Automating Closing Processes at The Comfort Group
By Matt Gillespie, Contributing Writer, SAPinsider
As a fourth-generation family-owned firm, The Comfort Group has developed into the largest bed and foam manufacturer in Australasia. The company has grown dramatically over the past decade, both organically and through acquisitions. In the process of that growth cycle, The Comfort Group, which runs multiple ERP systems, has made great strides in terms of modernization, standardization, and automation of its business and technology processes. In order to align its financial close procedure with this ongoing effort – a critical step forward, considering all of the organization’s financial data gets consolidated on SAP S/4HANA – The Comfort Group implemented SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing with help from its implementation partner, Deloitte. The solution orchestrates the full spectrum of planning, processing, monitoring, and analysis tasks associated with financial close at The Comfort Group.
Discovery and Initial Configuration
A key challenge that arose during the initial planning stage was to conceive of the implementation of SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing within the Agile framework of two-week sprints. That requirement permeated the entire process as The Comfort Group’s business users worked with Deloitte’s project team to discover and document the existing close procedure. As is the case for many companies, that information existed in both formal and informal modes.
The team began with central sources such as process documentation and cheat sheets, then built a more complete picture using user interviews, emails, and other informal sources. Discovery activities thoroughly documented the processes themselves, the systems used, and the users involved (as well as their individual roles and privilege levels).
With an understanding of the current close processes in hand, the implementation team next analyzed the processes in terms of efficiency and to identify potential process areas that could be improved by means of automation. To create month-end workflows, they began with the closing Task List Models based on SAP’s Best Practices and tailored it to fit The Comfort Group’s individual needs.
Based on this pre-delivered template, the group added several required external tasks and then fine-tuned the task sequence and dependencies. Additional configurations included settings for regulatory considerations, such as regional data privacy requirements and Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) Act compliance. Finally, the team set up status notifications and built uploads of attachments with work instructions and links into the tasks, so that everything a user needs to complete a given task is conveniently available to them, right in the task itself.
Demonstration and User Acceptance Testing
Having established its core build for the Month-End Template, The Comfort Group and Deloitte next prepared to demonstrate it to key decision makers, subject matter experts (SMEs), and other stakeholders. Part of that preparation was to define user groups, authorization settings, and the closing tasks themselves. The team also uploaded useful documentation such as cheat sheets, procedures, and notes and then applied common automation techniques such as embedded workflows and automated chains of closing jobs like the fixed asset depreciation or foreign currency valuation runs.
Building on The Comfort Group’s agile process, an iterative demonstration and testing process was established, incorporating input from stakeholders as the project continued. For example, a business SME might identify a process document that should be included, or a contingent process may be called for, under certain circumstances. As the team involved more experts, the set of month-end tasks became more automated, more complete, and more sophisticated.
Further investigation continued to reveal offline processes — such as email communication and status checks — that were involved in the month-end workflow but not included in the Month-End Template of the system. Over the course of the demonstration and user acceptance testing stage, many such offline
processes were formalized and incorporated into the Template by means such as notes and web application links. The Comfort Group found that approach to be essential in encouraging users to use the system for all aspects of the month-end workflow.
The delivery model used by The Comfort Group to implement SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing based user acceptance criteria on the user stories developed at the outset of the project. Meeting all those criteria successfully demonstrated that the implementation objectives had been met. End-user training made available beginning in this stage was a key means to improve the efficiency of user onboarding, including resources available through the SAP Help Portal’s Finance Video Library.
Solution Adoption, Ongoing Improvements, and Take-Aways
As The Comfort Group and Deloitte prepared to hand over the solution to production, they recognized that supporting the first month-end close to ensure that it went smoothly was vital to overall successful adoption. Advance planning included coordinating schedules and events with key business users, so they were prepared to receive and follow through on task notifications via email. Support resources were also strategically assigned for the close itself.
On a daily basis during initial adoption, the team held check-in meetings to monitor progress, share expertise and lessons learned, and address any issues that users were having. These meetings served as the hub for encouraging full user adoption, including the use of online processes and collaboration in place of informal workarounds or undocumented task knowledge. They also set the pattern for ongoing improvements to the integrity of the month-end process and to user experience and efficiency.
The success of this project shows conclusively that the Agile framework can be applied to the delivery model of SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing. In the future, SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing holds the potential to serve as a cloud closing hub for The Comfort Group across multiple ERP systems, with a goal of supporting integration to on-premise financial systems and enabling the company to conduct the closing process in a remote environment.