Given its complex business structure and goals, Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises, a publisher of books on six continents, needed a clearer picture of its finances. To do so, the company installed Oracle E-Business Suite in North America, but when it started implementing the ERP system at larger overseas offices, it soon realized it couldn’t easily report critical financial details.
“On top of being unattractive, reports from the Oracle Financial Statement Generator (FSG) were difficult to create and maintain,” said Kirk Marshall, Director of Overseas Finance for Harlequin. “We agreed not to roll out Oracle to another country until we found a reporting solution.”
FSG Reports Appear “Done on a Typewriter”
After the company’s upgrade from Oracle Version R11 to R12 at larger offices, standard financial reporting capabilities remained Oracle’s primary criticism.
“We had what is touted as a world-class system in Oracle, yet the reports coming out of it weren’t sophisticated looking,” said Marshall. “The standard Oracle FSG reports passed around corporate-wide looked like they had been done on a typewriter. Making them presentable was cumbersome and labor intensive.”
Harlequin considered a data warehouse to access data that could be better formatted, but avoided that route because data in those reports would have been static like FSGs. Next, the company considered a third-party Microsoft Excel-based reporting tool that linked directly to Oracle for dynamic data access, as well as drill down to real-time transactional details. After trialing this Excel add-in at the German and Japanese offices, the company realized the reporting tool’s powerful simplicity was a good fit.
“I’m not an Excel super-user, and yet within an hour or two of watching demos, I built a report I could use,” said Marshall. “Because of the tool’s Excel interface, you can make a report look exactly the way you want it.”
Instead of working off a static data cube, the Excel-based solution works off live data, which is especially important during the financial close process. “It means you can get constant updates without having to refresh a cube,” Marshall explained.
“Considerable Time Savings” with Account Queries
Compared with the frustrating days of FSGs, Harlequin can now quickly produce attractive, readable financial reports with the Excel add-in. The tool is used for standard month- and year-end financial reports, as well as management reports.
“It takes 5-10 minutes to get the first formula perfect for one Excel cell, and then the rest of your report starts to populate itself,” Marshall explained. “Once that first report is perfectly designed, you can create a workbook with a whole set of reports very quickly, whereas in FSG, it feels like you are repeating the smallest executable thing that has to be perfect each time.”
Marshall also reports that account queries are much faster with the new reporting tool than having to go into the Oracle system.
“We save 10-15 minutes each time someone questions a number or queries the location of a coding error,” he said. “Because we can perform a drill down on a number in Excel rather than going back into Oracle each time there’s a question, we see considerable time savings.”
Though hard to quantify, Marshall knows the benefits from using the new reporting solution are substantial, especially as other international offices implement Oracle. “As a new country switches to Oracle, there will probably be 30-40 questioned transactions at 10 minutes each as users get accustomed to the system, so the time savings is considerable,” he said.
Better Access to Business, Chart of Accounts Details
In addition to the time savings, one of the biggest benefits Excel-based reporting provides is better information for Harlequin’s business managers. “The advanced drill down goes into all the journal-level and subledger detail within a manager’s cost center, and you can send it easily each month as part of their Excel reporting package,” Marshall described.
Managers can also review the report online or print it in a format that is user-friendly with the appropriate level of detail—and no excess as with the Oracle reports.
The Excel-based reporting software also enables easy isolation of detail through Chart of Accounts, a feature that helps meet Harlequin’s unique business requirements.
“In the Chart of Accounts, we have a business channel segment, product segment, geography segment, and then natural accounts,” said Marshall. “Given the combination of those, we can isolate any level of detail we want with the Excel add-in, because it uses our Chart of Accounts. The fact that it is reading off the Chart of Accounts directly from Oracle, with the hierarchies already created in Oracle, is very handy.”
Looking at the big picture, the Excel-based reporting tool has given Harlequin the ability to extend Oracle to offices around the world, without reservations about its reporting limitations.
“One of the strikes against going into another region with Oracle—the financial reporting capability—is now an asset,” Marshall described. “It doesn’t drive the decision to go onto Oracle, but it definitely is now a selling feature.”
To find out more about how Excel-based reporting has helped Harlequin address issues with FSGs and other reporting challenges, read the full case study.