Powell Industries Empowers Finance Users with Self-Sufficient Oracle Reporting and Budgeting from the Excel4apps Product Portfolio
At Powell Industries, an Oracle EBS implementation left finance users looking for ways to streamline financial processes without relying on IT. With an Excel-based product suite featuring direct links to live Oracle data, Powell averted budgeting and reporting bottlenecks while freeing both Finance and IT for value-added tasks.
Struggles with Oracle Reporting Tools
For over 60 years, Powell Industries has provided packaged engineering solutions for critical processes in the transportation, environmental, energy, industrial and utilities industries. With twelve divisions, 3,000-plus employees and revenues of around $600 million, the Houston, Texas-based company serves businesses around the world from its facilities in the US, Canada, and the UK, focusing on custom design and manufacturing of power control rooms. Powell began implementing the Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) at its various divisions in 2006. For the Finance group in particular, challenges arose in 2008 when Oracle Report Manager became the primary financial reporting tool. Finance users then began to rely even more heavily on IT support than they had with reporting through Oracle Applications Desktop Integrator (ADI) or Financial Statement Generator (FSG) reports. According to Rob Duncan, CIO for Powell, the Finance group felt it had taken a step backwards with the change, leaving it unable to obtain critical data in a timely fashion. Attempts to solve the problem did not initially reveal an easy fix.
“We constantly struggled with all reporting related to financial data – ad hoc, divisional, and financial – and could not reach a solution, even with consulting help,” Duncan describes. “We were able to limp through the process, but the IT staff was barraged with requests for report development from finance users, causing us to reallocate valuable development resources.”
To address the more demanding report creation process, Powell turned to Excel4apps and its GL Wand product, an Excel-based general ledger (GL) reporting tool that links directly with Oracle Financials. Also, to further streamline processes for the financial organization, Powell implemented Budget Wand for easy and direct budget uploads to Oracle through an Excel interface, and became an early adopter of Reports Wand, which allows for expanded Oracle EBS Reporting with little IT support.
Exploring Options for Easier Reporting
As Powell realized that it needed a faster, simpler way of reporting financial data, help came in the form of a new IT Director of Applications, Kellie Huddleston. A veteran of dozens of Oracle implementations, Huddleston had recently used an Excel-based financial reporting tool from Excel4apps with great success. She quickly recommended GL Wand to Duncan, as other options were being considered.
“Because it is based in Excel, GL Wand is incredibly intuitive for finance and accounting users, allowing them to quickly access and drill down to financial data in real time on their own,” explained Huddleston. “This tool could easily and fairly inexpensively alleviate much of Finance’s frustration in creating reports.”
Another reporting option being considered was an existing Hyperion license that was used with Powell’s legacy enterprise system. Still, Huddleston felt GL Wand was the more cost-effective option, given the training and testing that would be required of her group – and users – with Hyperion, so she recommended that Powell take advantage of the free GL Wand trial from Excel4apps as a start.
Trial Resolves Reporting and Budgeting Issues
After an immediate download of GL Wand from the Excel4apps website, the product was an instant hit with Excel savvy finance users. The response was so unanimous that Powell immediately ceased evaluating other products. “GL Wand’s flexibility and ease of use amazed the users, who quickly became proficient based on their Excel background and the product’s Help files alone,” said Duncan. “This response, together with the easy install and reasonable price point, drove us to purchase the product immediately, because we knew it would be more functional and cheaper than the learning curve with Hyperion.”
With its reporting problems on the mend using GL Wand and an overwhelmingly positive reaction from users, Powell stepped back to look at other ways of streamlining financial processes in Oracle with help from Excel4apps. One area for improvement was the budgeting process, which required accountants to manually upload data sent from the company’s twelve divisions into Oracle’s web ADI.
“We had consistency issues among our divisions in how they filled out the templates we sent them for budgets, requiring accountants to attempt the correct interpretation, but the biggest drawback to our process was manual entry of the data from the Excel templates into Oracle,” said Duncan.
To expedite the budgeting process, Excel4apps recommended Budget Wand, which facilitates budget uploads into Oracle directly from Excel. Using this software, accountants send a Budget Wand template to the divisions with fields highlighted for required information and then simply upload the template directly into Oracle once the data is verified. Like GL Wand, the software had immediate benefits.
“Our chief budget accountant was able to build his primary template using the demo version of the software while we were waiting for completion of licenses and paperwork,” Huddleston described. “The licenses came within a week, but he was already off and running.”
Seamless startup for IT and Finance
Installation and startup of GL Wand and Budget Wand in June 2009 were as simple for IT as training was for the finance team, according to Duncan, who describes them as some of the smoothest implementations he has ever encountered.
“Installation was as easy as you can get from a software standpoint, and we were up and running faster than with any software package we’ve ever used,” said Duncan. “Also, from an IT standpoint, we could see that maintenance was extremely minimal.”
Excel4apps products have a minimal IT footprint, installing directly via an easy upload from the vendor site. Because they link directly with Oracle data, the products do not require an external data warehouse or additional hardware. Maintenance usually consists of product upgrades from the Excel4apps site, which is typically executed by users themselves.
In addition to an easy trial, individual installation by new users is also simple, according to Larry DiPaolo, Financial Reporting Manager and GL Wand “super” user. “We created a one-page installation document for new personnel to reference, and that’s all it requires,” he said.
The use of GL Wand and Budget Wand has also helped Powell with the roll out of Oracle EBS to its various divisions. 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 the divisions to a new ERP system, finance users leave behind a proven reporting solution, but the controllers who are already live with GL Wand have been able to assure the upgrading divisions that they can pull the necessary data via the Excel front end,” Duncan described. “Many finance users have actually commented that the nicest thing about transitioning to Oracle has been GL Wand.”
Divisions Dig into Subledger Details
With users successfully accessing GL data with GL Wand and easily uploading information with Budget Wand, Duncan and his team were extremely interested when Excel4apps introduced Reports Wand in early 2010. Reports Wand expands GL Wand’s flexibility for creating highly customized and complex reports from GL data, allowing users to access subledger detail. With it, the IT team defines reports in SQL and turns them over to finance users for additional customization in Reports Wand, without the need for ongoing IT help.
“With Reports Wand, our 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 OBIEE [Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition],” said Susan Adkison, a Former Division Controller who is now a Business Systems Analyst with the IT group. “The data goes directly into a Reports Wand in the format you want, without tedious downloads to a data warehouse.”
The divisions use Reports Wand for a variety of report types, including month end, revenue, and project expenditures and materials transactions. Finance users can exploit Excel formatting, pivot tables, charts and user-defined functions in Reports Wand to create variants of the original report. The variants are multi-tiered and drillable to data levels set by IT, while leveraging the existing Oracle value sets and security.
Product Maximizes Returns at Minimal Cost
The combination of GL Wand, Budget Wand and Reports Wand has brought a range of benefits for Powell’s finance and IT organizations. Given the complexity of Oracle EBS implementation in the various divisions, the timing for discovering these tools could not have been better.
“With GL Wand, finance users are drilling down to the data they need and are 100% self-sufficient in running their own queries and creating their own reports,” described Duncan. “My IT development resources are no longer overwhelmed with finance’s requests, meaning that they can focus on value-added tasks like rolling out Oracle EBS to other divisions. We had not anticipated this benefit and it’s huge for our team.”
For budgeting processes, Budget Wand has reduced the cycle time and made the process consistent across all divisions, which had been an issue in the past. “Previously, the corporate finance group would have to spend time cleaning up data after it was loaded into Oracle, but Budget Wand has made the process much more straightforward by preventing the loading of bad data into Oracle,” said DiPaolo. “We now send them the Budget Wand template with the required fields highlighted so every division provides the same information. It then takes less time to consolidate the budgets and is easier for our CFO and corporate controller to evaluate.”
Overall, Duncan says that GL Wand, Budget Wand and Reports Wand have been an incredible value for Powell. Both users and management remain pleased with the products and customer support from Excel4apps, which Duncan says is infrequent due to the stability of the products.
“Purchasing GL Wand was one of the best decisions I have made at Powell because of the value and the immediate holes it resolved,” said Duncan. “Rarely do users thank you for a new product, but almost every controller has thanked IT for GL Wand. Considering they require little training and support, the Excel4appsproducts offer maximum returns for a minimal investment. You just can’t go wrong with them, and we anticipate more benefits from future products.”