The Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM) implemented the Tidemark Performance Management application to replace a cumbersome, time-consuming, and error-prone budgeting and planning process based on spreadsheets, with an automated system that accelerates the budgeting process, leaving more time for finance staff to analyze and understand their financial data. By fully integrating store-level planning input with input from head office, Tidemark makes it easy for EWM to project a consolidated view of its business and where it’s heading.
Providing Quality and Value to the 50+ Market
Founded in 1946 as the Langholm Dyeing and Finishing Company, the EWM originally undertook the task of dyeing yarn on a contract basis. Its development into a country-wide retail operation began in 1970 with the opening of the group’s first store in Randolph Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. Its growth since then into a chain of 300 retail shops, stretching from the north of Scotland to the south coast of England, has been driven by a combination of internal growth and acquisition of other complementary businesses.
Now a privately-held business with total annual revenue of approximately £150 million, EWM is primarily a retail operation with only limited manufacturing activity. Two-thirds of EWM stores can be found in “high street” locations selling ladies’ and men’s wear for the 50+ customer, while the remaining third are specialty tourist stores whose product mix is heavily dominated by gifts and themed products based on location.
Benefits at a Glance
- Time-consuming, error-prone, manual spreadsheet tasks eliminated
- Store-level planning input fully integrated with head office input
- Faster process allows more time for understanding and interpreting data
- Web-based input templates accelerate data collection and consolidation
- Complex calculations handled easily, and flexible, granular reporting
Like many medium-sized companies, EWM had no formal electronic system in place to automate its business planning process. As a result, spreadsheets were still in widespread use throughout the company for producing accounts, budgets, and forecasts as part of EWM’s annual budget cycle and mid-year reforecast.
Widespread Use of Spreadsheets
For example, heads of the 15 departments in head office, which include Accounting, Buying and Merchandising, HR, Sourcing, Marketing, Central Services, and Retail Operations to name a few, were each given a spreadsheet that needed to be completed and then consolidated. With the exception of only a few electronic feeds from their GL system, this process was largely manual, and EWM financial staff constantly experienced the many problems and pitfalls that typically accompany the use of spreadsheets.
Cumbersome and Error-Prone Processes
“Although this manual approach did produce results for us, it was very cumbersome, time-consuming, and error-prone,” said Andrew Selby, EWM Group Financial Controller, who went on to add that another problem was that it didn’t involve very many people. It was a very centralized process, and the stores had little involvement—it simply wasn’t practical to try to collect and consolidate spreadsheets from each of the 300 stores. EWM realized that as business continued to grow, this problem would only get worse, and that a better, more-integrated system was needed to support their planning and budgeting activity.
The only planning-type system that EWM had in place was a legacy database and reporting tool that was used to report budgeted and actual store results, but it wasn’t used for any calculations or to support group-level and company-level cash flow and balance sheet reporting, all of which were being performed using spreadsheets.
“We badly needed to improve this process,” said Selby. “We wanted to get all the stores involved in the budgeting and planning process, and we needed to be sure they all submitted information that would roll up to the head office level properly.”
After seeing product demonstrations, conducting customer reference calls, and reviewing information submitted by three short-listed finance software vendors in response to an Invitation to Tender, an EWM selection committee consisting of the people involved in the budget process, including the Finance Director, the Financial Controller, and the head of the Management Accounting department, chose Tidemark as their new budgeting and planning system.
“Although the products from all three potential suppliers seemed to satisfy our functional needs, the insightsoftware application performed better,” explained Selby. “insightsoftware also seemed more interested in winning our business, and we believed that they would give us the best service and support going forward.”
One of the main implementation challenges EWM faced was that they needed to implement Tidemark in less than six weeks in order to meet the P&L budget deadline, without allowing for any contingency. Adding to this, EWM’s budgeting process included salary planning by head, capital expenditure planning by project, and some complex calculations such as their receipts and payments cash flow, all of which were configured in the Tidemark application. They also perform rates (UK Municipal Taxes) and rents calculations to set up appropriate prepayments and accruals for each store.
Tidemark Configured Seamlessly
“Tidemark was able to handle all these complex calculations, and provided us with much more than just a database in which to consolidate our numbers,” said Selby. “After the insightsoftware people interviewed a number of our key people, they knew exactly how to configure the system to produce what we need.”
This included setting up a seamless interface between Tidemark and EWM’s General Ledger, which provides “actuals” data for reporting purposes and is the basis for some of EWM’s budgeting and planning calculations.
End-user training for the new system was performed in two phases: Initial training by insightsoftware for three system administrators and 10 head office users, and training delivered to the stores by EWM’s own finance staff as the stores were brought online with Tidemark.
“After providing the brief initial training and an EWM user manual that we put together ourselves, we didn’t have to provide a lot of additional support to our users,” said Selby. “They have found Tidemark to be quite intuitive and easy to use.”
Tidemark has enabled EWM to replace its manual, spreadsheet-based process with an effective, automated system that not only streamlines their budgeting and forecasting processes, but also allows the stores to become fully involved by integrating store-level and head office planning input to create a single, corporate-wide plan. With Tidemark, custom, pre-built input templates are distributed to EWM users, including head office department heads and managers of the individual stores, via a Web interface. When data is submitted to the Tidemark database via this interface, it is automatically consolidated, cash flow and other calculations are dynamically performed, and various data validations, such as comparing results to previous reporting periods and highlighting significant variances, are carried out. Reports can then be quickly and easily generated in the specific formats that EWM prefers.
Tidemark Handles Complex Requirements
EWM has a complex reporting structure and creates reports with considerable granularity, such as by business unit, by geographical region, by like-for-like stores, and other hierarchical views. These reports are available for weekly time periods as well as the usual monthly reporting cycles. “Tidemark is handling all of these requirements,” said Selby. “I can’t think of anything we haven’t been able to do with Tidemark.”
“With Tidemark, the manual number-crunching and data-consolidation tasks have been eliminated, leaving finance staff with much more time to review and analyze the data and manage any exceptions,” claimed Selby, who added that this results in greater levels of accuracy and detail, and a better understanding of the data and how it was created.
When asked how he felt about the project overall, and the contribution of Tidemark to EWM’s business, Selby concluded his remarks by saying that, “We got what we wanted with Tidemark —a fully integrated system that produces the results we need quicker, leaving us more time to look at the data and interpret it. The insightsoftware team has been providing the level of service that we had expected, and whenever we’ve encountered any issues, they’ve always been there to support us.”