Analytics tools aim to improve on spreadsheets

Companies still relying on spreadsheets and other piecemeal financial planning and budgeting methods are the targets of a trio of new packages designed to provide an enterprise view of financial performance.

SAS Institute Inc., Oracle Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. have each brought out tools aimed at tightening financial reporting operations.

SAS this week rolled out its SAS Financial Intelligence line, which the Cary, N.C.-based company said can help organizations get more accurate and timely financial results for use in the reports needed for regulatory compliance efforts and corporate management.

MCI Inc. is using the activity-based management product in the SAS line to replace spreadsheets and better link operating expenses to individual products by segment, said Leslie Mote, corporate business analysis director at MCI. The new system provides more cost and salary data on MCI product lines than previous tools, Mote said. “I don’t think the executives were able to see that from a high level” in the past, she said.

Now, employees from different units can see how their actions relate to other parts of the company regarding cost and profitability, Mote said. In addition, MCI uses the tool to segment salary data for reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to help better set pricing schedules.

The Thomson Corp., a Stamford, Conn.-based provider of customized information systems to various industries, used the earlier version of the SAS software to meet the SEC’s reporting requirements for listing on the New York Stock Exchange, said David Ross, Thomson’s director of corporate financial systems. “We really didn’t have one version of the truth, (and) we needed something to be able to support a standard, repeatable, consolidated process every single month,” Ross said.

Some of the newer SAS features — such as real-time consolidation — may help Thomson close its books and report earnings more quickly, he added.

Oracle this month began shipping its Enterprise Planning and Budgeting application, which is designed to integrate planning and budgeting processes in a single database and associate financial data with specific users who can be held accountable for changes, said John Schoenherr, Oracle’s vice-president of corporate performance management development. The new application will replace Oracle Financial Analyzer and Oracle Sales Analyzer.

For its part, San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel this month brought out Financial Analytics, which the vendor said can deliver real-time visibility into financial data and provide an early warning of deviations from plans.

The three vendors are positioning their products for companies struggling with spreadsheet budgeting, said Wayne Eckerson, an analyst at The Data Warehousing Institute in Seattle. “The budgeting/planning system is integrated with financial consolidation and accounting systems so standards are baked in the operational side of financial reporting,” he said. “The numbers are more accurate and up to date.”

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