SCS’s innovation also extends to its Finance Department, where use of Microsoft Excel-based tools that link directly to Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) data has expedited the financial review cycle. They’ve also provided a 360-degree view of EBS data to support more and better business decisions.
Step 1: Tapping into Improved Reporting Efficiency
The School of Computer Science reviews its financials and updates the forecast two to three times per year. Prior to implementing Excel-based reporting, SCS’s finance team used the Oracle Financial Statement Generator (FSG) to run reports for the seven departments comprising the School of Computer Science. The static FSG report data was manually—and tediously—exported to Excel for formatting, where the various spreadsheets were manually consolidated into the financial statement. Also, digging deeper into the report numbers required pulling static information from the Oracle data warehouse, another time-consuming task.
In addition, because the university is nonprofit, CMU needed to track its financials across multiple funding sources, where in the School of Computer Science, a minimum of five was normally studied. This meant that as many as 35 reports had to be consolidated during the financial review process, which was extremely complicated with the Oracle tools at hand. The SCS Finance Department needed a better option, so it implemented a Microsoft Excel-based add-in for financial reporting (GL Wand by insightsoftware). Instead of a manual export and consolidate process, this reporting tool helps automate the process by linking directly to real-time Oracle data.
“To mirror the FSG reports, I developed a GL Wand template that was used for one department, and then in Microsoft Excel, I duplicated my work across multiple worksheets for each separate department,” said Agustin Medici, [former*] Senior Budget Manager for CMU’s School of Computer Science. “GL Wand lets me work from one consolidated Excel template with all reports, which access the latest live Oracle data.”
Step 2: Budgeting Smarter with More Automated Uploads
With the new Excel financial reporting add-in, SCS had conquered a big segment of its financial review battle, but it wanted to take the efficiencies a step further. Using Oracle Application Desktop Integrator (ADI) to upload budget data created another repetitive and frustrating manual process for Finance, requiring “a lot of evenings and weekends” of work, according to Medici.
“During each financial review, I needed to download a new set of ADI worksheets in order to create a functioning data worksheet for Financial Budget/Forecast data uploads, which could involve an output of 10,000 rows,” described Medici. “Adjustments to the ADI worksheets were needed prior to upload; various planning assumption rates needed to be entered; and lines of GL string data needed to be re-calculated. After the data in ADI was ready and uploaded, I would then run an FSG report to verify my work. However, with GL Wand, I became accustomed to refreshing my report templates for immediate upload results.”
Given the efficiency SCS gained with this Excel-based reporting tool, its Finance Department next considered an Excel-based add-in for budget uploading from the same vendor. The real-time Budget Wand tool lets SCS create upload templates directly from Excel that can be reused during the financial review cycle, as opposed to the repetitive ADI process. Combined with the new reporting tool, it not only saved time but increased the visibility and accessibility of budget data.
“I have multiple monitors where I keep the budgeting tool running on one and the reporting tool on another so that I instantly see the impact of the budget uploads on the reports, which download on request with live data,” describes Medici. “I can make budget uploads with surgical precision now, and I don’t have to worry about running an overnight FSG report to check for errors in the upload. The uploading process is really almost enjoyable since I can have a 360-degree view of the data.”
Step 3: Driving More Policy-Oriented Discussions
In addition to bringing more efficiency during the financial review cycle, the improved budget upload/report download process has resulted in more policy-driven discussions between SCS’s Finance Department and its Managers, as well as better budget and forecasting performance.
“With the budget upload process simplified, we’re able to have more financial discussions, make more policy decisions (if needed), and better see how the organization and its departments are performing,” said Medici.
Medici also said that he has developed dashboards with the reporting add-in that have helped him pinpoint and communicate trend analysis by allowing him to refresh the data at a mouse click and then access the prior year’s historic data associated with it. In addition, the drill down capability is a bonus for bypassing the Oracle budgeting and reporting tools.
“Within my organizational template (dashboard), I can use a Get Balance formula from the reporting tool to drill down within my budget worksheet to find subledger details of the entry,” Medici described. “If there is an entry I am expecting to see from another department, or if some new data has been entered, I can easily drill down to it, which saves me time because I no longer need to run a custom query from the data warehouse.”
The budgeting add-in lets Medici improve the upload process each financial cycle as necessary—all of which continually makes work life much easier.
“The Financial Review cycle was always a time-consuming process for me, but with GL Wand and Budget Wand, I now work more efficiently, and I can manage my schedule much better to where I no longer need to process uploads during nights and weekends,” Medici described.
*Agustin Medici is now serving as Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University