Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Why Finance Needs to Delight the Customer (and How to Start)

Lynne Sampson
Managing Editor

When Dropbox announced its intention in January 2019 to acquire the start-up HelloSign, it was the company’s largest known acquisition to date. Along with its e-signature and workflow technology, HelloSign brought with it 80,000 existing customers.

Onboarding  a new business is no easy feat. But Dropbox keeps customer focus at the center of business operations, according to Eoin Donohoe, International Controller at Dropbox, a leading global collaboration platform that’s transforming the way people and teams work together.

With any business change such as an acquisition, Donohoe says, “We think about our internal and external customers and ask, ‘How do we make this as easy as possible for the customer? How do we provide a best-in-class service to facilitate the business onboarding process?’”

“At the same time, we think about our employees who are managing the business onboarding process, to identify how we make it as easy as possible for them to complete their role in an efficient, enjoyable and productive manner.”

Recent research from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and Oracle found that digital finance leaders share this relentless customer focus. The survey of 700 global finance leaders found that the most successful organizations employ an agile operating model based on three pillars: Operational Excellence, Digital Intelligence, and Business Influence (Agile Finance Unleashed: The Key Traits of Digital Finance Leaders, Jan. 2019).

Striving for Operational Excellence

As a finance executive responsible for global procure-to-pay (P2P) and finance transformation, Donohoe recognizes that excellent service requires excellent operations. “We're really focused on asking, ‘How efficiently are we processing?’ And I think efficiency, as a metric, is very much aligned with scale. If we continue to grow our business, do we need to also increase our transactional headcount? To me, the answer should be no.”

Scaling without additional headcount requires automation, which requires technology. Dropbox selected Oracle ERP Cloud as its primary financial system as it required an ERP which could grow and scale with its business.

“We’ve been really impressed and extremely excited about the genuine interest Oracle has taken in partnering with us,” Donohoe says. He met recently with executives on Oracle’s development team with the goal of getting the most out its cloud implementation. As a technology company, Dropbox recognizes that most users rarely take advantage of all the features and functions available in any piece of software. And as a cloud company, it recognizes the ongoing innovation that cloud ERP provides through ongoing, quarterly releases to the market.

“We want to align with somebody in Oracle that we can reach out to and have them partner with us,” he says. “We want them to look at our business processes and tell us, ‘Did you know there are X, Y and Z modules that you aren't utilizing, that can make this process more efficient?’”

Donohoe says finance is also looking at robotic process automation (RPA) within accounts payable, to drive transactional processing efficiencies. “This will help the team scale with the business to ensure we continue to provide high quality support to our vendors.”

Focusing on Customer Success

Maria Smith, Oracle’s assistant corporate controller, recently shared the stage with Donohoe at Oracle OpenWorld London. As a company that “drinks its own champagne,” Smith says her finance team regularly fields calls from Oracle customers like Dropbox.

“What’s happening now is, our customers are contacting us to say, ‘You are using the same cloud service that I am. I want to hear more about what you are doing and how you are finding efficiencies. And do you have any tips for me or any recommendations?’” she explained in a recent interview.

Smith is more than happy to expound on the ways her team takes advantage of best practices in Oracle ERP and EPM Cloud. For example, “Oracle has hundreds of legal entities, hundreds of company codes.” In the past, this equated to thousands of allocations for the finance team to make.

Oracle ERP Cloud has a multi-ledger, multi-currency journal entry feature that helps to automate this process. “We can account globally in all of the entities and all of the countries in one entry,” Smith explains. “I can book into the U.K. in sterling. I can book into Spain in euros. I can book into the U.S. in U.S. dollars. Because of this global accounting feature, we’ve gone from 11,400 allocations to 200—a 98% reduction.”

Smith’s team can allocate global intercompany accounts for hundreds of subsidiaries in just 1.5 hours. They reduced manual accounting 14 percent in the first quarter the cloud solution went live; today, they’re down 35 percent from where they started.

Aiming for an Automatic Close

Smith’s next goal is visionary: a one-day financial close and, eventually, an automated process where the books continuously balance themselves.

“The automatic close is where you see a continuous data flow every second of every day—on the people who populate your call centers, all your compensation and benefits data, on customers and revenue and sales.” Smith says that Oracle is uniquely placed among cloud providers because it offers all this data—HR, ERP, customers and supply chain—in a unified cloud with a single data model.

“Having this one data set will help us capitalize on what will be possible in the near future with machine learning,” she explains. “We could see what our profit is, what our balance sheet looks like at any point in time. Why wouldn’t your P&L and balance sheet be up to date? The only thing, then, that would stop you is data quality.”

Mining Digital Intelligence

Financial data quality is also a focus for Dropbox's finance team, because it helps them to drive business insights. “Companies are very focused on revenue data, customer churn, average revenue per customer,” says Donohoe, “but what about the other non-revenue financial data that they may not be fully utilising?”

Donohoe believes that this financial data could yield significant insights for the business. The finance team, he says, is “the one team that has all the true costs of the business. We want to use that data to take business insights to the next level.”

Intelligence Leads to Influence

Given the power to answer such questions, the finance function can play a much larger role in business strategy and decision-making—yet another goal that Donohoe and Smith share.

“We're sitting on very insightful financial information,” Donohoe says. “How do we dive into that financial data a little bit more and provide really useful intelligence to the business? We want to be seen as the function that people go to for insights. We want to help set the direction of the company.”

Smith (who participated in the Agile Finance research) echoes this: “I want the team to shift from accounting for the past into strategizing about the future. You don’t get a load of resources to do these things in any company.” Automation, she says, “is one mechanism to free up that bandwidth.”

“We want to be the best deployment of Oracle on the planet,” Smith concludes, “because we believe that’s how we get to be the best at finance on the planet. It all comes back to helping our customers succeed.”

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