Guest blogger Pearl Fearon shares how customizing digital approval flows frees up major time… and brain space.
Fully digital approval flows are exactly what production accountants need. But they frankly aren’t usable without individual customization. That’s where GreenSlate’s custom approval flows come in, arguably one of their best features.
Every module (Timecards, Digital Start Work, Purchase Orders, Journal Entries, Bills, Bill Payments, etc...) can have a separate custom approval flow. Within that, the approval flow can be altered even further based on Division. Division can mean whatever grouping makes the most sense to the user, but often is used interchangeably with departments.
Users can set parameters based on amounts. Most studio projects have rules about who needs to sign any Purchase Orders or Bills over $100,000 or similar. When production accounting was still paper-based, that meant keeping a hawk-eye on any big-ticket items to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. It’s one of the first things studios look for in their audits to check for compliance with their policies. And when things would get really busy on a project, it would be one more thing taking up brain space to make sure it got done.
But with custom approval flows I can set it and forget it.
Time savings & accuracy
I know the item will reach the correct approvers just by hitting that “submit” button. GreenSlate’s digital system will automatically flag anything over the amount threshold and send it to the required approvers. One less thing taking up space in my brain, and my hawk-eyes can be saved for a different task.
Custom approval flows ensure that items submitted by users outside the accounting department come to us already approved by their department heads. That means we spend much less time sending items back to people to get their department head signature.
We can rest assured that the approval flow will route it to the correct person and we never have to retroactively hunt down approvals.
Sometimes accountants need to get policy exceptions from production finance for items that we need to pay that don’t follow the studios’ standard operating procedures, like parking tickets or alcohol purchases. Before digital signing software, we used to send and receive all these types of approvals via email. Once we received email approval, we would attach the email to the transactions. We attached it to make sure that in a studio audit they knew we had done our jobs, paid attention, and received the necessary approvals for policy exceptions.
With emails, it was often tough to keep track of things like this. Which member of the department sent it to the finance person? If someone forgot to attach the email approval to the transaction, what email account is it in? Even with external digital signing softwares, it was just another thing to keep track of and remember to follow up on.
With a custom approval chain made for that purpose, we know we can’t accidentally pay something without getting the pertinent approval first. Instead of taking the item out of our show-level approval chain and then having to keep track of it, all approvals can happen in the same place and it’s one less thing to think about.
Everything, all in one place
There is often a similar approval situation for VFX production executives. It’s a pretty common studio practice that items for VFX need to be approved by a VFX production executive. But again, it’s just another thing to keep in the back of our minds.
I’ve worked on shows where we had a bin of items that we had sent to the VFX production executive’s office, and had to constantly follow up with their assistant to get these approvals. That meant the accounting clerk had to spend time every few days tracking approvals, and making sure they hadn’t come back to a different member of the department.
The clerk would have to do this often to ensure we had approval to pay invoices that the vendor was patiently waiting on payment for. But in GreenSlate, we set up a custom approval flow just for VFX items, and after receiving show-level approvals, the bills automatically routed to the VFX production executive. There was no keeping track of what had potentially been sent and what we were still waiting for. All the information we needed was in one place, and the clerk could reclaim those hours every week.
With the adoption of any new system, it’s important to think outside the box. It took me a bit to wrap my brain around it, but just because they’re called "approval steps" doesn’t mean they can only be for traditional approvers of transactions.
The beauty of customization
As a first assistant accountant, I usually wouldn't sign my name to approve documents we processed.
When we first looked at designing our custom approval flow, I worried that I'd have to wait until every approver looked at items before they came to me to be posted. But that meant the producer or controller seeing items before I did, and when they had questions I wouldn’t have answers, because it was my first time looking at it!
So we added a step to our custom approval chain, right in the middle, just for me. I’m not a traditional “approver,” but I had my own approval step. That way my signature was digitally inscribed on the transaction and everyone could rest assured that I was in the loop.
The beauty of customization is that what works for me isn’t exactly what needs to work for all users of the program – people can design a custom approval flow that works best for them. We each have enough to think about and keep track of.
Think about how much brain space you could free up if you could automate the simple stuff - just set it and forget it.