Forschungszentrum Jülich needs clear insight into its finances and operations to keep vital research running smoothly—but reliance on spreadsheet-based planning created delays and risk of error.
Forschungszentrum Jülich transformed its financial planning with a powerful solution from IBM Analytics, empowering teams to create reports with greater speed and accuracy than ever before.
3 weeks savedon consolidating financial plans
Savesdays spent generating reports on fixed-cost allocation
Enablescontrollers to focus more closely on ensuring optimal use of public money
Business challenge story
Fostering groundbreaking research
Forschungszentrum Jülich is home to thousands of scientists conducting thousands of research projects, investigating areas such as energy, the environment and cognitive function. Its aim is to develop solutions that address the greatest challenges faced by society.
Claas Habbinga, Head of the Financial Services team at Forschungszentrum Jülich adds: “To accommodate so much groundbreaking research, we need to maintain significant auxiliary resources behind the scenes. For example, we have a powerful supercomputing infrastructure for complex computations, a standard IT environment for other functions, mechanical workshops, and several administrative departments to manage areas such as human resources and finance.
“To fund our research, we receive grants from the EU, the German state, the regional government and industry partners. To balance the books and ensure optimal use of our funds, we work with our scientists to decide how to distribute resources between projects, and generate financial plans for the year ahead. Their core business is research, so we need to make tasks like financial planning as convenient for them as possible.”
In the past, researchers and central functions generated financial plans using spreadsheets, then sent them to the central controlling team for consolidation. In total, the controllers had to manage and aggregate hundreds of spreadsheets to ensure that the budget and costs were correctly calculated across all cost centers and research projects. The process was labor-intensive, and the scope for error was high. Advanced planning—such as creating scenarios, simulations or forecasts—was entirely impossible. Furthermore, Forschungszentrum Jülich found it difficult to appropriately allocate fixed costs for internal service providers, such as the workshops, human resources functions and IT infrastructure.
To improve fixed-cost budgeting and to boost the efficiency of its overall planning process, the organization set out to find a better way of working.
Lightbulb momentAfter evaluating solutions from several providers, Forschungszentrum Jülich decided to deploy IBM® Cognos® TM1® enterprise planning software. Additionally, Forschungszentrum Jülich engaged IBM Services to achieve a best-practice result from the software during implementation and later in the ongoing maintenance.
“We selected Cognos TM1 because it fulfilled our requirements well, offered excellent value for money, and gave us the flexibility to adapt and extend our use of the solution in future,” recalls Claas Habbinga.
Today, Forschungszentrum Jülich has left spreadsheets behind, and instead asks each researcher and administrative department—around 200 users in all—to submit his or her plans directly into TM1 around May each year. At any stage in the process, the central controlling team can check who has provided their input, see how the figures are shaping up in real time, and follow up with colleagues whose plans are pending.
In September, the controllers consolidate the figures, and see how the bottom-up plans align with the broad top-down input from management regarding how to divide up the budget. In particular, controllers can verify that fixed costs have been appropriately allocated between different divisions. Senior executives then negotiate with researchers and administrative departments, and the plans are finalized by the end of the year.
The TM1 solution integrates seamlessly with Forschungszentrum Jülich’s SAP ERP system. After the annual plans are produced in TM1, any subsequent adjustments are made in the SAP Finance and Controlling application. To calculate personnel costs for each research study, controllers look at the headcount required by each scientist and combine it with information on pay grades from SAP Human Capital Management.
As Forschungszentrum Jülich proceeds on the journey to improve its planning capabilities, IBM has been there every step of the way.
Claas Habbinga comments: “The IBM team helped us to develop the right approach to planning, and put it into practice using the TM1 solution. Thanks to excellent coaching from IBM, we became proficient at using the solution within a year. Nowadays, we rely on IBM only for major enhancements or developments.
“We completed the first phase of the deployment following traditional waterfall methodology. To react faster to changes, for subsequent phases we adopted an agile approach—dividing the work up into subprojects that we could pull forward or delay as priorities shifted.”
Unlocking massive time savingsThe new solution has transformed planning at Forschungszentrum Jülich.
“Researchers and staff in administrative departments submit their financial plans via a user-friendly browser interface,” explains Claas Habbinga. “By making financial planning straightforward, we help them focus on their real jobs: performing research.
“We have witnessed major improvements in the central controlling division. First of all, we no longer need to prepare spreadsheets for financial planning, which used to take about two weeks. In addition, we don’t have to manually crunch and verify the figures, so we can consolidate financial plans three weeks faster than previously. We use the time saved to work more closely with researchers to ensure optimal use of public funds. What’s more, because we are less dependent on manual work, there is less scope for error.”
Claas Habbinga continues: “We have also dramatically improved our reporting capabilities. Previously, it took days to generate reports about fixed-cost allocations—now, the same reports are available at the touch of a button.”
“In addition, we can produce up-to-the-minute reports on the status of financial planning. Before, we could generate the same reports in SAP, but the data wasn’t presented as intuitively.”
Forschungszentrum Jülich continues to develop the solution, and is particularly keen to expand its use of data visualizations.
Claas Habbinga concludes: “The IBM Analytics solution helps us perform financial planning faster and more accurately than ever before, so we can make sure researchers have the resources they need to stay at the forefront of academic research.”
About Forschungszentrum Jülich
Forschungszentrum Jülich conducts research to provide comprehensive solutions to the great challenges facing society in the fields of energy and environment, information and brain research. Employing around 5,700 people, the organization is one of the largest interdisciplinary research centers in Europe.
- Cognos TM1
- IBM-SAP Alliance
- Software Services for Business Analytics
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