Talent2 builds an interactive reporting environment

Adapting to ever-changing markets with driver-based planning

Published on 16-Jan-2012

Validated on 08 Jul 2013

"We have been able to eliminate a mass of spreadsheet-based reports that we used to have to email around the company. Cognos Express gives us a much more secure way to distribute data, and is beginning to drive a cultural change where our executives serve themselves with the data they need, instead of waiting for updates from the BI team." - Byron Hsu, Business Intelligence Manager, Talent2

Customer:
Talent2

Industry:
Professional Services

Deployment country:
Australia

Solution:
BA - Business Analytics, Business Integration, Business Performance Transformation, Express, Information Integration, BA - Performance Management

IBM Business Partner:
Cubewise

Overview

Talent2 International Ltd was founded in 2003 by industry thought leaders Andrew Banks and Geoff Morgan as the Asia Pacific region’s leading end-to-end talent management solutions company. Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, the company now has 47 offices in 19 countries and employs more than 1,700 people. Listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX: TWO), Talent2 generated revenues of more than AU$ 300 million in the 2010-11 financial year.

Business need:
Talent2 provides human resources outsourcing services in 31 countries across the Asia Pacific region. In each of these countries, the company’s recruitment, payroll, learning and HR advisory businesses are influenced by a wide range of factors, from job market fluctuations to new personnel strategies. Talent2 wanted to find a way to react more quickly to changing circumstances by enhancing its ability to analyse market conditions and predict future problems and opportunities.

Solution:
Talent2 decided to build on its long-term investment in IBM® Cognos® TM1® by implementing IBM Cognos Express to create new executive dashboards for operational reporting. The dashboards enable driver-based planning, allowing managers to drill down into key performance indicators (KPIs) and identify issues that may affect future performance. The Cognos TM1 solution also enables ‘what if’ analysis to help the company understand the impact of these KPIs and drivers on the company’s finances.

Results:
Reduces the time taken to create a new scenario from two days to a matter of seconds.

Benefits:
Informs the company’s overall strategy and business direction. Harnesses existing financial and operational information to predict future outcomes, making it easier to react effectively to changing market conditions, and enabling real time management. Uses scenario modelling to explore the probable effects of external factors such as exchange rate fluctuations, enabling more effective planning. Provides a highly automated reporting environment, minimising manual workload and training requirements.

Case Study

Talent2 International Ltd was founded in 2003 by industry thought leaders Andrew Banks and Geoff Morgan as the Asia Pacific region’s leading end-to-end talent management solutions company. Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, the company now has 47 offices in 19 countries and employs more than 1,700 people. Listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX: TWO), Talent2 generated revenues of more than AU$ 300 million in the 2010-11 financial year.

The Talent2 group and its partners provide HR services in four main areas: recruitment, payroll, learning and HR advisory. The recruitment and HR advisory businesses are strongly influenced by a variety of local factors in each of the countries where Talent2 operates – including, for example, current market conditions. The payroll and learning businesses are also affected by longer-term market trends, since a client’s workforce may expand or contract depending on national economic growth rates. Steering Talent2 through fluctuating economic conditions is a complex challenge; to guide its strategy, the company relies on business analytics and live data.

Building analytics with IBM Cognos TM1

“We have been using IBM Cognos TM1 and its predecessors for about seven years to handle financial reporting and planning,” comments Byron Hsu, Business Intelligence Manager at Talent2. “We have been impressed with IBM’s investment in the platform since they acquired it in 2008, and we still believe it is the best solution on the market in terms of its ability to process huge volumes of data in memory and its write-back capabilities. We also like the flexible way it manages hierarchies – so if there’s a change in the organisational structure of the business, it’s easy to change the TM1 models to match it. We even had a situation where we were planning to change our corporate structure in the new financial year, and TM1 enabled us to run both the existing and new structures in parallel.”

Simplifying scenario planning

One of the most important capabilities that IBM Cognos TM1 provides for Talent2 is scenario planning. This enables the company to alter variables in its financial planning models and create several different versions of its budgets and forecasts to outline best-case, worst-case and intermediate scenarios.

“For example, our CFO asked us to create a set of scenarios based on possible changes in the exchange rate between US dollars and Australian dollars,” explains Byron Hsu. “With a spreadsheet-based approach, this would have taken a couple of days; but with TM1, we were able to do it in about ten seconds. Being able to alter the inputs and outputs and provide ‘what if’ scenarios contributes greatly to our ability to create contingency plans and guide the company through changing market conditions.”

Introducing driver-based planning

Earlier this year, Talent2’s business intelligence team hosted a forum for executives and finance managers to discuss ways to enhance the company’s analytics capabilities even further by deploying a new product: IBM Cognos Express.

“Our TM1 solution has given us a very solid understanding of current and historical data, especially from a financial perspective,” states Byron Hsu. “What we proposed at the forum was to introduce more forward-looking analytic capabilities as well. We did a presentation explaining how the company’s financial key performance indicators [KPIs] are influenced by operational drivers – for example, the profit margin for our recruitment business derives from the number of people we have successfully placed in new roles for our clients. This in turn depends on the number of shortlisted candidates we provided, which depends on the number of candidates who applied, which depends on the size of our talent pool when the vacancy was announced. So if you don’t have enough people in the talent pool now, it’s likely to affect the overall profit margin several months down the line.

“We then demoed an interactive dashboard created in IBM Cognos Express that would enable users to drill down from the top-level KPIs into the underlying drivers and identify any issues that could cause problems in the future. The response from the executives was very positive, and the CFO immediately bought into the idea. With strong support from the senior level, we embarked on a project to build the solution for real.”

Moving forward with the right partner

Talent2 wanted to work with an experienced partner to develop the solution, and chose Cubewise – an award-winning IBM Business Partner that has performed many large-scale implementations of IBM Cognos solutions around the world.

“Cubewise’s professional services team worked closely with our project team to understand our needs, and used an agile development approach to ensure that the solution was closely aligned with our requirements,” says Byron Hsu. “Teamwork was crucial to the success of the project, and Cubewise did an excellent job of collaborating with our BI team. The other major factors in making this project a success were good design and high-quality data. To promote adoption by the executives, we needed to ensure that the new dashboard would be intuitive and visually attractive, and Cognos Express gave us a lot of options in terms of presentation. From the data perspective, our seven years of investment and development in Cognos TM1 meant that we already had a very robust data structure, and this substantially reduced the time it took to deploy the new Cognos Express solution.”

The whole project, including the deployment of the Cognos Express Xcelerator, Reporter and Advisor modules and the development of the dashboard, took just four weeks from kick-off to go-live. The dashboard has now been available to 30 senior executives for just over four months.

Gaining new insights

The dashboard gathers financial data (such as revenue, cost of sales, gross margin, fixed and variable costs) from the existing IBM Cognos TM1 system. Operational information (such as sales data) is added manually by teams from across the business via the TM1 interface, and other data sources (such as global stock market information and job market reports from ANZ Bank) are integrated automatically.

“The ability to gather data from both internal and external sources is really valuable,” comments Byron Hsu. “We can see not only how we’re performing compared to our history and forecasts, but also what the whole economy is doing. This helps us gauge our performance much more effectively and make better decisions about how to deal with changing conditions and emerging trends.

“We have also been able to eliminate a mass of spreadsheet-based reports that we used to have to email around the company. Cognos Express gives us a much more secure way of distributing data from a central source, and is beginning to drive a cultural change where our executives serve themselves with the data they need, instead of waiting for updates from the BI team.”

Keeping the business on course

Most importantly, the dashboard gives executives the ability to look beyond the financial KPIs and monitor the underlying drivers. Addressing issues with these drivers quickly can help to avoid problems in future months and keep KPIs on track.

For example in the HR & payroll services business, one of the underlying drivers is cost per payslip, so Talent2 is closely monitoring this KPI in IBM Cognos TM1. Management has the ability to predict future trends from the statistical information contained in IBM Cognos TM1. If the cost per payslip trend is increasing in a given location, management might decide to look at other locations within the business where a more profitable service can be delivered, while maintaining appropriate service levels.

Looking to the future

Byron Hsu believes that although the company is still at the beginning of its journey with IBM Cognos Express, the future is bright: “The more we can engage our executives with the new dashboards, the more value we’ll be able to get from them. Thanks to our long history with Cognos TM1, we already have the data to create fantastic reports and dashboards in very quick time.

“In our next phase, we’re planning to introduce separate dashboards for each of our four main business divisions and provide data updates on a daily basis. This should help to embed the use of the solution in our managers’ daily routine – and we predict that once they see the benefits, their appetite for analytics will grow and grow.”

About Cubewise

Cubewise is a professional consulting firm that specialises in the design and implementation of custom business planning, reporting and analytical applications. Utilising the IBM Cognos platform, Cubewise’s unique blend of skills and expertise in both business and technology differentiate it from other software consultants. As successful finance and business professionals, its consultants approach technology from a business perspective.

Cubewise has implemented some of the largest Cognos TM1 systems in the world in terms of users, data size and complexity. Cubewise has also won IBM’s TM1 Partner of the Year Award twice in consecutive years.

About IBM Business Analytics

IBM Business Analytics software delivers actionable insights decision-makers need to achieve better business performance. IBM offers a comprehensive, unified portfolio of business intelligence, predictive and advanced analytics, financial performance and strategy management, governance, risk and compliance and analytic applications.

With IBM software, companies can spot trends, patterns and anomalies, compare “what if” scenarios, predict potential threats and opportunities, identify and manage key business risks and plan, budget and forecast resources. With these deep analytic capabilities our customers around the world can better understand, anticipate and shape business outcomes.

Products and services used

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

Software:
Cognos TM1, Cognos Express

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2012. Australian Head Office, IBM Australia Ltd, Level 13, IBM Centre, 601 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, NSW 2065. Produced in Australia, January 2012. IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, Cognos and TM1 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 www.ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml. Other company, product or service names may be trademarks, or service marks of others. IBM and Cubewise are separate companies and each is responsible for its own products. Neither IBM nor Cubewise makes any warranties, express or implied, concerning the other’s products. 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.