Guardian Group realized that the creation of a shared-services model could potentially transform efficiency and customer service – but current systems could not support the new way of working.
With assistance from IBM Services, Guardian Group refreshed its IT infrastructure, upgraded its Oracle applications and remodeled business processes, ready for the new shared services.
Transformsmanual, paper-based processes into digitized shared services, reducing error
Drivessmarter decision-making with enhanced group reporting and granular information
Cutssoftware license costs
Business challenge story
Pinpointing the route to best practice
Managing operations throughout the Caribbean – from the Bahamas in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south – along with multiple, independent subsidiaries, Guardian Group faces unique challenges. While individual group companies provide outstanding customer services in critical areas such as life insurance, pensions and medical plans, executives could see opportunities to improve efficiency across the enterprise. Guardian Group was keen to investigate the benefits of a central, shared-services model, particularly for finance and procurement functions, which are common to all the business units.
Sharon Moe, Chief Financial Officer at Guardian Shared Services and program sponsor, explains the strategy, “Each business unit runs autonomously, reporting to the Group. Functions such as procurement, asset management, finance and human resources are common to all the operating companies.
“We saw opportunities to boost efficiency and reduce costs by initiating the journey to a fully shared-services model. Additionally, by combining data from multiple divisions we would be able to help each business unit understand its performance in greater detail and identify areas for improvement. The difficulty was that our central systems were simply not ready to take on this kind of transformation.”
Dionne Parris, Group Accounts Manager, manages the daily realities of handling complex AP, AR, General Ledger and Fixed Asset management. She explains, “We had become used to finding workarounds rather than building efficiency. For example, when processing payments for health commissions, the batches would often freeze because data was missing or incorrect. To decrease the impact of batch failures we were reduced to running some 20 or 30 records at a single time, and had to reassign people from their ‘real’ jobs to handle the workload. We really wanted to streamline the workflows in a huge number of areas!”
Wendell Mitchell, Chief Information Officer, adds, “We operated Oracle E-Business Suite applications alongside specialist third-party systems. The core Oracle system was at the end of its product support and ran on older hardware, and the complexity of the external interfaces made it very difficult to extend. There were capabilities within Oracle solutions that we wanted to use, but they were out of our reach.
“In a typical example, operating companies would send local sales figures converted to Trinidadian dollars, our standard operating currency. The Group finance department, unable to handle multiple currencies, had no sight of the original currency sales value or the exchange rate used, resulting in mismatches between local and central reporting. Inevitably, the lack of clear, accurate data hampered our efforts to make well-informed strategic and operational decisions.”
Three steps to successful transformation
To bring in multi-currency and many similar features, Guardian Group needed to perform a complete refresh of its financial applications landscape and supporting systems.
Wendell Mitchell continues, “We wanted to stabilize and upgrade the current environment on a newer, more powerful, technology platform. Then we planned to migrate to the latest Oracle versions deployed in a manner that would maximize their efficiency and optimize their capabilities for Guardian Group.”
The first step was to complete the fundamentals, with an upgrade of the existing Oracle database and the compute platform. Guardian Group engaged IBM to complete the conversion to Oracle 12, deployed on an IBM Power Systems™ server that features POWER8® processors and runs the IBM AIX® operating system.
Wendell Mitchell explains, “We selected IBM Power Systems because we found that the platform offered superb value-for-money, especially once you take into account that Oracle license fees are calculated based on the number of processor cores. Power Systems provides greater compute capacity on fewer processors – five or six times less than some vendors’ proposals – so we were able to achieve a direct saving in Oracle database license costs, contributing to the project return on investment.
“When we had secured that foundation, we upgraded to the latest Oracle database version, in readiness for the more significant application upgrade. IBM handled the twin upgrades very efficiently, and helped us with architecting an optimal solution for our future operating model.”
With the new Oracle database and platform in place, Guardian Group worked on the request for quotation (RFQ) for the Oracle E-Business Suite application upgrade.
Sharon Moe comments, “Even with the great experience working on the database project with IBM, we followed a full RFQ process and invited tenders. IBM Services provided the best RFQ response, offering a complete service that encompassed our business objectives and the transformation of the company to fully digital processes.
“When we invited companies to help with the program, many offered to upgrade and migrate the existing landscape – but that approach left us with just more of the same. IBM stood out by considering Guardian Group’s larger ambition to use technology to enable a more efficient way of working, and the type of services and support we would need to get there.”
In an 18-month program, Guardian Group transformed from an organization with largely paper-based workflows and isolated applications to a fully digital enterprise, with central shared services and integrated, automated processes. Working with IBM Services, the Group upgraded its Oracle E-Business Suite and enabled advanced functionality that had not previously been within reach.
For example, in the past there was no simple way to check that suppliers’ invoices were valid. The Group now uses Oracle Payables three-way matching to verify purchase order and invoice information, automatically reporting mismatches and placing payments on hold.
Dionne Parris comments, “For the conversion to the new Oracle solutions, IBM worked on a clean-up of input data. That process prompted us to redesign the way we capture and process supplier data, leading us to a more proactive approach to supplier management. By improving data quality, we will be able to take advantage of new capabilities reliably. For example, with validated country codes we will be able to automatically pay suppliers in the correct currency. The IBM consultants would often challenge us about how we were doing things, and helped us optimize the solutions in the most valuable way.”
Similarly, the Group will use the multicurrency features within Oracle E-Business Suite to enable business units to post their sales in the original currency. Rollup to Trinidadian dollars will be completed centrally at known exchange rates, providing a clear enterprise view of comparable performance across all Guardian Group operations, while preserving the original data to ensure agreement with local operations.
Sharon Moe recalls, “IBM provided much more than upgrade services, and worked with us to review our business processes and determine how we could take maximum advantage of the Oracle E-Business Suite applications. IBM provided resources on a hybrid model, with local consultants and a remote team in India. Initially, I had my doubts about how this would work, but the combination proved to be very successful.”
Wendell Mitchell adds, “IBM brings intellectual capital to the table, offering a deep relationship with Oracle, mature processes, and robust architectural and strategic planning. This was a complex project, starting with the technology upgrade, then the database and finally the applications. To achieve success requires a strong partner with deep expertise and resources, and IBM provided all these key elements.”
Looking to a digital future
With the implementation phase complete, Guardian Group is taking the next steps on its digital journey, replacing external standalone applications with integrated processes within Oracle E-Business Suite.
Wendell Mitchell elaborates, “For example, in the past we arranged payments by exporting confirmed data to a third-party check-printing application, with its own interface to Oracle E-Business Suite. We will now have the ability to confirm, process and reconcile all payments within Oracle E-Business Suite, and in future this will include check printing. Integration cuts the number of interfaces and processes, accelerates business workflows, and reduces the risk of reconciliation errors.
“It was a real pleasure to work with IBM Services, and we formed a very effective global team that delivered this project on time. The work we have accomplished positions Guardian Group ideally to continue providing quality financial services to consumers across the Caribbean.”
Dionne Parris adds, “The more we are exposed to what’s possible with the new solutions, the better. We still have a long list of desired items; the key thing is that with guidance from IBM we will now be able to do them.
“There is so much more value to get from the Oracle solutions, and the more we can show that to the executives the better it will be for Guardian Group. We are now ready to take the next step in our digital transformation toward shared services. The benefit is about the capabilities we will be able to exploit, based on a standard way of working for all users across the shared services. There is the scope for numerous incremental efficiencies, all of which will ultimately lead to a smoother service for Guardian Group’s customers.”
In core areas such as procurement, asset management and human resources, Guardian Group will be taking advantage of its new capabilities to report on business performance in greater detail. For example, asset purchases such as laptops can be correctly matched against procurement orders and payments, and allocated to individuals’ usage, providing much greater accountability than was previously possible.
Sharon Moe concludes, “The path managed successfully by IBM Services will enable Guardian Group to move from disjointed, often manual, processes towards integrated digital workflows. We will be able to provide greater detail to executives and the business units on company performance, giving us deep insight into areas of strength and areas for improvement. As more functions are completed within Oracle E-Business Suite we expect to cut error, eliminate duplication and reduce costs even further.
“Support from IBM Services is enabling Guardian Group as a digitally capable enterprise, helping us provide our Group companies and ultimately their Caribbean customers with better service and an improved customer experience at every level.”
Guardian Group offers integrated financial services throughout the English and Dutch Caribbean. Through specialist operating companies, the Group provides tailored financial planning and asset management services for individuals and corporations. While the companies within the group remain separate legal entities, they carry the single Guardian Group brand, logo and tagline, continuing service for more than 167 years. The Group generates revenues of TTD 4.757 billion (approximately USD 750 million) and profits of TTD 332 million (USD 52 million), and employs around 2,950 people.
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