Our client, a global entertainment company, has business units spanning film and TV production to computer games and amusement parks. One of our projects there was implementation of a planning solution for their computer game business. A particular goal was to improve the analysis and forecasting of spending on development of each new game through the end of its production phase.
Our client was dealing with challenges typical of a spreadsheet-based process. Finance faced a time-consuming preparation effort before each forecast, and during the cycle they had to communicate with each Producer to get their numbers then manually update spreadsheets. The Producers had little interest in cooperating, and less in “owning” their plans. Gathering data and turning around versions was cumbersome.
The solution I describe in this article can be accomplished with a variety of technologies on the market, whether “on-prem” software or cloud-based. In this case the selected technology was Oracle Essbase, a powerful analysis, reporting and planning tool that many Finance organizations rely on.
Our solution brought together data from the general ledger and other sources to provide development spending trends at the product level. An automated process behind the scenes seeded each new forecast scenario with actuals to date and the most recent forecast for the months to go. The user interface provided input forms that showed spending to date by product and expense category, and enabled Producers to update their forecasts and if needed adjust the target development completion dates.
The solution immediately achieved a reduction of 82 hours per month for Accounting and Finance. The time required to prepare reports and templates at the beginning of each forecast process was eliminated, and the effort to consolidate data and deliver post-forecast reporting was significantly reduced. Additional time savings were realized as Producers adopted the solution and required less “hand-holding” by Finance each cycle.
While time savings alone quickly paid back the cost of implementation, even greater value was leveraged by delivering a more informed, automated, and interactive process:
- Producers had increased confidence in the data and appreciated an easy-to-use planning interface; they were more willing to look at the numbers and less reluctant to do their own forecasts
- Producers, Lead Testers and Management could all get project status vs. budget or forecast themselves on demand, rather than calling on Finance to produce reports for them
- Finance staff was able to spend more time analyzing and truly supporting the business, and less time on finding, processing, and formatting data
As our project sponsor, a Director in our client’s Finance group, put it: “We were able to automate many manual processes and add much needed controls where previously none existed.”
Getting the solution right means not only being technically proficient but also understanding business needs and figuring out how to help users and managers best support their objectives. I’m proud that our project sponsor recognized this: “Analysis Team consultants know the business functions,” she said. “They are able to say to business managers: We speak your language — you don’t have to alter your language of marketing, accounting, etc. because we understand it.”
Could you use an advantage to help you win at the financial planning game?