« About information consolidation in an international environment »
By Nicolas Acket, *Corporate Controlling Manager
As a corporate controlling manager, my mission is to ensure availability and reliability of the indicators used to pilot our international activity.
My team and I used to allocate a considerable amount of time to gather, evaluate, consolidate, and analyze our company data in order to design monthly reporting dashboards such as operating statements, client activity, ratios, production, and staffing. Gathering quality data was very complicated when it comes from 17 sites that uses different IT systems and different data format, and when our indicators evolve constantly.
The international, decentralized, and heterogeneous structure of our organization made it seem impossible to find a dedicated tool to enhance our data gathering process without asking our subsidiaries to completely change the way they work.
An Effortless Transformation
When Calame Software contacted us in 2008, we were immediately impressed by the GT concept: unlike every other publisher we met, they did not suggest to get rid of the reporting documents we built on Excel, but instead offered us to reuse them. Our files were converted into a format that looked exactly like Excel, kept all our calculations formulas, business rules, and consistency checks, and then added all the security we lacked.
Before GT, every time we received a file, we had to check if it was entirely completed without mistake. If something was not correct, we had to return the document to the correspondent, ask to provide corrections, and wait for his new contribution. This whole process was extremely time-consuming but, fortunately, we have now replaced it with Gathering Tools. In fact, the GT documents are like forms: if mandatory information is missing, the correspondent is not allowed to return the document. Similarly, we built consistency checks in Excel that were preserved in GT, that are now secured: for instance, if a control ratio (calculated by a simple formula) is outranged, the correspondent is not allowed to submit the contribution. An error message is displayed, specifying what information is incorrect through a hyperlink.
Of course, this automation does not eliminate every error. Information can meet every criterion and yet be incorrect. That is why GT allows us to set up validation levels: a manager can manually evaluate the submitted information and invalidate the document if something is incorrect. The workflow management feature is a strong asset of the tool: it automates follow-ups, manages versioning, and gives us complete traceability of the process.
A tool Easily Adopted By Our Subsidiaries
Finally, beyond the advantages of GT, it was extremely important that our subsidiaries accept the tool; otherwise, we could not have moved forward. From that point of view, integrating Gathering Tools was a big success. First of all, for our GT correspondents, the new process is not different from the former one: they receive emails with a document attached, just like they used to. Those documents are identical to the Excel spreadsheets they used before, both in design and features. Change management is therefore very limited.
However, since the GT documents are synchronized with our database, they can be pre-filled with a certain amount of data related to each correspondent (currency, formats, and indicators from the previous exercise, for example). These customizations are highly appreciated by our subsidiaries.
Another valued functionality is the tool’s interoperability with Excel. Some of our documents are simple enough to be filled manually, but our monthly reports are voluminous and require data that our subsidiaries already have in their own Excel spreadsheets. This is where GT interoperability with Excel comes in: for each GT form, the tool can generate an identical Excel document. Our correspondents can then work directly in this Excel document, copy/paste data, or create links to their local data sources and automate the input for subsequent fiscal year. Then, they quickly import the data from Excel to Gathering Tools. In this way, even if the correspondents modify the Excel document structure or enter incorrect data, it will not affect the process because they will only return the GT form. During the data import from the Excel source, GT will apply all the consistency checks and block the import of every incorrect data point with an error message that includes a link to the problematic cell in the Excel file. GT will be able to import data from Excel to the correct destination in the form even if the Excel file structure has been modified (added columns, removed lines).
GT proves that it is possible to reconcile the flexibility of Excel and our need for reliability.
Gathering Tools In Day-to-day Business
From the very beginning, we wanted to acquire autonomy by having internal resources trained to use Gathering Tools by Calame Software so we did not over-burden our own IT department with work related to GT. The IT staff only had to validate the architecture and provide the required infrastructure (server hosting, database, connection to the corporate email system). As our job is controlling and we have no IT expertise, we contacted D-One consulting which specializes in GT as a partner of Calame Software. Their consultants helped us to automate the recovery of our data history and implement complex operations, such as changes in integration rates.
Every time we want to improve our projects, we have the same approach: we create or modify our templates in Excel and then import them in GT. Depending on the expected impact on the database structure, we integrate it by ourselves or we contract with Calame Software partners to do it.
We also benefit from the responsive support of Calame Software at all times. Especially when it comes to solve project-related difficulties.
We have been using GT for several years and are still really satisfied with it. Now, during closure period, data collection is more reliable, more automated, and therefore less stressful!
We do our best to keep up with the product’s evolution and are happy to promote it among several departments at Accor Group.
If I had to give one piece of advice to a company that would like to launch a Gathering Tools project, I would say: put the emphasis on the quality of your Excel templates design. Be sure that those documents match the need of your business users. Be sure that they are user-friendly and clear for everyone. It is also important that the structure and calculations are properly designed and easily maintainable. These Excel documents will be the specifications of your GT project, and you can be sure those specification will be followed!