Business challenge

To plan effectively, APM’s managers need to know how personnel costs will affect their bottom line—but the organization’s existing planning tool took hours to update, hindering meaningful analysis.

Transformation

APMG worked with eCapital Advisors to migrate from the legacy planning tool to IBM Planning Analytics on Cloud and harness its in-memory analytics engine to transform performance and scalability.

Results

Empowers

managers to plan for multiple scenarios with near-real-time insight

Enables

near-instant model updates—a process that used to take up to an hour

Eliminates

infrastructure and maintenance costs with a cloud delivery model

Business challenge

Helping classical music thrive

American Public Media Group (APMG) is the largest station-based public radio organization in the United States, combining multi-regional station operations, national programming creation and distribution and innovative digital, social and mobile services in one organization.

Supported financially by contributions from individual donors, sponsors, philanthropic foundations as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, APMG’s operations include Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), a 46-station network serving nearly all of Minnesota and parts of surrounding states, and Southern California Public Radio, a four-station network serving Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County and the Inland Empire. Programs produced by MPR’s national programming division, American Public Media (APM), reach nearly 21 million listeners via 1,000 radio stations nationwide each week.

With its funding coming from so many sources, APMG’s revenue model is highly complex. In addition to the sheer number of donors, many of the individual donations work come with conditions attached—for example, that the company will continue broadcasting classical music in certain markets. As a result, APMG must carefully monitor its operations to ensure compliance with the requirements of each income stream, while also maintaining tight control of costs.

Patrick Olsen, Lead Technical Analyst, comments: “To ensure that our donors’ generosity is put to the most effective use, we need to ensure that we can keep our finances in balance by preparing for any scenario. For example, if one of our managers is considering hiring a new team-member, they want to see instantly what impact it will have on their bottom line.”

Until recently, this kind of rapid analysis was difficult for APMG to achieve. The organization’s financial planning system was reaching end-of-life, and no longer provided the level of detail that APMG’s finance team needed. As an organization that fundamentally depends on its talented radio presenters, producers and researchers, personnel costs are by far the most significant item on the balance sheet, and insight into payroll was a particular concern.

“In our old system, we had to split our payroll forecasting off from our income statement, because there was just too much data for it to handle in a single model,” says Olsen. “So you couldn’t just enter a new employee and see the effect on your financial position. It took time to reconcile the data between the two models, which was a big frustration.”

The speed of Planning Analytics makes a huge difference. Information is effectively available in real-time. As a team, we can be so much more efficient now.

—Patrick Olsen, Lead Technical Analyst, American Public Media Group

Transformation story

Scaling up

APMG began exploring its options for improving the performance and scalability of its financial planning platform, and realized that IBM could offer a smooth upgrade path at minimal cost. The finance team decided to replace its on-premises planning solution with IBM Planning Analytics on Cloud, and asked IBM Business Partner eCapital Advisors to help with the migration.

eCapital provided a one-week training course to introduce the APMG finance team to the new solution, and produced a design document to map out how the existing Cognos Planning models could be rebuilt as a single model in Planning Analytics. APMG was pleased to learn how the new solution’s in-memory analytics engine would be able to eliminate long update times and reconciliations, providing near-real-time insight.

“The eCapital consultants were great,” says Olsen. “The whole migration project only took about a month from end to end, even with the added complexity of moving from an on-premises solution into the cloud.”

He adds: “Software-as-a-service can be difficult to get right, and it did take a while for us to get used to not having direct control over our infrastructure. You can’t just reboot your server whenever you feel like it, for example. But the IBM support team is extremely responsive, and over the past couple of years the experience has continuously improved. IBM is doing a much better job than some of the other software-as-a-service vendors we have used.”

APMG currently has around 50 users accessing Planning Analytics—primarily the organization’s financial analysts, who work closely with the line-of-business managers to create accurate annual budgets and monthly rolling forecasts. The analysts use Planning Analytics Workspace as a quick and easy way to visualize data, and Planning Analytics for Excel to make updates to the model in real time via a familiar spreadsheet interface.

With IBM Planning Analytics there’s no real limit on what we can model. We see it as a platform for much more than just budgeting and forecasting.

—Patrick Olsen, Lead Technical Analyst, American Public Media Group

Results story

Business planning that hits all the right notes

With IBM Planning Analytics on Cloud, APMG has freed its IT team from the cost and effort of maintaining infrastructure in-house. Patches and upgrades are delivered automatically and incrementally every month, so APMG can be confident that its software is always protected by the latest security updates, and able to access new features.

From the finance team’s perspective, the major benefit of the new platform is its dramatically improved performance. With its previous planning tool, the team had to run updates once per hour to synchronize data between its payroll and income statement models—which meant that users had to wait up to an hour to see the impact of any changes they made. Today, Planning Analytics uses a single model for both payroll and income statements, and updates are reflected almost instantly.

“The speed of Planning Analytics makes a huge difference,” says Olsen. “Information is effectively available in real-time now. As soon as we moved, the feedback from our analysts was that the new system was a huge improvement on what we had before. As a team, we can be so much more efficient.”

Because Planning Analytics is capable of handling much larger quantities of data than the old solution, APMG is also able to model its costs in much greater detail—for example, its payroll model now includes the cost of fringe benefits such as medical and dental plans and parking expenses.

“With IBM Planning Analytics there’s no real limit on what we can model,” concludes Olsen. “We see it as a platform for much more than just budgeting and forecasting. This year we’re looking at bringing all our metrics reporting together into a Planning Analytics scorecard, and we could use the platform for donor planning and capital planning in the future too. We’ve only scratched the surface of Planning Analytics’ potential.”

business logo

About American Public Media Group

As the largest station-based public radio organization in the United States, American Public Media Group operates 49 stations and 42 translators in the Upper Midwest and California. The organization leads the nation in its classical music programming and is one of the largest producers of public radio programming in the world, with over 1,000 stations carrying its national programs.

Solution components

Take the next step

eCapital Advisors, an IBM Business Partner, specializes in customizing analytics solutions to meet the needs of its clients. Based in Bloomington, MN, the company has over a decade of experience in serving hundreds of major clients across dozens of industries. To learn more about eCapital Advisors, please visit: www.ecapitaladvisors.com

IBM Analytics offers one of the world's deepest and broadest analytics platform, domain and industry solutions that deliver new value to businesses, governments and individuals. For more information about how IBM Analytics helps to transform industries and professions with data, visit ibm.com/analytics. Follow us on Twitter at @IBMAnalytics, on our blog at ibmbigdatahub.com and join the conversation #IBMAnalytics.

View more client stories or learn more about IBM Analytics