Altera breaks through barriers to process improvement with Wdesk

Altera Corporation tried to streamline its SEC report development and filing process for years but the process was still complex and time consuming.

After several years of gradual improvement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing process, the SEC reporting team at Altera Corporation found itself stymied by the same immovable objects that frustrate many of their peers.

“I’ve been with Altera for about two and a half years,” said Scott Allen, controller for the global semiconductor company based in San Jose, Calif. “When I first came in, we did implement some improvements in the filing process. We were filing the 10-Q in about 38 days and we got that down to about 21 days after the quarter ended. At the end of the day, however, we still relied very heavily on word processing and spreadsheet software. So while the improvements were there, we just couldn’t take it as far as we wanted to go.”

“You’re always worried that you missed something,”said Bryan Moiles, assistant corporate controller and the primary author of Altera’s SEC reporting documents. “The quarter- and year-end process — that’s our peak period. There’s a lot of work that gets done during that time at a very fast pace. The fact that you could have an oversight was very realistic because you were moving at such a fast pace.”

Compounding those challenges was the global nature of Altera. Two of Altera’s primary SEC report authors worked in the San Jose office, while the third worked in Malaysia. The geographic distance gave Altera the advantage of an “around-the-clock” reporting process (Malaysia’s business day starts when San Jose’s ends), but it also created the challenge of sharing the central document across the globe using traditional applications.

And, just when Altera had done all it could to shave days off the old process using innovations and continuous improvement, new XBRL reporting requirements threatened to undo all those gains by virtue of the back-and-forth nature of XBRL tagging using a financial printer.

Removing the roadblocks

Allen saw the need for an XBRL solution as an opportunity to finally break through the underlying word processor and spreadsheet software reporting process roadblocks.

We had started to see other products but wanted something more in the collaboration space. I quickly realized the capabilities (of Wdesk) were much greater than some of the competitive products that we had seen.

— Scott Allen, Controller, Altera

“We weren’t looking for something that was just an XBRL solution,” said Allen. “We had started to see other products but wanted something more in the collaboration space. I identified that as our key. As Workiva described its product, I quickly realized the capabilities were much greater than some of the competitive products that we had seen. The cost structure was compelling, and the ease of implementation seemed to be there, so we certainly felt it was worth a closer look.”

Moiles said he and Allen immediately appreciated the credibility of the Workiva team.“What struck us is that the solution spoke our language,” said Moiles. “It was nice to talk to a company that had lived it, done it, had the same headaches we had. I know Jerry is a former CFO and he had gone through the same things every company out there is going through, so it was very relatable to us. Instantly we could see the benefit of using a platform such as Wdesk because it addressed just about every nuance of process improvement we wanted to see.”

Immediate benefits

Both Allen and Moiles have strongly recommended Wdesk to many of their peers based on a list of benefits including:

  • Ease of use - ““There’s a lot of apprehension people have about bringing in a new platform and how easy it will be to pick up,” said Moiles. “The application itself is very intuitive to use.” Because the interface resembles the familiar word processor and spreadsheet interfaces, users adapted quickly to Wdesk.
  • Positive cost/benefit calculation - ““Certainly the cost/benefit was there, especially compared to some of the pricing that we were getting from financial printers for XBRL tagging,” said Allen. “The application more than pays for itself, just from a third-party cost perspective. On top of that, there is far more efficiency.”
  • Worry-free collaboration - Wdesk allows multiple users anywhere in the Internet-connected world to access the same central document simultaneously, with no danger of version control issues. “With somebody here in San Jose and somebody in Malaysia working on the document at the same time, it was very important that we had controls around version,” said Moiles.
  • Increased control - Total internal control of the reporting process from beginning to SEC submission—including XBRL function—increases peace of mind while decreasing the days needed to complete the reports.
  • Risk reduction -The central risk to most SEC filing processes is data entry error, no matter how skilled the human doing the entry is. Wdesk dramatically reduces the number of times data has to be entered, and the amount of data that has to be meticulously reviewed.
  • Built-in audit trail - “We use the functionality of Wdesk to capture comments and audit trails within the document so we no longer have those big stacks of paper that we used to save to prove that our financial reporting process has the right controls,” said Moiles.
  • Dramatic time reductions - Before adopting Wdesk, Altera’s manual process required 30 to 40 hours just to roll numbers forward from quarter to quarter. Today the change once, update everywhere linking system on Wdesk lets Altera completely roll documents forward in one day.

Instantly we could see the benefit of using a platform such as Wdesk because it addressed just about every nuance of process improvement we wanted to see.

— Bryan Moiles, Assistant Corporate Controller, Altera

Greater assurance of accuracy and a shorter reporting cycle

“Using Wdesk, we'll file our 10-K four days sooner than we did last year,” said Moiles. “I think we can take a full seven days out of the process when we do our 2011 10-K filing. Then with the 10-Qs in 2011, we'll be able to take three more days out of the process on the back end.”

Measurable return on investment

When Allen ran the numbers, he found impressive return on Altera’s investment in Wdesk.

“We are saving about $40,000 a year in hard costs,” said Allen, “and internal costs on top of that. We estimate all the internal efficiencies are another $15,000 a year in savings.”

Beyond the dollar amounts represented above, Wdesk also allows Altera to free employees from what amounts to a very high-stakes exercise in data entry and proofreading and use their talents for more rewarding, business-critical tasks.

“Now that we use Wdesk, rather than having just full-time SEC reporting individuals, basically 50% of their time now will be spent on reporting and the other 50% of their time on projects that move other company initiatives forward,” said Moiles.

Expanding the use of Wdesk

Now that the SEC reporting team has proven the platform’s function and value, Altera plans to expand its use to other areas of the business. The investor relations team was among the first to see the potential.

“Once we showed them we could generate this one workbook that had all the numbers and, if things changed, update that workbook and flow the changes through to all the documents, they bought right in,” said Moiles. Altera also plans to use the ability to limit each user’s access to a certain part of the document to create further efficiencies and enhance control.

XBRL learning curve and superior service

“With some training, the team found that the XBRL function was quick to understand, very user-friendly, and very menu-driven,” said Allen. “I don’t want to oversimplify the XBRL process because it’s not an easy one, but the way the technology is structured made this easier to roll out, and the support from the Workiva team was really great.”

Both Allen and Moiles said Workiva offers “exceptional” service, both in learning to use the application in general and in helping them address the intricacies of XBRL tagging.

“We’ve received really strong support throughout all phases of the experience,” said Allen. “That support level did not end once we signed the contract; in fact I think there has been a great partnership between Altera and Workiva. Every time we have a new idea we know Workiva is genuinely interested in listening to that idea to make the product even better going forward. We just love that value-add spirit that Workiva brings to the table.”

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