of 2004—thus eliminating Sections 302 and 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements—it continues to adhere to the same stringent regulations.

The BlackLine software has transformed governance at Cox Communications. “We can see whether reconciliations are being performed correctly and whether field offices are getting deposits to the bank on time, and we can easily monitor the progress of month-end closes,” Coley says. In fact, she has alerts in place to remind staff about required tasks and corresponding due dates. “We have entered a new era of efficiency and accuracy,” she adds.

Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.

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