SOX compliance at Upland Software

Switching from a private company to a public one presents many challenges.

New accountabilities. Different processes. More pressure. For financial reporting teams, those challenges could be summed up in one phrase: Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance.

I enjoy using Wdesk. It makes my life easier, makes my job more interesting, and allows me to expand my scope.

Marissa Palmer, SOX and Compliance Manager

Upland Software, based in Austin, Texas, offers cloud-based products that automate workflow, help teams work smoothly, and quickly adapt to change. The team needed those same three things when the company went public and began the SOX compliance process.

A smarter solution

Upland didn’t have a SOX reporting manager, so management brought in a team of consultants to build a SOX framework using Microsoft® Excel® and Visio® software. The consultants were midway through creating documentation, process flows, and controls when Marissa Palmer joined the company as the SOX and compliance manager.

Right away she saw the need for a more robust approach. “Being a technology company, we needed something more because we didn’t want to do this manually,” says Palmer. “We wanted to be smarter and more efficient about the SOX process.”

Getting someone up and running in Wdesk can happen immediately because it’s so intuitive.

Marissa Palmer, SOX and Compliance Manager

Fortunately, Upland already had its answer in hand. “We were using Wdesk for SEC reporting,” explains Palmer.

“The whole reason for SOX is to ensure the SEC filings are correct, so why not use Wdesk for both parts? It was a natural progression.” The fact that Wdesk was a known quantity eased the pressure on the team, too. “No one wants to learn a new system,” says Palmer. “It was a really big factor because people already knew how to use Wdesk and were comfortable with the system.”

Palmer recognized that beyond streamlining SOX compliance, Wdesk could help the team make a critical transition. “It’s always hard going from a private company to a public company. There’s a mindset shift and a culture shift—and it’s a quick one,” she explains. “In a private company, you don’t have to answer to anyone. With a public company you have investors and shareholders, and you need greater transparency.”

I recommend Wdesk for SOX because of the time savings and because it gives you one ‘source of truth’ that flows through your documentation.

Marissa Palmer, SOX and Compliance Manager

Palmer says Workiva helped educate the Upland team and set expectations. “Explaining why we do SOX is really important. Wdesk helps connect the dots because you can see how one control might affect ten different areas—you physically see the links to a process flow or a test sheet.”

Palmer asked Workiva to get Upland up and running with Wdesk for SOX Compliance. In a matter of weeks, Workiva built Upland’s SOX documentation and test of control (TOC) sheets. “We were expecting it to be longer,” says Palmer. “It was really painless. Workiva got everything up and running quickly."

Single source of truth

Now with Wdesk, Palmer says she has a single source of truth in the risk control matrix (RCM)— the master list of Upland’s risks and controls, their frequency, and owners. The RCM links to the SOX process flows, which document processes in detail and identify where controls exist.

Palmer says refining and managing that complicated process in an Excel spreadsheet, as many companies do, caused version control and reconciliation issues that consumed valuable time. “With Wdesk, the pain point of reconciling multiple versions of Excel is gone,” says Palmer. “Our controls are now cemented down.”

Wdesk also helped the Upland team work more effectively with its auditors.

I think Wdesk will continue to help us build a smoother and more efficient SOX process.

Marissa Palmer, SOX and Compliance Manager

“Wdesk provoked conversations within our organization about what the auditors were expecting and when they were expecting it. We used that information in order to make our program and process better and stronger,” says Palmer.

When she showed the external auditors how she updated documents in Wdesk, they were impressed with how all documents were linked and with how steps that usually took hours took only minutes with Wdesk.

Now, when Upland’s management wants controls metrics for a presentation, Palmer has them at the ready. She’s says the ease of producing metrics is one of the biggest benefits of using Wdesk. “It’s not easy to get metrics around a bunch of things you have to look at in different ways,” she explains. “When you create metrics in Wdesk, it talks to whatever dashboard you create and it automatically updates the links for me. It’s better than nice—it’s super awesome.”

Palmer says Wdesk has definitely saved the Upland team time. Just reconciling the RCM would have taken her days—now it takes her just a few hours. That’s time she can use to do other important tasks. “Wdesk gives me time to do a deep dive into processes to see what we can improve. And it lets me be more imaginative. Once you understand what Wdesk is capable of, it almost feels like the possibilities are limitless.”

Powerful technology made simple

Because it’s cloud based, Wdesk gives Upland’s team ultimate control over the SOX process—from managing permissions to where and when they can work on the document. “Wdesk is a single repository and everyone who has the proper access level can use the document,” notes Palmer.

Her team also uses the Wdesk mobile app to keep the SOX process moving. “It gives you tremendous flexibility and makes you feel connected to whatever it is you’re working on.”

Between her work at a technology company and her experience managing complex systems at other companies, Palmer knows the importance of creating software with the end user always in mind.

“Simplicity is really difficult to find and create,” she comments. She tests news systems by seeing if she can do what she needs to do in 15 minutes without any training or instruction. “I was able to do that with Wdesk,” she says. “A lot of thought and engineering went into creating Wdesk because it has such a simple interface."

Palmer attended the annual Wdesk user conference, The Exchange Community (TEC), and the SOX Summit where she learned from Workiva representatives and other attendees. “TEC was fantastic! The collective sharing of best practices and ideas was great.”

While attendees shared their experiences and questions, she noticed that Workiva was paying attention. “It showed us that not only was Workiva listening to us, the customers, they were actually doing something about it and looking toward the future.”

At the conference, Palmer and her boss decided to expand their use of Wdesk to include the Enterprise Risk Management solution. “We can continue to mature our enterprise risk management processes over time, and Wdesk will grow with us.”

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