Effective controlling with Business Analytics—despite turbo-charged growth
Two installers climb a huge solar roof (image © Valeriano Di Domenico)

Thanks to IBM® Planning Analytics, the Swiss power company always has an overview of current KPIs across the whole corporation.

The challenge for BKW

BKW has been supplying power to its region for more than 125 years now. According to recent figures, around a million people make use of its electricity, which it originally produced in hydroelectric power stations. The business has fundamentally changed over the years—the network infrastructure sector and building technology were both added later, and BKW now owns nearly 13,700 miles of power lines as a result. The sectors that saw changes most recently were Engineering and Services, which were both considerably expanded. More than a hundred companies of various sizes have been incorporated into the BKW Group, causing the number of employees to rise from around 2,500 in 2013 to over 11,500 in 2023. However, taking over all these different businesses meant that BKW also had to find a way of integrating different systems and reporting methods.

BKW’s business with services posed a particular challenge to the financial department when it came to monitoring the Group’s financial performance and reporting monthly figures. Financial management was certainly able to be improved by installing SAP S/4HANA 2017, but short-term reporting was impossible at the time. Some of the companies that BKW acquired did not work with SAP software at all, so different systems were in use and reporting was fragmented. The Microsoft Excel-based methods previously in place were error-prone and difficult to use. No monthly figures were available in parts of the Network and Energy sectors, for example. An overview of the business was only possible when the six- and 12-month reports were drawn up, and turnover from the energy sector was only apparent in the accounting on the 20th working day of the month after the sale. So, in a nutshell, the controllers needed a recent, short-term overview of the business situation at each firm in the Group. More up-to-date information was required to be able to assess the financial achievements of each division and make sound decisions at executive and management levels.

What was needed was a flexible but effective financial controlling system that included Business Analytics, a software package that uses the available data and can be enriched by the CFO and management. The solution is grounded on model-based suppositions from internal and external sources, which are provided by the eighth day of the following month. The software solution had to be secure yet simple to use and give the controllers full control over the data.

60% faster availability of reports, from 20 working days to just 8 70% faster budgeting, from 26 weeks to 8
There were no monthly figures available for whole divisions. We only knew where we stood once the 12- and six-month reports were on the table. What we needed was a flexible system to increase transparency. Nils Kohler Head of Group Controlling BKW
Effective controlling with Business Analytics

Certain criteria were particularly important to BKW’s controllers when the tender was being drawn up. For one thing, the main focus of the analytics solution needed to be on strategic and operative support for top management. Group Controlling had to be in a position to make flexible changes to the data structure in just a few hours by taking new data sources or categories into account, for example. Besides that, the new analytics package needed to depict various KPIs, such as financial, non-financial, technical and market-specific indicators. Monthly business reports had to be available by day 10 of the following month at the latest. On top of that, it ought to be possible to simulate organizational changes and update previous reports. The workflow and communication with all those involved in the process also had to be included, just like quick and simple distribution of the reports.

However, the crucial question at the end of the day was who could offer the best solution when it came to reporting on BKW’s services, as this was still being done using Excel spreadsheets. IBM made the best impression here with its IBM Planning Analytics package—a newer and better version of IBM Cognos® TM1®. It was the flexibility and user-friendliness of the software that won the team over. The controllers can add new organizations very quickly along with all their master data, re-allocate it, show different organizational structures in parallel or adapt the views and analyses to new requirements. These qualities are particularly beneficial in view of the rapid heterogeneous growth the Group has been experiencing.

The installation of IBM Planning Analytics went smoothly and was completed quickly as a result. A small team from Group Controlling ran the project parallel to their daily work and were coached by experts from IBM in the process. Thanks to this personal supervision, the controllers at BKW quickly picked up how to generate models they needed for particular purposes using their data. In fact, they were able to create reports of their own in just a few days, and a few weeks later they were even able to make changes to the models or data themselves.

The successful implementation of the software meant that the purpose of getting the new system—for monthly reporting—had now been achieved. IBM Planning Analytics made other useful changes possible, too, though, such as speeding up the budgeting process. In the past, it took up to 26 weeks to approve the budget, but now it only takes eight. Medium-term planning was also included, and strategic figures can be generated for the future up to the year 2050. So BKW’s original call for a short-term overview of all its business fields has been enhanced to cover comprehensive planning for the time to come. Thanks to the modular structure of the new system, its flexibility and user-friendliness, the controllers have been able to take advantage of these and other possibilities without having to acquire special IT skills first.

Planning Analytics has made it possible for us to implement structural changes in an efficient way—from classic budgeting to model-based planning, even depicting all the financial controlling processes. Nils Kohler Head of Group Controlling BKW
Speed before accuracy: the transition from accountant to navigator

As a result of the implementation, BKW was able to speed up its reporting and budgeting enormously. And its controllers now have a multifunctional tool at their disposal with which they can solve all kinds of business challenges in a creative way. For one thing, they can draw up a number of income statements for the various branches of the company. It is also interesting to see how they have used the software to build up an efficient reporting system of their own covering all the small organizations in the Engineering division, as new firms are added every year that have to be registered along with their financial data and KPIs. Thanks to IBM’s ERP solution, this can be done easily using a special input screen. The analytics system merges all the data and provides a specific view of BKW’s Engineering sector as a whole. That way, the Engineering department can make statements about its current business situation with relatively little effort and report its own data directly to the Group.

IBM Planning Analytics cannot fully replace an entire SAP accounting system, but that is not what it is really meant to do. What the financial controllers are interested in doing is supplying the management tier with valid strategic and operative data to facilitate decision-making. Despite the pending monthly statement and involvement of several financial departments (Tax as well as Accounting), not to mention the need for broad consolidation, the controllers are now in a position to supply the appropriate financial data by the eighth working day of the following month—and the data is highly accurate as well. This casts a new light on the creative role that controllers can have in a company today. In BKW’s case, they have evolved from accountants to reliable navigators and keep on tackling—and solving—any new challenges that arise with creativity and skill.

About BKW

The BKW Group (link resides outside of ibm.com) is an international power and infrastructure company based in Berne, Switzerland, that currently has more than 11,500 employees. It plans, implements and operates the technical infrastructure to produce and supply power for businesses, private individuals and the public sector, and provides digital business models for renewables. The Group’s portfolio currently ranges from planning and consulting in the engineering sector for power, infrastructure and environmental projects to integrated packages for building services and the construction, servicing and maintenance of power, telecommunications and traffic networks and water supply systems.

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