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From Excel-based systems to automated consolidation and data integration

By Kirit Patel, Regional Managing Director (UK & Europe), EOH

Big Bus Tours’ roadmap to financial efficiency

Kirit Patel

Kirit Patel

 London-based Big Bus Tours is the largest operator of open-top sightseeing tours in the world, providing sightseeing tours in 19 cities across three continents.The company was formed in 2011 by the merger of two established sightseeing tour businesses: The Big Bus Company Ltd (based in London) and Les Cars Rouges (based in Paris).

The company’s business model is designed to provide a flexible approach to city discovery. Each tour provides a hop-on, hop-off facility at a variety of locations, while the company creates opportunities for incremental sales by providing additional, optional experiences while each tour is underway.

However, that flexibility wasn’t always being matched by the company’s Excel-based finance systems.

With over 40 legal reporting entities across multiple jurisdictions, consolidation of results at month-end had become complex and time-consuming– “A process of cobbling together 20-plus spreadsheets every month to deliver our report to the board,” said David Stafford, Group Financial Director for Big Bus. “We needed a way to simplify consolidation and speed things up, and get rid of any need to chase people or interrogate data closely for entry errors.”

Stafford also wanted to integrate data from the company’s handheld point-of-sale system into the finance system and generate a daily flash report based on sales tallies and passenger numbers collected on the PoS server.

Big Bus had also been looking for a way to capture non-financial information on local factors that had a direct impact on sales or could help show daily results in context; for example, local weather and traffic reports. If a workable system could be created for data collection the next step would be to integrate the non-financial metrics in a manner that would aid forecasting and improve the foreseeability of sales outcomes.

“Running our consolidation and reporting processes off Excel was do-able, but time-consuming. And the system and processes we’d developed wouldn’t allow us to easily capture or integrate different kinds of data.We also struggled to drill-down into any of the data once we had captured it,” said Stafford.

As a growing global business, Stafford and his team needed to respond to the growing corporate appetite for insights on which to base business decisions.

“We really felt like we had reached the limits of what we could do with spreadsheets,” adds Stafford. “We needed a solution that would allow us to capture and integrate all the data types that were of interest to us, and then make its straightforward to analyse that data and share it internally.”

A flexible finance system for a flexible business model

The practicalities of Big Bus business meant that the system would need to be able to gather and consolidate data from a number of geographically diverse subsidiaries in multiple currencies, expedite the reconciliation process, allow the input of non-financial information, while integrate PoS sales data to provide sophisticated group monthly management information. It would also need to ensure input controls that would guarantee the validity of submissions.

As spreadsheets could not provide a scalable financial reporting, consolidation and analysis capability for the business, an objective was set to automate as much of the consolidation and data integration process as possible. For non-financial data capture it was determined that a bespoke solution might also be needed.

The ultimate aim would be to produce a consistent version of the truth that provided the basis for more frequent reporting with additional sales detail and contextual information around results. That pointed to investment in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.

Big Bus followed a rigorous product selection process. The list of vendors was whittled down by capabilities and SAP BPC moved to first place, with EOH UK as the preferred implementation partner.

The chosen Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC)solution delivers planning, budgeting, forecasting, and financial consolidation capabilities in a single application. It enables finance teams to speed-up budget and closing cycles and can help them make better decisions based on what-if analyses and scenario planning. The solution is also flexible enough to handle multiple data formats and integrate them intelligently for analytics.

The implementation partner was able to write the integration scripts for the PoS system data and create input templates for Big Bus city managers, allowingthe capture of non-financial data in a consistent format for reporting and analysis. They also managed the company’s steering group for the implementation.

“With EOH we had consultants who were both seasoned and highly intelligent,” said David Stafford. “They also had backgrounds in accounting as well as IT. When a vendor understands your professional as well as technical requirements immediately, dealing with any challenges is much more straightforward.”

The results

With the new software in place, Stafford and his team are saving a full day on consolidation at month-end. he old Excel-based systems have been fully replaced and daily and weekly reports to the board have now been automated. The weekly report, which formerly took 1.5 days to complete, now takes a little over an hour.

Implementation of the systems and templates took under three months. Big Bus finance team was able to learn the systems with minimal training and start using them in a matter of weeks. The company’s office of finance now has one reliable version of the truth. Stafford and his team can execute monthly consolidation quickly and deliver clear information and better business insights to the company’s board.

Wrapping it all up

The BPC system has enabled Big Bus to significantly save time and to report more insightful results thanks to new, contextual information. The implementation partner has left Big Bus with everything they need to make themselves self-sufficient on the system, giving them the knowledge they needed to configure and manage things themselves and a new-found confidence in reporting and analysis for board level decision-making, and helping them become more visionary with the use of technology.

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