For years Sean Anthony, vice president of treasury and planning at sales and marketing outsourcer Acosta, has acted as a report gateway for business leaders seeking budget data. While the company has cube-based applications to house data, extracting reports has been a bit more complex. But now, with encouragement from CFO Greg Delaney, Anthony is evaluating new budgeting and planning technology that would remove him as the middleman.
"I've always been able to get at the right data because it's my job. But if someone else -- for instance in sales -- needs to slice the data, they can't do it on their own. That leads to a lot of ad hoc report requests coming into my group," Anthony says.
A combination of a "klunky" database interface and user unfamiliarity forced Anthony and his team to create a handful of individual reports each month. "We have to mix pulling directly from the cube with our own analysis, so the process is not very repeatable," he concedes.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm, which has more than 20,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada, assists consumer packaged goods companies with tactical in-store marketing execution, including product placement and shelf layouts in grocery and convenience store chains. Acosta counts as clients such industry heavyweights as Clorox Co., H.J. Heinz Co., and charcoal maker Kingsford.
With more than 1,300 customers represented in the database, Anthony calls the 14-dimension cube is "sizeable." Due to its unwieldiness and lack of user-friendly properties, the financial team spends considerable time putting information into Microsoft Excel files and sending them around. "As soon as you take that data out of the system, you lose that single point of truth. You hope that people don't replicate that data inaccurately," he says.
Anthony intends to choose a replacement tool that not only meets user needs, but is software-as-a-service based. His current on-premise budgeting and planning software is out of date, and not well understood by the IT team. To upgrade it properly, he'd need to call in consultants, which is an unpredictable cost. "The cloud model is just far more appealing," he says.
Acosta is testing enterprise planning software start-up Tidemark's SaaS-based platform, which includes enterprise planning, profitability modeling, and metrics management and reporting. Although Anthony currently is working with a beta version that is linked to a data warehouse, he hopes Tidemark's mid-year general release will provide direct hooks into the company's data sources. "Tidemark will enable me to offer non-finance users Web-based access to monthly reports in a way that doesn't require a lot of technological expertise," he says.
He also expects to slowly remove himself from the process by identifying trends among the reports users want and adding them to a menu. "My goal has always been [to use financials] to tell the story of where the company is at now so we can make good decisions going forward. If users can dig into the information on their own, this will happen much better," he says.