« More Data Quality and less Change Management »
By Jean-Marie Robiquet, Director of Performance Management, Direction of Nuclear Production
I work at the Performance Management Department since 2006. Inside the Direction of Nuclear Production (DNP), our delegation manages budgets and financial previsions of 23 units: 20 Nuclear Centers of Electricity Production and 3 Central Units that cover all the support functions (engineering, security, maintenance, communication, human resources).
The previous Director of Performance Management already had structured the budget process with Excel spreadsheet exchanges that was completely satisfying. However, with EDF initial public offering, the budget process needed to be enforced. To satisfy the new quality criteria, I had to create new reporting models but in 2008, we understood that it wasn’t suitable for us to keep having our budget system on office tools.
Which Tool For Our Budget Process?
In 2008, the DPN launched an ambitious project in 2 parts:
- The definition of a new management structure,
- The purchase of a new support tool that should compare the “realized” budget with the budget data collected from our units. The IT department and the Financial Department chose SAP but the project didn’t went as expected. The subject was complex and required a lot of specific modifications of the standard SAP implementation so we encountered a lot of ergonomic and performance issues. Following SAP editor advice, we upgraded our tool to the most recent version of SAP but we lost all the specification we had made so, in 2010, we decided to abandon to use SAP for our budget process.
Meanwhile, we had anticipated this issue and had prepared highly customized Excel spreadsheets. With VBA macros, we made a first attempt to manage our data references and set up a better ergonomic to facilitate the transition between the old and the new management structure. We also developed twenty different spreadsheets for our budget data gathering process with different time periods. This system required a high level of maintenance but worked well and gave us time to search for a new tool.
Discovery Of Gathering Tools
It’s in 2012 that the vice manager of Finance IS discovered Calame Software and organized a meeting so I could also discover their Gathering Tools solution.
I perfectly remember this meeting: it was the first time that a tool could replace Excel technology but also keep all the work we had already made on Excel. It seemed too good to be true so we decided to realize a Proof of Concept.
I must admit that our previous failed attempt to replace the Excel based budget process made us very suspicious of software publishers promises. That’s why we required a completely functional POC that could qualify the tool on technical, ergonomic and functional aspects. The POC was a big success and the Performance Management Department was convinced so we quickly started to work on the full-scale project.
Results And Perspectives
On a developer point of view, one of the main functions of Gathering Tools is to structure data. Excel based gathering processes require VBA development to compensate the tools weakness and as a result, it generates a lot of links between multiple cells and documents without any robust structure. With Gathering Tools, there is a clear distinction between documents (forms and dashboards) and database. In addition, the database is not proprietary so we choose to work with SQL Server but it could have been any other database type. Since the forms automatically store data in databases, data is completely available for any required analyses.
Gathering Tools capability to reproduce Excel’s look and functionalities has a big impact on two levels. For the developers, it avoids some uncertainty knowing that “If I can do that in Excel, I can do that in Gathering Tools”. For the final users, it doesn’t require any change management because the Gathering Tools forms will look exactly as the documents they had on Excel.
Finally, Gathering Tools enhance data quality. In our previous Excel process, we needed a whole day to correct mistakes users had made in the files they send back to us. Now, the quality checks are integrated to the forms: if there are mistakes or incomplete information in the forms, the contributor cannot transmit the data and a list of hyperlinks guide it to the cells that need to be filled or modified. It is very intuitive. In addition, Gathering Tools can convert forms back into Excel files. The contributors can then modify those files (even their structure), create links with their existing files, and still be able to upload the data to the Gathering Tools form. It spares them multiple entries.
We are very satisfied and we will continue to invest on this technology. We haven’t yet migrate our project to the most recent version of Gathering Tools but we planned to do it soon because the new synchronization functionality will simplify our budget process. We also plan to connect Gathering Tools to our SAP reference data so we can have a homogeneous system with no redundancy.