BPP creates a flexible real-time business intelligence solution in just three months

Building on IBM Cognos TM1 with Shared Knowledge Solutions

Published on 04-Feb-2011

"The best thing about IBM Cognos TM1 is its flexibility. With the help of Shared Knowledge Solutions, we were able to implement the solution successfully even while the business was undergoing radical changes both organisationally and technologically." - William Etchell, Director of Finance at BPP



Deployment country:
United Kingdom

BA - Business Analytics, Information Integration, BA - Performance Management, Information On Demand

IBM Business Partner:
Shared Knowledge Solutions


BPP is a market-leading company that specialises in professional qualifications and development. The company owns a Law School and a Business School, and was awarded the status of a university college in July 2010. It is currently the only private-sector company that has the power to award university degrees in the UK.

Business need:
BPP, a university college specialising in professional education, wanted to upgrade its business intelligence capabilities to complement its new ERP solution. With its existing reporting processes, extracting data from the new Microsoft Dynamics AX system involved complex, time-consuming spreadsheet work, and month-end reporting took ten days to complete.

Working to a challenging three-month deadline, BPP’s in-house team worked with Shared Knowledge Solutions to deploy IBM® Cognos® TM1 for financial reporting. With the success of this initial project, BPP has expanded the solution to handle budgeting and forecasting, as well as reports on student numbers and course volumes.

Enhanced flexibility in reporting, providing more precise and detailed reports based on real-time data. Reduced month-end reporting processes from ten days to just four. Accelerated forecasting processes, enabling a move from quarterly to monthly revisions. Provided a versatile platform that could be implemented rapidly and easily expanded to meet new requirements. Enabled finance team to build and run reports themselves, without relying on IT staff or report writers.

Case Study

BPP is a market-leading company that specialises in professional qualifications and development. The company owns a Law School and a Business School, and was awarded the status of a university college in July 2010. It is currently the only private-sector company that has the power to award university degrees in the UK.

BPP employs 1,600 people at approximately 40 locations. In addition to its UK sites, the company also operates in 14 other European countries and in China. Its Business School sells approximately 70,000 courses per year, and its Law School has 5,000 students. In 2009, the company became part of the Apollo Global group, one of the world’s leading educational investment organisations.

Meeting the demands of change
“A little while prior to the acquisition by Apollo Global, we had embarked on a major project to update our ERP environment by implementing Microsoft Dynamics AX,” explains William Etchell, Director of Finance at BPP. “The change of ERP system gave us an opportunity to rethink our whole approach to financial reporting, and we decided that we wanted to create a proper business intelligence solution.”

BPP’s existing reporting was mainly handled using a wide range of complex spreadsheets, using data manually exported from operational systems. Even with the new Microsoft Dynamics solution in place, it still took approximately two days to collect all the data required for month-end financial reporting, and a further eight days to prepare the reports for the company’s senior managers.

“Monthly reporting was a lengthy process, and budgeting and forecasting were even more complex,” says Etchell. “Forecast revisions were so time-consuming that we were only able to do them on a quarterly basis, which made it difficult to identify variances and respond quickly.”

Working to a challenging deadline
As the Microsoft Dynamics AX implementation neared completion, BPP’s team needed to select and deploy a new business intelligence solution as quickly as possible. The team had just three months to create a solution capable of generating the company’s most critical financial reports.

“We looked at two options: a Microsoft Dynamics reporting solution called FRx, and IBM Cognos TM1,” comments Etchell. “Initially, we were leaning towards FRx because it was designed to work with Dynamics. But one of our objectives was to enable people in the finance team to create reports for themselves, without help from technical experts, and we felt that this was a real strength of Cognos TM1. The Microsoft Excel front-end provides a familiar interface that makes it easy to learn how to use, so we felt confident that we could get our users up to speed in time to meet the three-month deadline.”

Building a partnership
The in-house team worked with Shared Knowledge Solutions, an IBM Business Partner, to install the software and develop a standard suite of ten key financial reports. The implementation took just eight weeks, and was completed within the deadline.

“The Shared Knowledge Solutions consultants were very knowledgeable, and we were really impressed with their technical skills,” says Etchell. “They took on board the urgency of the situation and helped us plan the implementation so that we could start small with the most critical reports, and then expand the solution to meet additional requirements at a later stage. If we had taken a different approach or used a different software package, I think we might have struggled to complete the project in time – but with IBM Cognos TM1 and Shared Knowledge Solutions, we managed it quite comfortably.”

Adapting to business change
Shortly after the initial implementation, BPP was acquired by Apollo Global. Once again, the flexibility and easy extendability of the Cognos solution was a major advantage.

“Our new parent company had a number of specific requirements in terms of financial reporting, so we needed to make some important changes to several of our existing reports,” explains Etchell. “IBM Cognos TM1 made this a relatively quick and easy process, so we were able to comply with the new requirements within a matter of days.”

Rapid financial reporting
With the IBM Cognos TM1 solution, BPP’s month-end reporting process, which used to take ten working days, can now be completed by day four of the new month.

“We’re able to deliver our monthly figures much more quickly – and from an operational point of view, it’s a much more effective process,” says Etchell. “We spend much less time collecting and validating the data, which gives us more scope to concentrate on the analysis itself. Moreover, because there is less manual processing, there’s less chance of human error, and we can be more confident that the data is accurate.”

Extending the solution
With the key reports in place, the project team began developing additional capabilities, such as reports on revenues, cost lines, capital expenditure, headcount and sales volumes – many of which are currently in development. In the near future, BPP also plans to integrate Cognos with its student information system, which will open up a wealth of new opportunities for analytics, and could help to target marketing and boost sales.

“One thing we are really starting to appreciate is the fact that IBM Cognos TM1 isn’t just for reporting – it can do planning, budgeting and forecasting too, all in the same system,” says Etchell. “Previously, our process for revising budgets and forecasts was very labour-intensive, so we only did it once per quarter. Now we will be able to do it on a monthly basis – which will give us tighter control of our costs.”

He concludes: “The best thing about IBM Cognos TM1 is its flexibility. With the help of Shared Knowledge Solutions, we were able to implement the solution successfully even while the business was undergoing radical changes both organisationally and technologically. As the reporting requirements have evolved, Cognos has helped us keep pace with the needs of the business – and we are confident that we will be able to extend the solution to meet future requirements too.”

About Shared Knowledge Solutions
Shared Knowledge Solutions is an IBM Business Partner that specialises in business analytics and planning solutions, helping companies in a wide range of industries make the right decisions based on timely, accurate, relevant information. Products from the IBM Cognos product portfolio form a key part of Shared Knowledge Solutions' toolset.

About IBM Business Analytics
IBM Business Analytics solutions deliver world-leading enterprise planning, consolidation and BI software, support and services to help companies plan, understand and manage financial and operational performance. IBM Business Analytics solutions bring together technology, analytical applications, best practices, and a broad network of partners to give customers an open, adaptive and complete performance solution. Over 23,000 customers in more than 135 countries around the world choose IBM Business Analytics solutions.

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Cognos TM1

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2011. IBM United Kingdom Limited, PO Box 41, North Harbour, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO6 3AU. Produced in the United Kingdom. January 2011. All Rights Reserved. IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, and Cognos are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. A current list of other IBM trademarks is available on the Web at “Copyright and trademark information” at http://www.ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml. Other company, product or service names may be trademarks, or service marks of others. IBM and Shared Knowledge Solutions are separate companies and each is responsible for its own products. Neither IBM nor Shared Knowledge Solutions makes any warranties, express or implied, concerning the other’s products. Microsoft, Windows, Windows NT, and the Windows logo are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States, other countries, or both. References in this publication to IBM products, programs or services do not imply that IBM intends to make these available in all countries in which IBM operates. Any reference to an IBM product, program or service is not intended to imply that only IBM’s product, program or service may be used. Any functionally equivalent product, program or service may be used instead. All customer examples cited represent how some customers have used IBM products and the results they may have achieved. Actual environmental costs and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. IBM hardware products are manufactured from new parts, or new and used parts. In some cases, the hardware product may not be new and may have been previously installed. Regardless, IBM warranty terms apply. This publication is for general guidance only. Photographs may show design models.