Manpower grows BI user group to 5,000 people


When Manpower began discussions with Cognos around adopting a performance management tool a decade ago, the staffing agency opted not to take the “big bang approach” to implementation.

An initially small user group was key to garnering acceptance from stakeholders within the organization and establishing business value, said Vivian Adashek, financial systems and project specialist at Manpower. Adashek was speaking at the Cognos Finance Forums 2007 in Toronto on Thursday, where she shared practical approaches and business benefits to performance management.

Manpower initially deployed to 150 users in the home office who were already familiar with the concept of business intelligence and analyzing data on a multi-dimensional level, said Adashek. Furthermore, the size of the group easily allowed for onsite training.

The user group has since grown to 5,000, including internal and external clients.

Initially, Manpower’s deployment of a performance management tool was geared towards assisting the finance department to get a better grip on budgeting and forecasting. But specifically, it was looking for a system that would perform calculations, consolidate data, automate approvals, and provide reporting capabilities through a familiar user-interface, said Adashek.

Furthermore, she said, the organization wanted to involve lower-level staff in the budgeting and forecasting process – which was not the case before, when a cumbersome array of spreadsheets was managed in a top-down planning approach. “Why would they buy-in if they weren’t involved from the [beginning of the process] and someone from a higher level was telling them what their budget was?”

Performance management soon gained a pervasive presence beyond the finance department, said Adashek, with human resources reaping the biggest business benefit.

“The HR department used to send out hundreds of spreadsheets to all of the field and within home office. And it took some time to get them all back,” said Adashek. Now, the department has an immediate approval process and automatic data uploads to the payroll system, she adds.

Likewise, payroll handles annual incentives without relying on a slew of spreadsheets. And, sales can consolidate and analyze data to determine customer profitability.

In fact, said Adashek, the improved response time to requests for reports from senior management, has led to an increased demand for such reports.

Besides a sharper focus on planning and the ability to perform data analysis, the Manpower financial analysis team has become proactive in the budget and forecast process. “They’re not being reactive, they are helping field teams understand the data,” she said.

Manpower’s external clients also benefit from the performance management capabilities with access to customer-based data, said Adashek.

The system’s scalability was also put to the test when Manpower deployed to other global offices. “It has different components to it like Legos, so that you can change one piece and move it to another,” said Adashek. According to the specialist, Manpower may, down the road, decide to consolidate performance management systems globally.

The ability to quickly analyze data will result in greater forecast accuracy in a shorter time period, said David Axson, founder and president of Sonax Group. “This is simply because you’re able to understand when your prior forecast is obsolete and why, and what you need to do differently to get a more accurate forecast based upon changes in the external environment in which you’re doing business.”

Axson, along with other industry executives, participated in a Q&A session at the finance forum.

“It changes the discussion from ‘here is why I differed from the plan versus, this is what’s happening in the markets with our customers, suppliers, competitors, and here is what we as managers need to do to take action to fix that,” added Paul Ingram, Associate Partner with IBM Inc.

But before an organization can begin to reap the benefits of business intelligence and performance management, it first needs to get the tool off the ground. For a start, relaying the business value of the technology is crucial. Position the project as a way to enable the organization’s strategy, said Ingram.

For instance, the fact that Manpower is providing customer-based statistics to its external clients is a great idea, said Axson, and could be used to build that business case, should such an idea be in the plans.

Normally, he said, finance’s only relationship with the customer is in the collections department, but “when you understand customer profitability and begin to develop rich forecasts around customer relationships going forward, it allows you to add value to that relationship,” said Axson.


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