Boosting productivity and reducing costs with Advanced Financial Solutions
Founded in 1900, Colin Biggers & Paisley is an Australian commercial legal practice with 67 partners and 460 employees across offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. By 2016, the practice was looking to make significant improvements to its budgeting and forecasting processes. The practice had for many years been reliant on using Microsoft® Excel® models for all practice reporting, a system that had reached the limits of its capabilities in terms of its speed, reliability, and the volume of data it could handle.
Under the leadership of Chief Financial Officer Graeme Walsh, the practice began the process of upgrading its budgeting and forecasting capabilities by seeking a new solution better suited to the needs of a major commercial law practice operating in a fast-moving and competitive legal industry. According to Walsh, he and his team “knew we needed something new. Having seen what Advanced Financial Solutions could do, we knew straight away that it was what we wanted.”
Advanced Financial Solutions Budgeting and Forecasting is a web- and Microsoft Excel-based solution for budgeting and forecasting of operating expenses, fee earner revenue, employee compensation, and capital expenditures. Budgeting and Forecasting can interface with human resources and payroll systems and push global assumptions from a firm-wide level down to individual fee earners and employees. Dashboards provide a single view into firm performance with drill-down capabilities and real-time alerts to help protect profits and plan with greater confidence.
Selecting Advanced Financial Solutions
First introduced to the solution at a Thomson Reuters Elite VANTAGE Worldwide conference, Walsh had been aware of AFS Budgeting and Forecasting for some time. Colin Biggers & Paisley was a long-standing customer, having previously selected 3E® to improve its core financial and practice management capabilities. Given the trusted relationship the practice had built with Thomson Reuters, the decision to implement Budgeting and Forecasting – following only a very brief market review – was a relatively easy decision to make.
The practice’s legacy system had reached a point where it was no longer capable of meeting the practice’s growing needs. “It had hit the limits of its ability to do what we needed it to do. Plus, in terms of providing a fantastic multiuser experience, it simply wasn’t good enough,” says Walsh.
Once the decision had been made to replace the previous system, selecting Advanced Financial Solutions was a quick process. “I felt I knew what was out there on the market, from my prior experience,” says Walsh. “This enabled us to fast track the decision-making process because we understood the features we were looking for and what different competitive products might offer.”
“We undertook some price comparisons between different solutions, but it was very clear that Budget and Forecasting had the features we needed. I was very impressed with the way it had been built and how it avoided some of the pitfalls we’d seen in other products on the market. We’re very happy we made the decision we did.”
Fast and detailed reporting
For Walsh, one of the first clear improvements of going live on Advanced Financial Solutions was a significant increase in reporting speed. Having previously operated out-of-date budgeting and forecasting tools, the practice had grown used to reporting being a slow process. But with AFS, reports could be generated in a matter of seconds. “Our month-end reports that had once taken three days to complete, can now be prepared in under an hour,” says Walsh. From the moment of go-live, the impact was clear. “You can safely say we’ve saved a day of work in the month-end report process by using Budgeting and Forecasting reports.”
However, the benefits of Budgeting and Forecasting extend beyond its time-saving abilities. Walsh recognizes that it has improved productivity and decision-making across the practice by getting more reliable numbers in front of more people faster, enabling them to see levels of details previously inaccessible.
Out-of-date or erroneous data hinders a practice’s ability to identify and tackle key challenges. However, with AFS Budgeting and Forecasting, flexible reporting options and drill-down capabilities have made it easier to see where business is growing, as well as where it isn’t. By enabling those within the accounting department to quickly compare profit versus loss, they have gained greater control of overspending and are ultimately able to make decisions more effectively. Walsh anticipates that the detailed insights will produce significant cost savings and an uplift in revenue.
“Our monthly management reporting pack is now heavily reliant on Budgeting and Forecasting,” attests Walsh. “We can do things now we couldn’t do before. We’re moving away from total practice reporting, toward practice group profit reports. This enables us to quickly build practice group profitability reporting, plus provide it to our business service managers to help drive accountability and visibility into the organization at every level.”
Streamline processes, improved reliability
Prior to selecting AFS Budgeting and Forecasting, the practice manually maintained its budgeting information in spreadsheet format, a process Walsh found to be complex, time consuming, and vulnerable to inaccuracies. “Someone would do their work and save the document, then share it with another individual so they had access to do their bit. We were saving multiple versions of an enormous Excel file, trying to date stamp things in a way that was clear. Invariably we’d pick up the wrong version and end up doing work out of sync,” says Walsh.
As this process became increasingly inefficient over time, Walsh and his team knew that new generation technology could help streamline the budgeting process and reduce the risk of error.
“We completed our budget cycle for FY2018 using AFS Budgeting and Forecasting. It was the first time we’d used it. We really gained efficiencies in the budget process by allowing multiple users to access budget templates and work concurrently,” says Walsh. “Now everyone has simultaneous access. Being able to accommodate concurrent users streamlines the process enormously. It gives us a lot more confidence knowing we have version control over our budgets. It has saved us a good three weeks in our budgeting process.”
A further advantage that Walsh and his team quickly recognized was the ability to produce high-quality budget reports. “Previously, we relied on Excel cutting and pasting, which often forced us to reformat things. In the process of the initial implementation, we scoped out the key budget review reports we needed. The Advanced Financial Solutions team built them for us, and we were able to use them straight away. Again, it really helped our budget process efficiency.”
Designed to integrate easily with 3E
In deciding whether to use AFS Budgeting and Forecasting, Walsh and his team knew they needed to implement a budgeting and forecasting system that would provide seamless integration with their existing 3E technology. The compatibility between AFS and 3E was regarded as a key selling point in helping Walsh achieve what he calls a one-stop-shop approach.
For Walsh, the easy integration with 3E was one of the reasons they didn’t need to review many products before selecting Advanced Financial Solutions. Knowing that it would combine so easily with 3E meant they didn’t have nagging concerns that they’d have to spend months fine-tuning things and solving problems in the setup. “It was a big, big plus for us,” Walsh says.
Additional work was required to integrate with the practice’s existing HR payroll system. However, Walsh was delighted with how “surprisingly quick and efficient” the process was. “I had thought it might have been a little tricky, particularly in comparison to the easy 3E integration. But we were very happy with how smoothly it was done.”
Simplicity and support in onboarding
The level of support offered by Thomson Reuters, plus the ease with which Budgeting and Forecasting can be implemented and integrated, meant that the streamlined onboarding process was a real highlight for Walsh.
“We used their rapid implementation model, and we’ve been delighted with the results. We were the first practice in Australia to implement it, so Thomson Reuters sent their team twice from Canada to be onsite and help us workshop our precise requirements.”
The standardized approach underpinning the rapid implementation model meant that Walsh and his team could review templates that were already built, refine them, and see output very quickly. “It was a rapid prototyping approach that worked really well for us. As we were collectively working through our requirements on the screen, the team in the room were literally able to build things that we had just signed off right there. It meant we could come in the next morning or even later that day and review progress to date. It was a very efficient way of delivering the product.”
Colin Biggers & Paisley are still at the early stages of their journey. The practice is still discovering new efficiencies in their budget process and reporting cycles. Before long, Walsh is certain the practice will see these efficiencies translate into tangible, bottom line improvements in business outcomes. “It’s early days, but we’ve already got a really efficient budget cycle in place,” says Walsh.
The practice is now in the process of moving to rolling forecast models, something Walsh believes will be of real benefit for the business. Advanced Financial Solutions Budgeting and Forecasting will enable the transition in a way that the practice’s previous system simply could not match.
“Using Excel, as we used to do, meant we could only use rolling forecast models at superficial levels. It was just too hard to make it a practical repeatable exercise.” The future is bright for Colin Biggers & Paisley. Walsh is excited by what is to come and says he is delighted with Budgeting and Forecasting. “Looking back, it was the right decision to take – no question.”