What was it that initially prompted Halma to look for a Consolidation Solution?
Back in 2008, Halma were consolidating their group accounts mainly using spreadsheets, this caused all kinds of problems getting to one version of the truth and managing version control, so we decided to move to a formal consolidation system to keep all of the data in a central place to consolidate from. We moved to Hyperion initially, this added some discipline and allowed for slightly more automated reports. Hyperion was considered a success but it was not good at producing any kind of output for management reporting.
"We were looking for a system that could cover the consolidation part but also BI and interactive reporting"
IBM showed Halma the potential of an integrated Financial Performance Management Solution and the decision was made to invest in IBM Cognos.
How did the Implementation go?
IBM Cognos Controller, the consolidation engine, worked very well, we very quickly had it running ‘like for like’ with Hyperion. The next step was implementing Cognos BI.
"IBM recommended Aramar as Aramar have experience getting the Cognos products to work together"
What was you initial impression of Aramar?
When Aramar arrived onsite, Graham asked questions about the system, looked at the data, and spotted some things immediately.
"Aramar came in for a short period of time and had a massive, massive impact. They had the flexibility and knowledge across the products which enabled us to make great progress in just 2 days".
What has Cognos enabled you to achieve?
Cognos Controller has given us discipline and it has given us one version of the truth. We have clear demarcation in our year end and half year end process; errors and adjustments are flushed out via an initial review process and we get a clear view of what has changed and what has been submitted, we can then lock down to get our final number. Time stamped reports can be sent to the auditors with ease, compared to the old excel version this is vastly improved. We have implemented a reliable, rolling 12 month forecast and are able to model for organic growth and currency rate variations to examine potential impact.
Are you able to easily apply changes to your company structure?
Yes, very much so. As long as we follow the consolidation rules in Controller we can adapt to any changes within the group.
"Cognos Controller has given us the flexibility to change structures, move companies between sectors, elevate a company or look at trends. This flexibility has been very, very valuable to us"
Cognos BI goes even further and has enabled us to really futureproof all of our reporting to allow for changes in company structure. We can run a report to show all companies within a sector, always referencing the latest group structure. If we still had to rely on excel, we would have to go into each spread sheet manually and add a row, this carries great risk as formulas can break, errors occur and there is no audit trail. For management reporting, we are using Cognos BI reports more and more.
Have you needed to increase headcount?
Over 6 years, Halma group has doubled in size, headcount has been added due to IFRS reporting demands but our Cognos team in the Group Finance office still only consists of myself and Carla, both working with Cognos part time, alongside our other duties. Cognos has allowed for incredible productivity; the solution is owned within Finance, we are not a burden on IT at all.
Have you used Cognos for any other reporting outside of Finance?
Yes, as all of our data is collected within Cognos, we have been able to report on: Health & Safety data, Environmental Regulations, the ‘Google Tax’ (BEPS reporting) and Operational KPIs. An example of this is the new regulations around Carbon emissions, we are able to report on ‘Power usage by company’. We input our Conversion rates by company, slice and dice the data as we wish and Cognos Controller spits out our Carbon emissions, it is a very slick process. Using excel, this would be very difficult, it would mean non-financial people getting involved and needing a lot of support on spreadsheet management.
"This is just one example of how Cognos use has been growing with the group, we have confidence that data is safe and secure. Cognos has become a ‘go to’ place for data, no-one has their own little excel empire anymore, which takes away risk"
Do you use Cognos to create your annual report?
Cognos is absolutely fundamental to the annual report, over 90% of supporting schedules are underpinned by Cognos with over 3000 data points. The information we are able to provide to our executives is more detailed and is provided earlier, leaving more time for analysis. Our Group FD is now armed with a ‘pack’ which he has faith in, it is better structured and more valuable. This information has allowed our executives to make consistently good decisions and develop a winning strategy though some tough economic times – 80% of this information comes from Cognos.
Do you rely heavily on Aramar Consultants?
We always trust Aramar to install our upgrades, this gives us the opportunity to pick Aramar’s brains, to make sure we are doing things as well as possible and fill any knowledge gaps. We work together through a list of any issues and work out a tailor made solution for Halma that will work for the long term.
"We have not used a lot of consultancy, it has been a case of learning, experimenting and using Aramar in a mentoring capacity for advice, Aramar are very good at a quick fix, and I feel comfortable to pick up the phone".
Are you still developing BI?
Lindsey (Aramar’s Report Analyse Practice Lead) has been working with us recently developing BI and this is gaining more momentum. If Lindsey gives us a couple of examples of best practice for a report, we can take this and roll it out, this process works very efficiently for us; we are now bursting our monthly board reports to email and developing our weekly report in BI, this will be a real milestone as it is currently a very manual process.
"Aramar understand that we want as simple and effective solution as possible and work with complete transparency."
What stage are you at on your Cognos journey?
Cognos Controller does everything that we want it to do, the excel-driven reports are easy to manage internally. I would say that with Controller our journey is 99% complete. A solution such as this always has more potential, the next stage would be to auto-eliminate investments via Controller. With the recent development work in Cognos BI, I would say that we are 90% complete. The target for BI is one that is constantly moving as it is an evolving area. IBM are heavily investing in and enhancing Cognos BI all the time. What we do have, is a repository with good suite of reports where people can see lots of valuable data, in just a few clicks. We also have dashboards for different levels of management, our Vice Presidents can view their KPIs, with any underperforming areas flagged for their attention. There will always be more demand from Halma PLC for reports, which I am sure Cognos and Aramar will be able to fulfil.
Halma plc is a world leading group of technology companies that makes products for hazard detection and life protection. Halma is a FTSE 250 company with a turnover of £700 million, their headquarters are in Amersham, UK.