ALS Global (formerly known as Campbell Brothers) is a leading provider of analytical and testing services for clients in a wide range of sectors, including minerals, life sciences, industrial and energy. It also has interests in industrial chemicals, consumer products and non-food consumables. It is a public company, listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX-CPB), and generated revenues of more than AU $1.4 billion in the 2011–12 financial year.
The company’s testing services divisions, known as ALS Group, has grown dramatically since 2000, and now contributes more than 85 percent of ALS Global’s overall revenue. It employs 12,000 people in 55 countries across six continents, and provides its services to companies of all sizes, from the largest global mining companies to small and medium businesses.
“We’ve been a consistent success story for the last twelve years, during which time we’ve grown revenues approximately five-fold,” says Greg Affleck, ALS Group Financial Controller at Campbell Brothers. “We’re good at what we do, so we’ve grown organically, and we’re fairly nimble as a corporation, which has helped us acquire other companies and enter new markets.”
As a result of both organic growth and strategic acquisitions, ALS Global’s revenue stream has grown five-fold since 2000. Its existing financial consolidation, management and board reporting processes were struggling to meet the needs of an organisation that now comprises more than 140 legal entities and operates in many different currencies.
Working with Bistech, ALS replaced a number of separate reporting tools with a single solution based on IBM Cognos® TM1® and IBM Cognos Business Intelligence.
Growth has brought challenges with it – especially in terms of financial data management and reporting. “We started out with a basic financial reporting tool that we had developed in-house – a portal that collected profit and loss and balance sheet data from sites around the world,” says Greg Affleck. “However, when we decided to change our organisational structure from a regional basis to a divisional basis, the tool wasn’t really flexible enough to do both. We ended up with two separate data sources, and it was difficult to keep them both in sync when adjustments were made.
“We also had separate tools for financial consolidation, management information and board reporting, so there were potential issues with consistency and data quality there as well. As the business grew, the need to find a more scalable and flexible solution became more and more acute.”
The finance team at ALS began searching for a solution, and looked at various types of reporting and analysis software from a number of different vendors.
“One of our key requirements was an ability to operate in multiple currencies – and this seemed to be a weakness in a lot of the packages we looked at,” says Greg Affleck. “However, when we looked at the latest version of IBM Cognos TM1, we saw that it could easily handle currency calculations in real time. It also seemed to be able to meet all of our other requirements, so we were able to make a compelling business case for purchasing the software, based mainly on the reduction in management time that we were spending on loading data into different systems and performing reconciliations.”
ALS also wanted to find a partner with the right experience to implement the IBM Cognos TM1 software and configure it to provide a range of analytical tools for different areas of the business.
“The guys from Bistech were recommended to us, and we asked them to provide a proof of concept to show us the capabilities of the TM1 solution,” says Greg Affleck. “We were impressed with the results, and decided to work with them on the full implementation.”
Bistech provided an end-to-end service, from initial planning and design through to the implementation of version 10 of the IBM Cognos TM1 and IBM Cognos Business Intelligence software. Following the go-live, Bistech has continued to provide ongoing support.
The first phase of the project was to develop a suite of management reports that would compare current result to ten years’ worth of historical data and enable managers to identify patterns and trends.
“The multi-currency features are especially useful for management reporting,” comments Greg Affleck. “For example, the managers of our South American businesses have a monthly teleconference where they discuss financial results. TM1 provides the flexibility to flick between different currencies in real time, so if the Argentina country manager wants to compare his results with his Peruvian counterpart, he can convert between Pesos and Nuevos Soles in a couple of mouse-clicks.”
In a second phase, Bistech created a tool for the HR department, which uses the IBM Cognos TM1 Contributor interface to collect data on full-time employees from sites around the world on a monthly basis. This helps the HR team keep track of headcount and plan labour costs more effectively.
The third phase of the initial project provided a financial consolidation tool that gathers and reconciles financial information from more than 140 legal entities across the whole group, and makes it easier to create end-of-quarter and end-of-year financial statements.
“We just recently used the new consolidation tool for the first time at year-end, and it did a fine job,” says Greg Affleck. “Having a reliable central repository for the whole group’s financial data gives us a huge advantage – instead of emailing spreadsheets back and forth and trying to keep track of all the adjustments by hand, we now have a single version of the truth.”
The finance team at ALS Group estimates that the new solution accelerates data loading by 20 percent and also improves data quality by around 30 percent. This saves considerable time and effort for busy analysts, since they no longer need to spend so much time on reconciling figures and correcting inconsistent results between different types of reports. Over the medium term, these time savings should help to deliver a full return on the investment in the solution.
“We have achieved a lot already with the Cognos software, but this is just the beginning,” concludes Greg Affleck. “The next step will be to start using TM1 for budgeting and forecasting, which is one of its major strengths. At the moment, we have a spreadsheet-based process, but we believe TM1 will be able to substantially streamline and improve the way we handle financial planning around the globe.
“Above all, the IBM solution puts us in a strong position to continue growing the company. With greater visibility and tighter control of our financial data, we can make better decisions and react to market conditions more effectively – helping us keep ahead of our competition.”