The work that accountants do is valuable and important, BlackLine’s RVP of Sales Execution-Global Sales Vin Messina told his keynote audience. But not all work has the same value.

“I’m here today,” he said, “to help you see that there is a way to optimize your talent by having your team do more strategic work that contributes to the performance of your organization.

The key is to recognize how much time accountants are spending on routine manual chores, then to determine how that time can be restructured to serve the more valuable, strategic interests of the organization. Embarking on such a transformation is easier said than done, of course, so Messina offers a framework that can be used by CFOs, CAOs, Controllers, and accounting teams to reduce manual work and increase strategic value.

A Simple Framework for Risk, Process & Strategy

“The framework is based on a simple triangle,” he says. “It covers three areas that are top of mind for Finance and Accounting, and all executives: risk, process, and strategy.

“Strategy is at the top of the triangle and risk and process are at the bottom. The key is to reduce the manual time the accounting team is spending to run its processes and mitigate risk, then move that time up to help with the organization’s strategic initiatives.”

That requires some analysis of the manual time spent and of the real strategic needs of the organization.

Calculating manual time can be deceiving, since it includes not just the time spent on accounting processes and risk mitigation, but the additional, often hidden time that accountants spend on related activities. An example: sending emails to get a process update from a co-worker. BlackLine research shows that such an action takes an average of 67 minutes to complete.

As a result, an analysis of time spent on Accounting must also include extraneous activities such as communicating via phone and email.

Automating Processes to Increase Time for Strategic Work

Bringing in process automation is the next step. But even though automation can be used to reduce manual process time and reduce risk, it’s important to make the best use of that new-found time.

As processes become more automated, Messina notes, your accounting group will now be saving hours of accountants’ time. But you shouldn’t stop there. The next challenge is to put those hours to strategic use.

“Managing cost is important,” he says. “But if it’s your only focus, then you’re missing an opportunity to shift to adding more value through strategic initiatives.”

That strategic work might include upgrading to a new ERP, supporting an acquisition, or adopting new accounting technology. Your job now is to determine what exactly are your organization’s strategic priorities and prepare your team to find ways to contribute.

This will require Accounting and Finance to communicate with company leadership, and that’s always a good thing. This is also where the triangle framework comes in.

Presenting Your Strategy to Executives

“The triangle gives you the foundation to say ‘Alright, I think I have my business case. How am I going to translate this time into optimizing the strategic part of the triangle?’ Because that’s how you’re going to present this to your executive team.”

Messina points out that, as a CPA, he has worked in Accounting and Finance for 30 years. He understands how accountants think and notes that accountants are, by nature, strategic thinkers.

“We accountants are taught to make sense of things. We don’t just count things, we interpret them and we make predictions about the future. So, if we’re asked to help create new insights for the CEO and the CFO, and any other C-level who’s making decisions—why not spend more time doing that?”

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