Enabling supercharged growth with automation and analytics

By | 4 minute read | January 27, 2020

Irish field

Adding people—aka human capital—is a big part of growing a business, not least because a larger talent pool makes it possible to take on more clients.

But there are limits to upstaffing, especially when a big portion of your staff is engaged in sweeping, complex tasks: large-scale data gathering, reporting and financial transactions. At some point, it makes sense to look for automation opportunities. We’ve seen that a good first step in any automation program is to take a broad look at platform capabilities to ensure new products and lines of business can be added at limited incremental cost.

From humble beginnings to supercharged growth

Based in Dublin, ElectroRoute is an energy trading and services company specializing in renewable power, gas, and oil. We manage over 1.2GW in assets and are active in 11 energy markets in Ireland, Great Britain, and throughout the EU.

In 2016, five years after our founding, Mitsubishi acquired a majority interest in our company. The partnership proved a boon to our growth, with our headcount tripling from 25 employees to over 75, involving such diverse functional areas as finance, operations, compliance and HR. But with this growth came challenges.

Growing pains

To bring in new clients and to open new markets, we didn’t just need more people. We also needed data, and—just as importantly—the analytical capabilities to translate vast amounts of information into actionable insights.

Despite our momentum, we found our IT tools to be a drag on our ability to generate new business. Take the case of derivatives processing. In my role as head of the finance and operations—or FinOps—team, a key part of the job is to ensure we have the tools to book, confirm, and value derivatives for our clients and to meet KPIs.

When we began processing longer-term derivatives—which have to be valued every day—we were faced with a quantum increase in the volume of data we needed to process. At the same time, new accounting rules required us to meet higher levels of disclosure, which meant far more complex reports.

The fact that we were using spreadsheets to manage and manipulate the data added to the complexity, as did the lack of linkage between our front and back offices. And while we had access to sophisticated and detailed data resources, we were hamstrung in our ability to exploit them because we couldn’t generate live reports. In essence, we were relying on the vestiges of another era.

 In search of a flexible, stable and scalable analytics solution

To address these growing pains, we turned to automation and analytics. Our first step in this journey was to develop a data warehouse. Working with ProStrategy—an IT consulting firm based in Dublin and Cork, Ireland—we built a backend using MS SQL server. In seeking an analytics platform to run on it, we looked for a proven flexible, stable and scalable solution. IBM Cognos Analytics emerged as the strongest choice.

We saw self-service—the ability for employees to run real-time queries and generate reports—as a key capability. Cognos Analytics delivers on this, and is also flexible enough to handle everything from a simple question about the current value of a single derivative, to the creation of comprehensive performance reports spanning months or years. And, the simplicity and stability of this solution frees our FinOps team to focus on the business, not the nitty-gritty of day-to-day IT operations.

Zero-touch dashboards and reports

We’ve been able to link our front and back offices, while using a fully automated, “hands-free” reporting capability to deliver our most important KPIs via dashboards to the people who need them. I come in every morning, press a button, and can instantly see what’s happening across 20 KPIs, all before my first sip of coffee.

In the event of problems, the FinOps team can find which trade is causing the break and which counterparty it relates to, all of it far faster than before. It’s given us more confidence in our results and led some employees to build their own custom dashboards.

The road forward

The biggest benefit of this solution is that it has removed a significant constraint to our profitable growth. Today, we no longer have to upend our processes with every new contract addition—whether it’s five or 500—because we have automated updates using our dashboards.

As part of the next stage of our analytics journey, we’re implementing IBM Planning Analytics, which we expect to add more quantitative metrics—such as percentage-based thresholds (PBTs)—into our planning process.

Our journey as a company has been an exciting one, with rapid growth that could have been our undoing. Now, instead of focusing on how to deal with staffing constraints and limitations as we grow, we’re mapping out how automation and analytics can brighten our future.