AmicusHorizon plans for the future with business analytics

Using scenario analysis to answer “what if” questions and guide business strategies

Published on 26 Apr 2012

Validated on 07 Oct 2013

"With help from IBM and EnterpriseBI, we are keen to make the most of our investment and continue to deliver new insights that help the business make good decisions and achieve even better results." - Rowena Beard, Financial Controller, AmicusHorizon

Customer:
AmicusHorizon

Industry:
Professional Services

Deployment country:
United Kingdom

Solution:
BA - Business Analytics, BA - Business Intelligence, Consolidated Operations Management , BA - Performance Management, Small & Medium Business, Smarter Planet

Smarter Planet:
Smarter Buildings

IBM Business Partner:
Enterprise BI

Overview

AmicusHorizon Limited is a leading housing association with approximately 920 staff, providing homes and services to communities across London and the south and south-east of England. It has gross assets of over £1.2bn, an annual turnover of £144m and reserves of £32m. It manages over 28,000 homes, and offers housing solutions from affordable homes for the general public to supported housing for people with care and support needs.

Business need:
To successfully manage over 28,000 homes across the UK, AmicusHorizon needs to maintain tight control of finances and plan effectively for both the immediate and long-term future. Spreadsheet-based budgeting, maintenance planning and reporting processes made it difficult to gain an accurate view of the current position or make forecasts for the future.

Solution:
AmicusHorizon used IBM Business Analytics software to build a solution that draws real-time data from financial systems and enables rapid, accurate budget planning and reporting. EnterpriseBI, an IBM Business Partner, assisted with solution development and knowledge transfer, helping the AmicusHorizon team become self-sufficient in managing the solution.

Benefits:
Enables “what if” analysis to predict the effect of different scenarios on the business – enabling the company to plan for changing economic conditions and react with greater agility. Provides new insight into the company’s 30-year maintenance cycle, enabling more cost-effective management of repairs and renovations. Reduces workload during the budgeting period: one full-time employee can now be reassigned to other tasks. Accelerates budgeting processes: for example, the payroll budgeting cycle now runs approximately 50 percent faster.

Case Study

Instrumented
The latest data from core financial systems is transferred into the analytics system every 15 minutes, enabling real-time analysis.

Interconnected
Users can enter budgeting data directly into the system, and it is automatically rolled up into top-level budgets. Budget holders can access the latest figures 24/7 via a simple web interface.

Intelligent
The ability to generate financial plans rapidly and accurately enables users to run multiple scenarios and assess the probable effects on the business.

AmicusHorizon Limited is a leading housing association with approximately 920 staff, providing homes and services to communities across London and the south and south-east of England. It has gross assets of over £1.2bn, an annual turnover of £144m and reserves of £32m. It manages over 28,000 homes, and offers housing solutions from affordable homes for the general public to supported housing for people with care and support needs.

With such a large portfolio of properties to manage and maintain, AmicusHorizon needs to be able to analyse current and probable future financial position in order to make effective investment decisions. This extends not only to the coming months or years, but into the long term: for example, the company has a 30-year plan for home maintenance, which helps it decide when to carry out upgrades and renovation projects. In some cases, these projects can require multi-million pound investments: the stakes are high, and it is vital to deliver the highest quality of service in the most cost-effective manner.

Rowena Beard, Financial Controller at AmicusHorizon, comments: “Our business has grown both organically and through acquisitions. As a result, our need for accurate, timely insight into our financial data has increased significantly. We needed an ability to:

  • budget on a more detailed level
  • forecast and re-forecast more frequently
  • provide managers with the information they need to make good business decisions in ever tighter timescales.”

Moving away from spreadsheet-based processes
The company’s existing financial planning and reporting processes were based on extracting data from its financial system and manipulating this data using spreadsheets. There was no secure central database for the financial analytics data, so there was a risk of errors creeping into the spreadsheets. Moreover, the company was beginning to find the tools inflexible and slow, especially for some of the more complex financial planning processes.

“To take one example, staff salaries and benefits are an important component of our budgeting process,” explains Rowena Beard. “When we acquire another company, the staff who join our organisation bring their existing pensions with them – which means we have staff on a wide range of different pension schemes. With our spreadsheet-based process, it was extremely difficult to manage this kind of complexity.”

Building on IBM Business Analytics software
The finance team at AmicusHorizon decided it needed to find a better solution, and considered options. The company already invested in IBM® Cognos® Business Intelligence to provide a wide range of operational reports and key performance indicators – such as rent arrears and turnaround times for vacant properties – and was impressed with its flexibility.

“Our positive experience with IBM Cognos Business Intelligence made us think a Cognos solution for planning and budgeting would be an ideal option,” says Rowena Beard. “When we looked at IBM Cognos TM1®, we quickly became confident it was the right solution for our needs. Moreover, we saw potential for integrating the two systems, so users could access budget data and financial reports via the same Cognos Business Intelligence web portal they were already using for operational analytics.”

The finance team built a business case using estimated time savings on the budgeting and reporting processes to justify the capital investment the new solution required. As a result, the company moved ahead with the project driven entirely by the finance team.

Finding the right partner
AmicusHorizon needed to find a partner to help implement the software and design the data models. IBM recommended a number of its Business Partners, and AmicusHorizon conducted a comprehensive tendering process.

“EnterpriseBI won the tender,” comments Rowena Beard. “They made the best proposal, and we worked with them before on some of our Cognos Business Intelligence projects, so we knew the relationship would work. We appreciate their personal touch: instead of doing all the development work on their own and delivering it to us when it is ready, they come on-site and sit with our team, which really helps with knowledge transfer. We learned a lot by working so closely with EnterpriseBI, and as a result we’re now more or less self-sufficient in terms of managing the solution.”

Rapid, tangible results
The initial deployment was completed in April 2011, and by mid-June, the company was seeing the first tangible results: a set of management reports based on a cube that refreshes with the latest financial data every 15 minutes.

“Weekly, monthly and annual financial reporting is now dramatically quicker and easier than it was with our old process,” comments Rowena Beard. “The time savings are important in themselves, but also because they have allowed us to change the emphasis of analytics within the company. Instead of spending all our time pulling the numbers together, we can actually analyse them properly and use them as a basis for better decision-making.”

Meeting the challenge of financial planning
The next challenge was financial planning. AmicusHorizon used the Cognos TM1 software to create a solution to accelerate budgeting and forecasting by automating many of the key aspects of the process. Contributors across the business can enter data directly into the system, and the results are automatically rolled up into the top-level budgets – eliminating the back-and-forth exchange of spreadsheets that used to be so time-consuming and error-prone.

“To take one example, our HR budgeting process previously took two to three weeks; this year, we did it in a week and a half,” comments Rowena Beard. “During the annual budgeting period we had to second a member of staff from another team to help us put the budget together – now we don’t need to, so that’s a whole full-time employee’s time saved.”

Preparing for whatever the future holds
A further important advantage of the solution is its ability to enable scenario planning. Since budgets can now be created, copied and manipulated easily without any concerns about the validity of the source data, the company’s budget holders can easily run multiple budgets with different inputs and use them to answer “what if” questions.

Instead of just making their best estimate of what will happen in the coming year, they can look at best and worst case scenarios based on a range of economic and business factors. As a result, they can create contingency plans helping the business react quicker if circumstances change.

“For example, we can look at the contribution that each of our major contracts makes to our overall budget, and see what would happen if the value of that contract increased or decreased,” says Rowena Beard. “Equally, we can run simulations of different economic conditions and plan for potential risks and opportunities. This kind of analysis was simply not practical before: it took so much time just to prepare the standard budget, we had no capacity to look at ‘what ifs’. It’s a good example of how automating an IT process can actually transform the way you use your business data.”

Taking the long view
With the success of the reporting and budgeting solutions, AmicusHorizon has embarked on a number of other projects. In the next few weeks, it will launch a solution analysing the 30-year maintenance plan, which should help optimise the delivery of upgrade and renovation projects.

“The cube contains data on each property we own, broken down into its individual components: the boiler, the kitchen, the bathroom, the roof, the external walls, and so on. It will give us the ability to drill down and look at individual properties, so that we can assess their maintenance history and make better decisions about how to maintain them in future. For major projects, where we are dealing with large groups of properties, this level of individual insight will be a significant advantage, ensuring that we schedule the work effectively and keep costs as low as possible while maintaining an excellent level of service for our customers.”

Other upcoming projects include balance sheet reporting, cash flow reporting and forecasting, the preparation of statutory accounts and some personalised dashboards for budget holders.

“The versatility of the IBM Business Analytics software gives us a wide range of options for continuing to extend and expand our use of analytics, both within the finance team and across the company,” concludes Rowena Beard. “With help from IBM and EnterpriseBI, we’re keen to make the most of our investment and continue to deliver new insights that help the business make good decisions and achieve even better results.”

About EnterpriseBI
EnterpriseBI specialises in the delivery of performance management solutions with a particular focus on the UK Social Housing sector. An expert in data warehousing and IBM Cognos performance management solutions, EnterpriseBI provides total support for its clients’ performance management projects. With over 10 years’ experience of building data warehouses and implementing IBM Cognos performance management tools, EnterpriseBI can ensure that your performance management project is implemented quickly and effectively.

EnterpriseBI has successfully partnered with many UK Housing Associations, giving it an in-depth understanding of the key financial and operational factors affecting the sector.

To learn more about products, services and solutions from EnterpriseBI, visit: enterprisebi.com

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. For more information

For further information or to reach a representative please visit ibm.com/analytics.

Components

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

Software:
Cognos TM1, Cognos Business Intelligence

Legal Information

IBM United Kingdom Limited, PO Box 41, North Harbour, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO6 3AU. Produced in the United Kingdom. April 2012. IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, Let’s Build A Smarter Planet, Smarter Planet, the planet icons, Cognos and TM1are 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. 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.

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