Achieving X-ray vision
As a first step, I-MED began looking for a solution that could act as a direct replacement for its existing planning system. However, when Cornerstone, an IBM Business Partner that specializes in financial planning and analytics solutions, demonstrated the full capabilities of IBM® Planning Analytics Express software (known at the time as IBM Cognos® Express), the company’s decision-makers quickly recognized its potential to improve both financial and operational planning processes.
“I had used planning and analytics software from IBM in previous roles at other companies, so when I heard that we had selected Planning Analytics Express, I was very pleased,” says Lisa Smith. “I knew it would let us build a model that was tailored to the unique needs of our business, instead of having to adapt to an off-the-shelf solution—which was critical, given the complexity and diversity of our company.”
I-MED decided to work with Cornerstone to help develop and implement the new planning model. Piers Wilson, Director at Cornerstone, says: “There is a great relationship between our team and I-MED and it was very satisfying that the team not only provided great value to I-MED, but also delivered the project within a tight timeframe and under budget.”
Lisa Smith adds: “Working with Cornerstone was fantastic—they were very flexible and responsive, and they quickly understood the challenges of building a model that would meet our needs. Their technical skills were excellent, but more importantly, we felt that they were talking our language.”
With a relatively tight deadline to get the new system up and running before the next annual budgeting cycle began, the I-MED and Cornerstone teams worked closely together to design, build and deploy the new model, and to train users.
“Planning Analytics Express allows you to use Microsoft Excel as a user interface, which is a big advantage,” says Lisa Smith. “It’s a very familiar, user-friendly environment for finance people to work in. At the same time, your model, calculations and data are all held securely in the solution’s database, so you can avoid most of the errors that happen with spreadsheets, and there’s no need to keep importing and exporting data from one system to another, which saves a lot of time.”
The first priority was to develop the annual budgeting process, which was delivered under budget and on schedule within just four months. Next, the team began working on a billing model for the tele-radiology business unit—replacing a large, complex spreadsheet that took minutes to open, and sometimes even crashed users’ PCs.
“Looking ahead, we’d like to bring more operational data into our model—there’s a lot of potential to model payroll and equipment in Planning Analytics Express too,” says Lisa Smith. “The system is flexible enough to develop all kinds of analytical applications, so we see a lot of potential to keep expanding our capabilities in the future.”
A healthier outlook
The first major test of the new solution was to handle I-MED’s annual budgeting process; and, according to feedback from the company’s users, Planning Analytics Express passed with flying colors.
Lisa Smith recalls: “Our process is for each business unit to prepare its own budget, then present the results to our CFO and make any adjustments necessary before we present the final version to the board.
“In previous years, the lead up to the presentation to our CFO has been somewhat rushed: we had to make adjustments, wait until the numbers were updated in the system, and then review and make more adjustments if necessary. Working with multiple spreadsheets also meant we always had to double-check our calculations, which took even more time.
“By contrast, with Planning Analytics Express, we had done such a thorough job on testing the new model that we were confident the logic was correct, and the results for this year’s budget all checked out as expected without needing significant manual adjustment.”
She adds: “I’ve spoken to the other commercial managers in the business, and we estimate that Planning Analytics Express saved us about a week of work each over the course of the budgeting cycle.”
A key contributing factor to this time-saving is the fact that when an adjustment is made in Planning Analytics Express, the whole budget is recalculated automatically, within seconds. Previously, users had to download their data into spreadsheets, work on their adjustments, and then re-load the new data back into the old system’s models. The loading process took about 20 minutes, during which time users could not access the system. As a result, the team was only able to refresh the data periodically—which made it difficult to correct errors quickly.
“If you made a mistake and didn’t realize, you only found out about it during the next refresh; and once you had corrected it, you then had to wait up to three hours for the model to update,” says Lisa Smith. “With Planning Analytics Express, when you change your input, you see the impact instantly, so you can update your budget in minutes instead of hours.”
In the near future, I-MED will also launch its new billing model for the tele-radiology business unit, which will enable it to retire one of its largest and most complex spreadsheets.
“We’re really looking forward to harnessing the robustness and speed of Planning Analytics Express to manage our billing process,” says Lisa Smith. “We’re also in the process of loading our actuals regularly, so we’ll be able to do reporting on our key performance indicators [KPIs] entirely in the system, instead of breaking it out into spreadsheets.”
She concludes: “IBM Planning Analytics Express gives us so much flexibility to model different aspects of our business, and we are looking forward to taking the next steps of our journey. By improving both financial and operational planning and reporting, we’re putting the company in a strong position to support sustainable growth.”