Lindsey O’Grady, Solutions Lead
Today, most companies are caught up in a spreadsheet spiral when it comes to their financial consolidation and planning. According to market estimates, a whopping 71 percent of organisations depend on spreadsheets for collecting data throughout their business, and 88 percent of those spreadsheets contain errors, often significant.
This leads us to ask why would any organisation rely on technology clearly not suited for the complexities of financial reporting?
The response from most companies might come in favour of the ‘comfort factor’ rather than their technological choice. Indeed, for small businesses, spreadsheets are a fantastic tool. It allows for a reasonable amount of reporting, budgeting, analysis, and forecasting, along with being inexpensive and widely understood within the finance industry. But when the business expands, companies require more sophisticated graphical analytics tools and dashboards to better understand their business-critical data. At the same time, for a growing business, profit and loss(P&L) alone isn’t enough to assess a company’s performance; they need to tie the cash flow statement with their P&L and balance sheet records—which makes it a cumbersome and complex computation that spreadsheets are not cut out for.
Many businesses turn to proprietary software to automate the job, but even that doesn’t cut the mustard. From seeking the right software and consultancy to planning the implementation, the entire project is a daunting task, which takes months or stretches up to a year. And, even then, sometimes, the finance teams using the sophisticated analytics software feel like they are closing their month-end tasks under a cloud of inefficient processes that don’t cover the scope of what the business really needs.
Then, how to get it right?
An ‘off the shelf ’ solution with flexible, customisable modules for automated financial consolidation, reporting, and cash flow planning might be the best bet. But, is it feasible? As unthinkable and surreal as it might sound, UK-based Aramar has made it possible.
The IBM Gold Business Partner, Aramar, has found an innovative approach that breaks away from the traditional ‘built-from-scratch’ projects for financial consolidation, reporting, and planning. Based on years of delivering financial models, and using market-leading software, IBM Planning Analytics, Aramar has developed an out-of-the-box solution called Fast Financials covering all aspects of financial performance management. This includes group financial consolidation, financial reporting, financial and operational planning, budgeting, forecasting, strategic planning, and business performance analysis. With Fast Financials, there are no long project timescales as its model is ready to go from day one itself. It is, of course, a generic model containing the main components that companies regularly need, but it’s built in a way that can easily adapt to the exact requirements of a business workflow by adding functionalities and sub-models. Also, Aramar specialises in delivering integrated, automated cashflow models and reports for both actuals reporting and planning. The balance sheet and cashflow are generated automatically through full integration with the P&L. Thus, the output is more efficient, reliable, and valuable.
“By dramatically reducing the timescale of project delivery, we have something genuinely different to offer the IBM Planning Analytics market,” says Rob Howell, Sales and Operations Director at Aramar.
Elaborating on Howell’s statement further, Lindsey O’Grady, Solutions Lead at Aramar, notes that there are many companies that really like IBM Planning Analytics because of its ability to handle complex calculations. Unlike some competitors, there’s no limit on the amount of data it can handle. The figures get updated instantly when assumptions are changed as opposed to some technologies where there is an arduous wait for it to “recalculate” The only hiccup is that IBM Analytics tools don’t come with pre-built content—meaning each model has to be built from the ground up.“
Rob Howell, Sales and Operations Director
So, we thought of offering something that’s best of both worlds: leading-edge technology and an out-of-the-box approach,” states Lindsey.
Helping Clients Ride the Benefits of “Cloud” Bandwagon
Over the last few years, implementing cloudbased solutions has been a general trend across industries. To that end, even Aramar spends a lot of time helping its existing clients move from on-premise installations to IBM’s cloud software-as-a-service to drivedown IT overhead and infrastructure. IBM is currently pouring huge amounts of funds and resources into continuous, rapid development— which means a new software update is available every six weeks, and it would be a herculean task to keep traditional on-premise installations always up-to-date. “Since we help our clients stay on top of cloud services, they can receive updates as soon as they are available with no downtime,” explains Howell.
Staying Relevant with Changing Business Needs
If the recent COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is to either be adaptive to change or perish. “And, even if we take COVID-19 out of the mix, companies always need to adjust their financial planning due to changing business scenarios,” states Howell. Aramar’s Train and Mentor approach makes this possible. This approach aims at leaving behind a skills legacy with the customer at the end of a project engagement to help them become self-sufficient with the software rather than stay reliant on external resources to make changes to the model when it’s needed the most.
In addition, the ability to change the plan and play out multiple scenarios is one of IBM Planning Analytics’ unique qualities. It has a built-in function called ‘sandboxing’ that enables alternate planning scenarios to be generated with one click of the mouse. Fast Financials solution makes use of the sandboxing capability, combined with version control, to help maintain visibility and control over the planning submissions.
Paving the Path for Tangible Success
Today, companies from diverse sectors are partnering with Aramar to achieve substantial business growth. In one instance, Melton Renewable Energy UK (MRE UK) was looking for a solution that would increase the speed and consistency of its financial planning and reporting functions, offer faster reporting, and lower the risk of data loss.
The IBM Business Partner, Aramar, has found an innovative approach that breaks away from the traditional ‘built-from-scratch’ projects for financial consolidation, reporting, and planning
Before switching to Aramar, MRE UK relied on separate spreadsheet models for each of its generating stations as well as its Landfill Gas business, which its financial controllers prepared at the beginning of the month. This increased the risk of losing historical data if its spreadsheets were accidentally deleted. Aramar helped the company implement IBM Planning Analytics to cover all of its financial processes. By building a single, consistent source of financial reporting data, Aramar opened up new possibilities for the client to perform what-if analyses that previously would have been time-consuming and filled with spreadsheet errors. Today, MRE UK uses IBM Planning Analytics to produce all its management accounts, forecasts, and budgets—from the group level down to individual assets. “During a recent annual budgeting exercise, we completed half a dozen what-if scenarios in just two hours—something that would have taken an entire day to complete before. Simpler, ad hoc requests are even faster, and we can complete some requests within minutes,” mentions a representative from MRE UK.
Treading ahead with many more similar success stories under its hood, Aramar is now poised to grow its company organically. And while doing so, Aramar doesn’t want to lose its prime focus, i.e., streamlining financial performance management for companies. “So in terms of our roadmap, we would be adding more modules to Fast Financials to bolt on to our base model and bring more refined enhancements to our off-the-shelf solution,” concludes Howell.