Report And Budget With Excel-Based Product Suite

In need of a faster, simpler way of reporting financial data, one company turned to an Excel-based general ledger (GL) reporting tool.

In need of a faster, simpler way of reporting financial data, one company turned to an Excel-based general ledger (GL) reporting tool.

For over 60 years, Powell Industries has provided engineering solutions for the transportation, energy, and utilities industries, among others. With twelve divisions, 3,000-plus employees and revenues around $600 million, the Houston, Texas-based company serves businesses around the world from facilities in the US, Canada, and the UK, focusing on custom design and manufacturing of power control rooms.

Powell began implementing Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) in 2006. For the Finance group in particular, challenges rose in 2008 when Oracle Report Manager became the primary financial reporting tool, leaving finance users heavily reliant on IT supportand without the ability to obtain critical data in a timely manner. Attempts to solve the problem did not initially reveal an easy fix, according to Rob Duncan, CIO for Powell.

“Westruggledwith all reporting related to financial data – ad hoc, divisional,and financial – and could not reach a solution, even with consulting help,” Duncan describes. “We limped through the process, and the IT staff was barraged with requests for reports, causing us to reallocate valuable development resources.”

Searching for simplified reporting

Powell realized that it needed a faster, simpler way of reporting financial data. As the new IT director ofapplications and veteran of many Oracle implementations, Kellie Huddleston suggestedan Excel-based general ledger (GL) reporting tool from Excel4apps that she had previously used.

“GL Wand has an Excel front end, so it’s incredibly intuitive for finance and accounting users, providing them quick access to real-time financial data on their own,” explained Huddleston. “This tool could easily and fairly inexpensively alleviate much of Finance’s frustration in creating reports.”

Another option was an existing Hyperion licenseused withPowell’s legacy enterprise system. Still, GL Wand appeared the most cost-effective option, given the training and testing that Hyperion would require of both IT and Finance.

Installation without interfaces

Powell decided to try a free trial of GL Wand via a simple upload from the vendor’s site. Because the software immediately forms a direct link between its Excel front end and Oracle Financials data, GL Wand requires no interface programming support. Also, the product does not require an intermediate data warehouse, additional hardware, or other software.As Powell’s Excel-savvy finance users tried the reporting tool, the response was encouraging.

“GL Wand’s flexibility and ease of use amazed users, who became proficient quicklyusing their Excel backgrounds and the product’s Help files,” said Duncan. “This response, together with the easy install and reasonable pricing, drove us to purchase the product, because we saw it as more functional and cheaper than the learning curve with Hyperion.”

Powell next looked at additional ways of streamlining financial processes. One area for improvement was the budgeting process, which required accountantstomanually upload datafrom the company’s 12divisions into Oracle.

“We had consistency issues among the divisions in how they filled out our standard Excel budget templates, but the biggest drawback was manual entry of the data from these templates into Oracle,” said Duncan.

To avoid this manual aspect, Powell evaluatedBudget Wand from Excel4apps. Budget Wand facilitates budget uploads into Oracle directly from its Excel front end in much the same way as GL Wandfacilitates data downloads for reporting purposes. Once again, user reaction was positive, with Powell’s chief budget accountant building his primary budget template in less than a week using the demo version.

The official installations of GL Wand and Budget Wand in June 2009 were as simple for IT as training was for Finance, according to Duncan, who acknowledged that thestart-ups were faster than with any software packages Powell has used previously.

Divisions dig into more detail

In 2010, Duncan and his team explored additional customized reporting functionality with the new ReportsWand software from Excel4apps.With it, the IT team defines reports in SQL and turns them over to finance users for additional customization and access to Oracle subledger data, without the need for ongoing IT help.

“Division controllers can access subledgers to make sure they reconcile with account balances, and the reports are in real-time as opposed to yesterday’s data that we’d see with certain Oracle reporting tools,” said Susan Adkison, a former division controller and current IT business systems analyst. “Data goes directly into Reports Wand in the format you specify, without tedious downloads to a data warehouse. Our divisions use it for a variety of report types, including month end, revenue, and project expenditures and materials transactions.”

Maximum returns from minimal investment

The combination of GL Wand, Budget Wand and Reports Wand has brought a range of benefits for Powell’s Finance and IT organizations. GL Wand, in particular, has eased much of the anxiety that reporting will be adversely impacted as Oracle EBS replaces legacy systems.

“As we migrate divisions to Oracle, finance users leave behind a proven reporting solution, but controllers who already use GL Wand are able to assure upgrading divisions that they can pull the necessary data via the Excel front end,” Duncan described. 

From an IT standpoint, GL Wand also supports the roll out of Oracle by freeing valuable IT resources.

“Finance users are 100% self-sufficient in running queries and creating reports,” described Duncan. “Ourdevelopersare no longer overwhelmed with Finance’s requests and can focus on value-added tasks. We had not anticipated this benefit and it’s huge for IT. GL Wand was a great purchase because of the immediate holes it resolved.”

For budgeting processes, Budget Wand has reduced the cycle time and createda consistent process across all divisions.Also, Finance no longer has to spend time sanitizing data after it is in Oracle, because Budget Wand prevents loading of bad data.

“It now takes less time to consolidate the budgets and is easier for our CFO and corporate controller to evaluate,” said Duncan.

Overall, Duncan says that GL Wand, Budget Wand and Reports Wand have been an incredible value for Powell, and both users and management remain happy with the products and customer service.From an IT maintenance standpoint, support is minimal. Finance users typically upload product upgrades from the vendor’s site and execute them independently.  Individual installation is accomplished by new users with help from a one-page installation document.

“Considering they require little training and support, the Excel4apps products offer maximum returns for a minimal investment,” Duncan summarized.

Chris Meyer is Managing Director, Americas for Excel4apps, a provider of best-in-class Excel-based inquiry and reporting software for Oracle and SAP. Excel4apps currently serves over 9,500 users with offices in the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and South Africa. For more information, visit www.excel4apps.comto learn more.