THE CONTROL, X, AND V keys on Anabel Lopez's keyboard just got a rest. Relief for Kimball Hill's financial planning manager came when the company inked a deal with Cognos, a leading software manufacturer, to provide a financial planning solution that will virtually eliminate Lopez's days of cutting and pasting data from spreadsheet to spreadsheet.
A Web-based application, Cognos Planning keeps the builder's financial data in a central location using a spreadsheet template. However, because each site is set up as a cube, it operates as a three-dimensional spreadsheet. The added dimension creates more ways to sort or filter information for greater access to data across various categories and departments. Financial managers and other authorized users log on to input data, track changes, and review revised numbers.
Lopez says that three sites—two for the land department and one for the annual business plan—have gone from the test stage to fully operational in June. Several others, including one for the land department, one for sales records, and one for cash management for the treasury department, are soon to follow.
THE PROBLEM The search for a software solution came out of Lopez's work last year on the home builder's annual business plan. For four months, she pulled together numbers from the various divisions in an attempt to provide a statistical mosaic of the company's health and vision. A bulk of that time was spent chopping up the master document into sections and then copying the various sections into e-mails to the corresponding division presidents.
“The Excel spreadsheets were too big to e-mail,” Lopez explains. “So I had to cut and paste.”
Cutting and pasting created many versions, which quickly became unwieldy and difficult to track. Lopez says she sometimes would have to send out something like 12 copies of the same document only to have to key the information back into the original document by hand—12 times.
And then there were the changes. Once the information came in, phone calls and e-mails from coworkers telling her some of the numbers were wrong soon followed. The reasons were endless, but the end result was the same: Lopez had to go back and tinker with the master spreadsheet. She had to update numbers, redo calculations, and double-check that the new numbers were accurately reflected in all the other data.
But Kimball Hill is banking on Cognos to change all that. CIO Frank Scaramuzza says, “The savings in man hours for us are going to be huge. … It'll shorten our planning time and will help the company as a whole.”
THE PITCH Scaramuzza says the company took several months figure out what exactly it needed from the chosen system. It collected a wish-list of desired features from everyone involved, including the CFO, the vice president of the treasury department, the vice president of land acquisition, and the corporate controller—in addition to Scaramuzza and Lopez.
“All the folks were given the opportunity to tell us what they wanted the product to do,” Scaramuzza says.