We dropped in on Amarjit Chahal, Senior Finance Business Partner at Apollo Fire Detectors, to ask him about their recent implementation of IBM Cognos Express with IBM Business Partner Aramar Solutions.
What was Apollo looking to improve that led you to implement IBM Cognos?
The first area we wanted to improve was our financial reporting. We have to prepare and deliver a number of schedules to our parent company each month, which require consolidation at our company level first. We have a number of companies each with a different ERP system. The European businesses use AX and US and China use MAS and U8. Consolidation was a manual exercise being done in Excel, so it was difficult to maintain consistency and carried a lot of risk.
Consolidation was a manual exercise being done in Excel
Well, although improving the financial reporting process was important, we quickly realised that the real benefit for our business would come through the powerful analytics we now had access to. Jon Berry our expert Business Intelligence analyst had done a great job developing a reporting application, but he was limited by the tools we had available, namely Excel Powerpivot. The process to update the application was laborious, we weren’t able to easily distribute the information to our managers and we were limited on how to present the information to engage them. We were also convinced there were some important insights hidden in our data that we just couldn’t get at!
And what did you do?
Basically we replaced the spreadsheet based reports with TM1 cubes, using IBM Cognos Express. On the Financial side, the cubes help us to produce our P&L, Balance Sheet and Cashflow both for the individual companies and at the Global Apollo Group level. They hold the data we used to have in the spreadsheets. The data is imported from our source systems and consolidation is instant. As soon as the new values are loaded, their impact is visible immediately at all levels up to the top and show instantly in the group schedules, so that saves a lot of time and effort. Maintenance is much easier and controlled now because the Account and Company structures, and Time Periods, are all held in one place. If they change we only have to change them once instead of having to make sure every spreadsheet is up to date.
the tools enabled us to turn that data into the rich information we were looking for
What about for the Analytics?
We replaced our PowerPivot model with TM1 cubes too. But because we wanted to present the information in eye-catching format, making use of visualisations, this time we went with the Cognos BI tools to read the cubes. We wanted to easily show trends and summaries, to show up anomalies that could be drilled-into for the answers. We had a vision of distributing dashboards throughout the business on mobile devices, and the Cognos toolset has allowed us to make that dream a reality.
We had a vision of distributing dashboards throughout the business on mobile devices
Was it difficult?
Yes and no. There were some complexities in setting up, like getting the data out of Microsoft Dynamics AX. A lot of the difficulties we encountered were in understanding the relationships within our data, but Aramar helped us with that. They have seen it all before, so once the business rules were understood, they helped us to build the structures in the model that would provide a basis of consistent data, and the tools enabled us to turn that data into the rich information we were looking for.
Did it go as you expected?
I’m not sure we knew exactly what to expect. We had a careful selection process, the business is growing rapidly and we were at the point where implementing the right performance management solution was vital. But after you decide, you hope you’ve made the right decision. I think mostly we believed in the guys from Aramar and they didn’t let us down.
Did you get the improvements you expected?
Definitely. We knew what we wanted but we were still unaware of the full potential of IBM Cognos and the project grew as we discovered what we could do with it. Jon Berry quickly became proficient with the new tools so we started getting results straight away, which meant we were able to engage the business and get people excited about what could be delivered.
We are really proud of the Sales by product and customer reporting that Jon built; its analytics capability is extremely powerful and the visualisations that make it look extremely professional and modern. Our use of such cutting edge technology in this area is another way we stand out from our competitors and our customers are sure to be impressed.
The Aramar team seem impressed too, and they’ve said some really complimentary things about what we have achieved, but we know we are really only at the beginning of a journey. There’s so much more we can do.
What was it like working with Aramar?
Very good. We like the fact that we can pick and choose what we use Aramar for. We were able to work independently on a lot of the development meaning we could use Aramar for the more challenging parts. In fact, to get to where we are now, we only used fourteen consultancy days.
we only used fourteen consultancy days
Who from Aramar did you work with?
Several of the team. Rob Howell was involved right the way through, guiding us on the overall design and specifically on the financials. Jon Timmins installed the software. Chetan Mistry was new to Aramar but he helped us with some of the data loading issues we had. Alan Cartner delivered comprehensive training on Report Studio and Active reports, and Lindsey O’Grady really opened our eyes to the potential of visualisations and mobile reporting.
I get the feeling this is not the end is it?
No, we need to improve our budgeting and forecasting too. We are using ten spreadsheets, each in excess of 10,000 rows. So the next step is to build our planning models using Cognos Express. We know it will provide a stable solution that will make administration of it much less onerous and easier to control. We really like the way you can distribute your model across the organisation, giving each budget centre its own slice of the model, and the visual workflow will help us take better control of the process for the centre.