Business challenge

Robertson Group relied on spreadsheets to consolidate, report and forecast its business financials. With 22 sets of financial reports from three different systems, it needed to eliminate manual entry and improve reliability.

Transformation

With the help of Spitfire Analytics and Planning Analytics powered by TM1 software, Robertson Group seamlessly and securely collaborates between its financial team and other departments, and produces fast, accurate forecasts and reports.

Results

Unifies multiple data sources

into a single location and automates complex reporting

Simplifies forecasting and increases validity

to support faster modeling and more accurate planning scenarios

Saves GBP 40,000 in data entry time

and the equivalent of two financial controllers

Business challenge story

A need for a more reliable analytics foundation

UK-based construction, infrastructure and support services company Robertson Group relied heavily on standalone spreadsheets for its financial consolidation, reporting, planning and forecasting. It had to consolidate data from 22 lines of business producing 22 sets of financial reports from three different finance systems. The company had not invested in management information systems in several years.

There was no automation of data transfer, so the data was prone to corruption. The majority of the spreadsheets were stored on local PCs with no backups, and each of the more than 1,000 spreadsheets was a data island.

As the company grew, it spent an increasingly large amount of time manually consolidating and building its accounting reports. With so many versions and so many people making changes, managing the reports became nearly impossible and the accuracy of the data became unreliable.

In addition, the high volume of data meant that seven highly qualified accountants were being diverted from more value-oriented management information tasks to manually enter data into the spreadsheets for approximately two weeks every month. This inevitably led to delays and difficulties with version control, created duplication of work and made data management an issue.

Phil Talbot, Finance Director at Robertson Group, notes that the company had been using spreadsheets for its monthly Cost Value Reports (CVRs), which are detailed profit and loss (P&L) accounts, for each one of its contracts. CVRs are also a forecast for each of the company’s contracts. Eight years ago, the company had only about 60 contracts and used a standalone spreadsheet to report financial performance for each one; now Robertson Group has approximately 150 contracts.

The most significant problem with using spreadsheets was that users frequently corrupted them, according to Talbot. “Which meant that they had to be brought back in and fixed by someone and then reissued,” he says. “And because it wasn’t a networked solution, we occasionally had situations where someone’s hard drive crashed and we lost the CVR for that month and had to start again from scratch.”

Talbot adds that because the financial data was coming from so many different sources and locations, centralization of the data was also an issue. “Obviously, enhancing and improving the spreadsheet was always quite challenging because you had to harvest from the 60 or so individual contracts to the spreadsheets, make changes 60 times and then feed the spreadsheets back,” he says. “The data within the spreadsheets could only be seen for that contract, so consolidation of data was impossible. It just wasn’t practical.”

Spreadsheets are prone to all of the problems they are notorious for. However tightly you lock down a spreadsheet, there’s always something that will break.

Phil Talbot, Finance Director, Robertson Group

Transformation story

A solution with something to build on

Challenged with manually input spreadsheets that were being revised by many different people and business units, Robertson Group needed to find an automated solution that could be better managed without tying up its valuable accountants.

“What we wanted was a system where we could centralize our spreadsheets into a single model, on a network that could be used by a number of contracts,” says Talbot. “It needed to be scalable because we are a rapidly growing organization. It also needed to be flexible so we can make changes to that model as time goes by to continually enhance and improve it. And we needed to do that without disrupting the business.”

As such, Robertson Group enlisted Spitfire Analytics to conduct a proof of concept (POC). The company tested a simple consolidation application using Planning Analytics software. The idea was to build a model that could take the data from the construction business — along with the half dozen other business units that each hold the company’s financials and transact its financials — add them up and report the financial performance of the whole group.

“It went very smoothly and it’s still being used to this day,” says Talbot. “That’s where we started and we’ve grown the number of applications in the system — the largest of which is our data bank model, which is a summarized P&L balance sheet cash flow for our individual contracts.”

Talbot notes that Spitfire Analytics helped Robertson Group adopt IBM Planning Analytics software on IBM Cloud. He says the decision was predicated on the fact that the company was using an on-premises server in a different location, which wasn’t very reliable. “We were constantly frustrated by connection and speed issues,” he says.

“We use the Planning Analytics tool for all of our monthly reporting tasks, whether it be cash flow reporting, reporting of actual contract performance or business performance, as well as planning or forecasting cash profits and balance sheet forecasting,” Talbot says.

Simon Bradshaw, Managing Director at Spitfire Analytics, notes that while version control of the spreadsheets used to be a problem, now someone going into the system can manage financial versions with the click of a button using the Planning Analytics dashboard. “What it brings is information from all around the Planning Analytics system and that’s how it is presented to everyone within Robertson or other stakeholders interested in it,” he says.

Talbot explains why the Planning Analytics solution was the right choice for transitioning his company’s financial reporting: “For us, it was all about connecting data up. It’s about getting data in one place and structuring it in such a way that you could report on data across contracts, across businesses, in a consistent way. It’s about joining up actuals and budget data and forecasts as well, regardless of time period.”

Commenting on the partnership with Spitfire Analytics, Talbot adds: “Simon and Spitfire are really passionate about the software, and really responsive to our incessant questions. It’s been a great partnership, and long may it continue.” He also notes that IBM itself responds quickly to inquiries and that its cloud software is reliable.

Results story

A faster reporting cycle that’s accurate

Overall, Planning Analytics technology helps Robertson Group intelligently fuse multiple data sources into a single, centralized location, enabling automated and complex analysis. The net result is that forecasting is simplified, accountants can now focus on more value-added tasks that drive business, and senior leadership can take advantage of fast modeling and accurate planning scenarios.

“We can very quickly find solutions to enable us to model different scenarios of cash flows and the kind of what-if scenarios that we’ve started to use,” says Talbot. He notes that while transitioning to the Planning Analytics solution saves just a couple of days when producing a report, he considers that significant because the data produced is consolidated from all the business reporting entities so it’s much more reliable. “The planning and reporting tool has replaced Excel for all kinds of critical reporting tasks; we couldn’t go back to spreadsheets.”

He adds that when he previously looked at numbers in the reports, he found numbers that shouldn’t be there. The multiple versioning in unprotected spreadsheets could cause significant errors. But, with Planning Analytics software, Talbot now has confidence in the numbers.

“As a financial director, you need to be able to rely on the numbers being accurate,” he says. “You need to know that there’s a robust process that means the numbers reported are correct. With no unknowns in our applications, I can sleep at night.”

Talbot notes that Planning Analytics software helps with the clarity of data. It enables Robertson Group to deliver exactly what stakeholders need in a timely manner, with a robust process behind it, so they can rely on the accuracy of the data reported.

He also says that transitioning to Planning Analytics technology has resulted in cost savings in accounting. The solution allows his existing complement of accountants to devote their attention to analyzing business data and delivering value to the business instead of manually entering data into spreadsheets.

Adopting the Planning Analytics solution has also eliminated the need for two additional financial controllers that would have been necessary to support growth. Introducing the solution will also result in additional labor savings over time.

Talbot says the financial reporting produces much richer data for Robertson Group than ever before. And it’s more widely deployed across the organization. He also comments that other areas of the company — including its facilities management business — are considering using Planning Analytics software as well.

Talbot says that Robertson Group is starting to “dabble with IBM Planning Analytics Workspace.” And Bradshaw added that, “Now that the user is in Planning Analytics, Planning Analytics Workspace is available and part of the roadmap; we will start to get users to engage with Planning Analytics Workspace.”

Each Monday, we produce a cash forecast within a couple of hours. By Monday lunchtime we have a report on the actual, on the previous week, and the revised forecast for the next 13 weeks. That’s a pretty short reporting cycle for weekly cash.

Phil Talbot, Finance Director, Robertson Group

Robertson Group Logo

About Robertson Group

​​​​​​​​​Founded in 1966 and headquartered in Stirling, Scotland, Robertson Group is one of the UK’s largest family-owned construction, infrastructure and support services businesses. The company together with its customers invests, develops, constructs and maintains across the whole building environment, including major projects and residential and commercial projects. Robertson Group offers property development, time frame manufacturing, capital projects and new home construction services and also provides facilities management for customers nationally. The company reports approximately EUR 600 million in revenue and maintains about 50 operating units, and it is consistently working on 150 or more contracts.

About Spitfire Analytics Limited

Located in Handforth, Cheshire in the UK, privately-held Spitfire Analytics is an IBM Business Partner comprising four finance professionals who understand how accurate and automated planning can position a finance team at the heart of an organization’s business. The company couples its detailed understanding of the importance of financial planning with skills and experience in implementing the IBM Planning Analytics solution. It specializes in the design, implementation, management and support of Planning Analytics software for reporting, budgeting, planning, forecasting and analysis. Spitfire Analytics was founded in 2016.

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