The fact that these capabilities were in place when the pandemic hit helped Element Solutions adapt quickly because much of the company’s supply function was already data-enabled.
Other data-driven solutions RSM helped the company implement—in a compressed time frame of months rather than a year—include:
- Process mining to visualize events within business processes—for instance, mapping the flow of specific documents across the company
- Using software to schedule repeatable data workflows and setting up continuous monitoring of those workflows in areas such as ledger activities and expense programs
The continuous monitoring is also transforming the way RSM conducts audits for Element Solutions; the team can look for anomalies consistently and ask real-time questions when the data shows irregularities.
There is something of a learning curve to using data analytics, McKenna says, because sometimes people don’t understand the benefit of it until they see it in action. But RSM’s team showed Element Solutions’ people the benefits of using data without scaring them away with overly technical analyses.
“The RSM team was very agile in pivoting to different requirements, so it would actually become usable,” McKenna says. And given the global supply chain constraints over the last couple of years, “there’s been a need for real-time information.”
As a business with facilities across more than 50 countries, Element Solutions’ global needs were a major focus throughout the data analytics project. The company needed more regional and global visibility to understand cross-border supply movements and any regional constraints with great precision.
RSM helped the company gain improved visibility with a central-coordination approach. While Element Solutions leverages RSM’s offices in many different jurisdictions, a core team is available to discuss challenges and issues as they arise and streamline responses from RSM’s side.
“The central coordination is key for us,” says McKenna. “I definitely value the consistency and relationship-building.”
From RPA skeptic to believer
With data analytics applications already in place, RSM also worked with Element Solutions to implement robotic process automation (RPA) to boost efficiencies. McKenna acknowledges he was initially skeptical about the potential of RPA, which might seem overhyped to companies not yet implementing it.
"As someone who is used to a traditional audit background, you hear about these technologies, but you think, ‘That doesn’t apply, we have standards to follow, what if it failed,’” he says. But RSM’s team helped to “demystify it,” he adds: “They explained it in a way you can really understand it, and how it impacts you.”
So given the trust built over time between the two companies and their history of working together to embrace new technologies, he leaned in.
The RPA effort started among a small internal resource group within Element Solutions’ information technology function, upskilling team members and integrating automation to reduce time on repetitive tasks. McKenna says that pilot paid for itself within a year, and other departments across the company have since embraced automation. Some of the results have included improving the consistency of audit documentation and saving a significant amount of audit hours.
For instance, IT resources previously had to capture screenshots manually to review them. But now, bots capture the data and use it to populate a template for the auditor to review. A person still reviews the data at the end of the day, but the information gathering is automated.
Not every process can be automated, of course, and that’s another area where RSM helped Element Solutions—understanding what might be possible and using technology to tap into areas potentially ripe for improvement.
Global solutions and tapping into data to improve visibility and efficiency have helped streamline Element Solutions’ operations as supply chain uncertainty has become the norm. RSM’s collaborative approach over the years has helped equip Element Solutions to strategically use data, automation and other technologies as its business continues to evolve.