Speaking at last week’s International SAP Conference on Treasury and Working Capital Management in Barcelona, Hitachi Vantara’s Cathy Fields and Delotte’s Subhrajit Dutt outlined the scale of an ongoing treasury transformation at the company.
Hitachi was founded over 100 years ago by Namihei Odaira, an electrical engineer making small machines for the mining sector, reducing Japan’s dependency on imports. Today, Hitachi’s family of companies is still focused on contributing to society and producing superior and original technology, said Cathy Fields, Assistant Treasurer and Senior Director of Global Risk Management at Hitachi Vantara, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi. “We are one of the few remaining conglomerates in the world,” she said.
Over the past eight years, Fields has focused on centralising Hitachi’s highly decentralised, fragmented, and scattered processes in a root-and-branch digital transformation finding and introducing standardised processes across the whole company. From centralising cash management and introducing new cash visibility, to standardised data collection and FX risk management and streamlining payments to reduce fraud risk, the objective is to optimise and rationalise systems and improve performance ending reliance on regional, standalone treasury systems and non-standardised manual data collection.
“Hitachi decided to use SAP for this journey,” Fields told delegates, mostly because the company was already using the enterprise resource planning software developed by the German company. SAP ensured the transformation could cover every treasury function in an additive process, beginning with bank account management. Cash forecasting was built on, then debt and investment management and group financing added. “We began by designing a global template,” explained Dutt. In incremental steps just six banking partners integrated first, followed by a further four. Regional treasury centres began to use the system to manage external investment and debt, and automated cash pooling was included. Interest rate and FX management have, and will be, added next.
Success has depended on the right policies, collaborating with business partners, and putting processes in place to support companies within the group transition. “We had to define how a group company that doesn’t use SAP would integrate,” said Fields, who explained how the system takes regional treasuries data and activity and pushes it up to the global centre. “This was a piece of structure we never had before,” she says.
The value add and cost savings of the transformation are pervasive. As interest rates rise, the company has an opportunity to manage its debt more efficiently, said Dutt. A myriad of bank accounts has been rationalised; Hitachi has cash visualisation and can collect data in a standardised format. Participants pool cash in a central location that is easy to utilise. In another value-add, centralising FX means a single entity will hedge on a net basis. “This is a tremendous saving from a hedging perspective,” said Fields. Elsewhere, a cash netting solution reduces efficiencies and manual work hours.
Fields said that Hitachi is only half-way through the process. Reflecting on key learnings so far, she said the scale of the transformation required change management expertise. She urged delegates embarking on a similar path to put an agent for change in place. “Have a strategy for change management at the beginning; you need acceptance from group companies so spend time talking to them and understanding what your infrastructure looks like. Share updates with them,” she added.
Dutt advised corporates to start early with their design, developing and testing all functionality as early as possible. “Test, test, test: testing is critical to success.” He stressed the importance of negative testing, and said testing takes the fear out of new systems; helping develop trust amongst users. Regarding data migration he said: “Educate and familiarise users with new data collection templates, run migration sessions and smooth out errors to facilitate a smooth migration.” Both Fields and Dutt concluded by counselling on the importance of managing expectations with timelines and milestones – and clear signposting of the tasks ahead.