Smiths Detection Eludes Business Risks with Revamped SAP Reporting Strategy
As a global authority on detection and screening technologies, Smiths Detection protects infrastructure and civil and military facilities from explosives, prohibited weapons, toxic chemicals, narcotics and more. Yet even with this core focus on detecting threats, the company found it difficult to identify errors in its own financial reports.
In particular, the month-end close was a stressful time for the finance team because of struggles to obtain relevant and accurate data from the company’s SAP ECC 6 solution in the correct format. A revamped approach to reporting was necessary to elude the risks of dangerous business decisions based on inaccurate data.
Under Pressure for More Accurate Reporting
According to Ben Macdonald, Finance Director for Global Operations & Systems at Smiths Detection, the month-end close process relied on a few key users with the knowledge necessary to create reports. This reliance was compounded by the company’s requirement for complete visibility of finances at all global branches.
“Although all our branches relied on standard SAP outputs, each branch had its own way of creating reports, making it difficult to decipher what was going on in individual reports,” said Macdonald.
With the company’s lack of report standardization and reliance on manual processes for reporting, such as manual exports of SAP data to Excel for formatting, the month-end close could take up to two weeks, at which point errors in report data might still exist. The company needed a more accurate reporting process to help detect those errors before the month-end close, as well as more standardized reporting throughout its various branches.
In Search of Smoother Reporting Processes
Based on previous experience at a company with similar challenges, Macdonald recommended an Excel add-in for financial reporting that links directly to live SAP data, completely bypassing manual processes to get the necessary data from SAP into Excel. The tool had the potential to simplify creation and modification of reports, which had been a frustratingly involved process.
Luckily, installation of the Excel add-in was simple and not a lengthy implementation. MacDonald reports the total time for IT to get the software running was no more than two weeks, but even this compressed timeline was mostly due to internal quality checks.
Likewise, coming up to speed with the Excel add-in went smoothly for the finance team. Macdonald reports that, for most users, the tool only required around 30 minutes of training around issues like trial balances and cost centers.
“We then sent them off on their own to play around with it and learn for themselves,” described MacDonald. “Most notably, we got very few follow-up questions. Our entire finance team was soon able to create reports with the Excel add-in, with huge benefits to job satisfaction and a reduced risk to the business.”
Enormous Relief with Accurate Month-End Reports
The new reporting tool’s overall simplicity has made for a more streamlined month-end close for the Smiths Detection finance team.
“We can set up reports, construct tailored solutions around accounts and drill down into the details behind the real-time SAP numbers with a mouse click,” said Macdonald. “Because it’s an intuitive solution, it’s easy to interrogate reports. It allows us to identify and resolve problems before month-end occurs.”
According to Macdonald, the major difference in past reporting compared with now is between knowing broadly where a problem exists and knowing precisely.
“With the Excel add-in, we can easily identify the root cause through the numbers, enabling us to implement remedial action,” he explained. “This tool allows us to get into the nuts and bolts of how our operations are performing and eliminate errors, thus driving down the cost of business.”
There are now around 50 Excel add-in users globally, with finance managers and operations controllers being the primary users. The reporting solution allows Smiths Detection to create standard reporting decks for its branches, and these easily refreshable templates have significantly reduced the time and effort required to create reports, leaving more time for analysis. Additionally, the new reporting tool preserves existing SAP security roles to ensure the proper chain of custody for report access.
“When we must draw that line at month’s end, we know the report information is correct,” said Macdonald. “It’s an enormous relief to have that knowledge.”
Versatility and a Deeper Dive into Data
Since installing the Excel add-in, the Smiths Detection finance team has uncovered a range of uses for it, including account reconciliation, imagery reporting, balance sheet reporting, provisioning, manufacturing accounts generated and cost center reporting. In addition, many use it as an ad-hoc tool to find problems, repair them and then monitor the “fix” for a period.
“Perhaps the best part is that this solution is so versatile because it’s so customizable,” said Macdonald. “Each week, it seems the team uses it in a different way.”
For Macdonald, who is responsible for all global manufacturing entities, constructing company manufacturing statements on a cost center-by-cost center basis used to take a week with the prior manual processes. With the new reporting tool, this now takes just four minutes.
“It’s simply a case of logging on, hitting refresh to access the latest numbers in SAP and there the report is in Excel,” Macdonald described.
The Excel add-in’s drill-down functionality is another feature Macdonald and his team find useful.
“When I run a manufacturing set report, for example, and find a number I don’t like, I can instantly drill down to interrogate it without going into SAP,” Macdonald said. “The drill-down functionality makes it easy for the team to dive deep into the numbers, simplifying their jobs.”
A Complete Change in Reporting Approach
Smiths Detection has now used the Excel add-in for two years, and Macdonald says the difference in reporting from before until now is “like night and day.” The company has gone from having insufficient information to work effectively to having a high-quality set of accurate reports that are easy to understand.
“The solution enables us to drive the performance of our operations with much greater precision,” said Macdonald. “With it, you can take control of your own destiny, as it helps you get on top of issues rapidly and empowers finance teams to solve challenges. It will completely change the way you approach reporting, and thereby help you to transform your business.”