Striving for operational excellence and mitigating risk by eliminating inefficiencies is part of Queensland Treasury Corporation’s DNA and were the driving factors for the organisation’s modernization of its financial management system.
As the central financing authority for the Queensland Government, QTC provides financial resources and services for the State. In the last financial year, it delivered $300 million worth of returns for Government stakeholders and achieved a record $20.5 billion issuance to fund the State’s borrowing program despite challenging global conditions.
As part of an organisational transformation that began about six years ago, much of QTC’s operations had already transitioned to Microsoft platforms, but in 2019 the Finance team determined modernization was needed. Using a legacy financial management system that featured multiple manual processes, numerous workarounds and slow bulk journal processing, QTC realized its system could not deliver the agility and efficiencies it needed.
A Request For Proposal (RFP) identified Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance solution as the strongest contender to improve access to data and streamline and automate multiple processes—while laying the foundations for ongoing innovation. Working with DXC Technology and Microsoft Fast Track, and using the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step Implementation Methodology, QTC deployed the system in less than six months despite the global pandemic forcing most of the team to work remotely.
Rapid deployment was essential. The rollout needed to be completed by the end of June 2020 ready for go-live on 1 July 2020 to avoid the finance team having to wrangle two separate platforms when the new financial year rolled in.
One of the immediate benefits according to Jane Keating, Managing Director – Finance, Data & Compliance, QTC is that; “It’s certainly given us more timely information. So, we get access to information very early in the piece every morning, as opposed to waiting half a day for that information to get processed through our other systems, which means that clients can get their information much more quickly.
Besides providing near real-time access to data and enhanced analytics opportunities, Dynamics 365 primes QTC for ongoing process reform and automation, driving additional efficiencies. It means, says Eric McMahon, Principal – Financial Services, QTC, that besides accelerating month-end close and reporting timeframes, QTC’s team is better able to respond to queries or provide advice to the organisations and agencies it serves. People now spend less time wrangling the numbers, freeing them to deliver operational impact.
Michelle McMullan, CFO and Executive Director – Market Risk Analytics, Finance and Assurance, QTC says; “There’s been such an expansion in the technology, so many options are out there for capturing data and interrogating and analyzing data. And it integrates with our treasury management and data hub…we’ve become more powerful as an organization in terms of the advice that we can give to our clients.”
Minimise cost and risk
As the central financing authority for the Queensland Government and associated entities QTC manages its clients’ borrowings, cash investments, and foreign exchange. Working closely with clients on their balance sheet management QTC helps to identify opportunities to minimise costs and risks.
To succeed it needs access to accurate and timely data, and a way to streamline processes.
Internally, the project to update the finance platform was known as Project Luca, named after the 15th Century Franciscan Friar, Luca Pacioli, widely acknowledged as the ‘father of accounting’ who was renowned for his work on double entry book-keeping and as a maths tutor to Leonardo da Vinci.
Clarity and consistency were his guiding lights – and Pacioli would likely have approved of QTC’s ability to harness modern technology to dispense with the traditional paper shuffling associated with filing expense claims – replacing that with a mobile application – and in the process killing off the petty cash tin.
McMahon explains; “The petty cash tin, while minor in the scheme of things, was symbolic of the sweeping changes afoot as we reviewed our systems and processes. Expense claims are now handled electronically, replacing reconciliation spreadsheets and manual paper processing.”
While around twenty-eight people are power users of the platform (no longer called Project Luca, but Finance 365) all 220 employees are able to use the expenses claim application.
It’s just one example of how QTC has leveraged Dynamics 365 to; “Modernize our processes, become data centric and derive greater level of insights, and harness efficient processing and automation, which all contribute to better value for our clients and stakeholders.”
“Dynamics 365 Sales for CRM was already deployed at QTC, rolling out Dynamics 365 for Finance has improved month end close and reporting timeframes, provided almost real time data for analytics, better equips the QTC finance team to answer queries, and provides mobile access to the platform for people on the move” according to McMahon.
The richer collection of data also positions QTC to expand its capability – instead of always producing reports that reveal what has happened, it can now play a more forward-looking role” says McMahon.
No matter how forward looking the customization is today, it could not have foreseen the impact that the pandemic would have when it began the Dynamics 365 implementation in January 2020. In March, McMahon and his team started working from home, continuing to liaise with DXC Technology and the Microsoft Fast Track program – just not face-to-face.
It made QTC also rethink its change management approach, replacing classroom training with home-grown videos to show people how to use the new system. It turned out to be a winning approach says Keating.
“That was a key feature of the success. Eric and his team were at home. The project managers were at home, different organizations at home as well. So, so many things could have gone wrong and they didn’t. On budget, on time. And it was great.”
It was fast as well – achieved in just five and a half months – and in time for the start of the 2020-21 financial year.
Keating adds that the platform is also far simpler to modify. Where a version update on its legacy and highly customized finance platform could take months to complete, having embraced Dynamics 365 pretty much out of the box; “The Finance 365 update takes two hours each quarter.”
She also hails the efficiencies that are promised by increased automation around functions such as accounts payable.
McMullan says that automating repetitive tasks frees up QTC’s talent for more rewarding work. “We’ve got some really very smart people that work in our division, accountants, mathematicians, economists. And I guess some of their day-to-day jobs require quite repetitive tasks, refreshing reports, sending them out.
“To the extent that we can automate a lot of that, those people have more time to do more interesting work, which will drive employee engagement and innovation.”
QTC’s clients will also have access to more self-serve analytics and dashboards across QTC’s finance data set – dubbed Accounting IQ – which was not possible with the legacy platform.
McMahon explains; “What we’re working towards is the accounting Holy Grail – automation of the organization’s profit, loss, balance sheet and cashflow statement. We have now replicated that in Power BI. On a daily basis, we can produce a cash flow/profit and loss statement per client. We’ve built a CFO dashboard for Michelle, which gives her a view of our profit on a day-to-day basis. “
The system can also handle monthly reconciliations across the multiple portfolios that QTC serves. In the past QTC tackled that with Excel – now it’s achieved automatically in a fraction of the time using Power BI.
There are economies as well says Keating; “Moving to this platform it was very clear it is actually going to be a lot cheaper for us, and we have certainly increased our productivity internally since adopting this.
“There’s a bit of time spent developing the reports that we need at the moment, but I think once we’ve done all of it, it will deliver more powerful analytics and insights to management.”
Foundations for the future
Keating says that QTC is probably a third of the way through its Microsoft transformation journey, and that there are plans to leverage more technology.
For example, QTC envisages using Azure cognitive services to scan emails for PO numbers, match those, and automate payments and reconciliations where possible.
QTC is also keen to explore Azure Purview, which promises a unified view of all data across an enterprise, as well as Azure Synapse Analytics in the future.
Kristan Bowen, Director Enterprise Information and Technology, QTC explains that the deliberate decision by the organization to leverage Microsoft public cloud and other technologies opens the door to a broad array of trusted and secure services.
“We’re constantly reviewing workloads for their suitability to be shifted to Microsoft’s public cloud” he says.
With a team of just 10, Bowen is also keen to explore opportunities for expanding QTC’s innovation envelope by setting up governance guardrails that would allow more citizen business application development by front line workers who understand what would help them do their work.
McMahon explains that; “We utilize the broader ecosystem, in particular the Power Platform, to deliver cost, time and effort savings — Power Automate for approvals and alerts, Power BI for reporting and analytics, and going forward we will further integrate Power Apps into our processes.”