TECHNOLOGY

Room & Board moves financials out of ‘the Excel Age’

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

As Room & Board jump-starts its go-to-market strategy, it expects predictive analytics to play a key role in its planning processes.

The Minneapolis-based retailer, which sells mostly American-made modern furniture, is very mindful of how it chooses a new store site. While decisions are based heavily on regions that have large volumes of customers, that isn’t enough. Room & Board is also using analytics to delve into the patterns it uncovers across its own customer-specific and mission-critical data, from anomalies found across demographics and ZIP codes, to the drivers that influence customers to make a purchase.

But the process wasn’t always so streamlined. Historically, site decisions were based on data stored in the chain’s ERP system. But as the company expanded, data volume also continued to grow.

In addition to managing a growing physical store portfolio, Room & Board also had to harness information pertaining to its online and catalog operations. But the data was being derived from approximately 50 different cost centers related to its retail operations, such as IT, facilities, distribution centers vendor management and human resources, among others. And with the addition of each new location or cost center, it could take Jean Dane, Room & Board’s financial planning and reporting manager, “weeks to update financial reports.”

While information was accessible in the company’s ERP system, data was managed on Excel spreadsheets, making efforts complex.

“Excel is error prone, especially when linking templates,” Dane said.

For example, when completing management reports, managers merged Excel data with sales information pulled from the company’s general ledger and business warehouse system.

“Once the data was exported from the various systems, we had to manually merge the data, increasing the risk for error,” she explained.

Minimal automation also impacted the time spent processing reports. Besides taking up to four hours to analyze the data, if errors were found, the team would have to start the process all over again — wasting another four hours. As managers began requiring financial data in a more timely manner, along with additional metrics, such as traffic counts and average order value, Dane knew it was time for a change.

“The process was just ineffective, and wasn’t flexible enough, especially when we wanted to change plans frequently,” she said. “We needed to bring our planning process into the 20th century.”

Dane began her search for a user-friendly, automated system, one that encouraged cost center managers to input their own financial data. It also had to centralize all information in a single repository. With an eye on more efficiency, Dane also preferred a cloud-based solution that would be more flexible and cost-effective than an operating an on-premise system.

The ideal choice for Room & Board was an enterprise performance management (EPM) system from Host Analytics. The solution, which is comprised of enterprise software that supports corporate finance departments, helps Room & Board with strategic financial planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Since adding the solution in 2013, the company now conducts expense forecasts on a monthly basis. The previous method produced forecasts a mere two or three times a year. The retailer is also conducting more customized reports that can be sent automatically to vendors and associates across departments.

“Moving to the cloud eliminated the time-consuming manual and error-prone processes of consolidating and updating data for planning and forecasting,” she said. “Replacing manual intervention with an automated system enables us to see budget consolidation reports within 30 minutes compared to waiting days for results.”

For example, it previously could take up to 40 hours to input a new location, “actually get it into the plan, and understand its financial impact,” Dane explained. “Now I can input that data and understand its financial impact immediately. That is huge.”

Looking ahead, Dane would like to leverage the solution’s predictive analytics, which will help the company better forecast individual markets.

“When the economy is healthy, we can understand what customers buy currently,” she said. “But as the market gets more volatile, we want to look at elements out of our control, such as the economy, and how that impacts customer buying habits and sales trends.”

This will also help the company embark on sales forecasts, which will open up opportunities in marketing. While Room & Board currently uses Host Analytics, as well as data from other sources to uncover these results, “We need to do more — and more efficiently,” she added.

Dane didn’t reveal when the predictive modeling would begin.

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