How Marshall Fleet shifted the role of FP&A from basic budgeting & forecasting to true financial performance management.
IBM Business Analytics Solution – IBM Planning Analytics
Services – Consultancy
Founded in 1972, Marshall Fleet Solutions is the UK’s largest independent refrigeration, tail lift and commercial vehicle fleet service and support organisation. The company has a diverse business model, including the sale, installation and maintenance of refrigeration and tail lift units and parts, and fleet management for over 2,500 vehicles.
During the pandemic, Marshall’s technology and expertise played a vital role in helping supermarkets and logistics companies deliver food and medical supplies to people who were isolating or shielding. As the company has grown, it has also launched a renewables division to drive innovation in the refrigerated vehicles market with green diesel and solar technologies.
What challenges were Marshall Fleet Solutions facing?
Marshall’s multifaceted business model meant that financial planning and analysis (FP&A) was becoming increasingly complex. As the business continues to expand into new areas, it wanted to take a more sophisticated approach to financial planning and performance management.
Lewis Bryan, Marshall’s FP&A Manager, realised that the spreadsheet-based processes supporting its annual budget and quarterly forecasts were becoming an obstacle. Marshall’s budget model had more than 50 tabs, with hundreds of columns in each tab—and even opening the spreadsheet took several minutes. Making quick changes was almost impossible because information had to be copy-pasted into multiple places on each tab. And the whole process of getting the data into the spreadsheets took so long that as soon as one quarter’s forecast was complete, Bryan had to start work on the next one almost immediately.
Marshall Fleet Solutions’ parent and sister companies had already adopted IBM Business Analytics software for financial reporting and recommended consulting their trusted partner, Aramar. When Aramar provided a demo of Fast Financials, its out-of-the-box solution for budgeting, forecasting, planning, and reporting built on the IBM Planning Analytics platform, Marshall saw the potential.
“At first glance, I saw Fast Financials as a superpowered Excel, but it’s much more than that,” says Bryan. “The ability to drive budgeting, forecasting and management accounting processes from a single point of control is so powerful—and that’s only scratching the surface of what it can do.”
Our Fast Financial solution can be deployed in a matter of days, but Marshall’s project took slightly longer because the company requested some modifications to align the solution with its IT security and GDPR policies. Nevertheless, within just two months, the company had its numbers in the system and could begin using it productively.
In addition to customising Fast Financials, we also provided several days of modelling training for Marshall’s FP&A team, which enabled them to become self-sufficient quickly. Since then, Bryan and his colleagues have been working to port more and more of the company’s spreadsheet-based processes and calculations into Fast Financials, laying the groundwork for significant automation of budgeting and forecasting.
“Shifting from our manual spreadsheet-based processes to Fast Financials has been a learning process, and Aramar have given us all the support we needed,” says Bryan. “Instead of spending all our time extracting and wrangling information, we’ve been able to focus on developing and improving our workflows.
“The difference is that in the past, whenever we finished one forecast, we knew we’d have to do the same work all over again the next quarter. With Fast Financials, we only do that work once: when we’ve set up the automations, that’s the last time we’ll ever need to do it.”
When Fast Financials had been up and running for two months, Marshall felt confident enough to switch over and create its 9+3 forecast in the new system, and was pleased with the results.
While the initial objective of the project was to port the existing spreadsheet model into IBM Planning Analytics without significant changes, the company has been able to introduce new functionality too, such as a gross margin cube, which enables rapid analysis of sales.
“Beyond the time savings that we expect to see through automation, what we’re really excited about is the ability to provide visibility of targets, budgets and actuals to the business at speed,” says Bryan. “As we move towards more of a rolling forecast model, we’re shifting the role of FP&A from basic budgeting and forecasting to true financial performance management. We’re raising the focus from ‘where do we think our numbers will be in six months?’ to ‘how can we plan our business to better serve our customers?’”
Feedback from Marshall Fleet Solutions
“During the pandemic, more than 50% of our employees were classed as key workers, helping to ensure that people got the food and medicines they needed. Accurate planning and forecasting is essential to keep our customers’ vehicles on the road, and Fast Financials from Aramar will play a key role in helping us maintain and improve our service levels as the business grows.”
Lewis Bryan, Financial Planning & Analysis Manager, Marshall Fleet Solutions