Couche-Tard ditches general ledger for BI tools

Canada’s largest convenience store operator hopes the introduction of new software will make financial reporting in its Quebec operations a little more, well, convenient.

Couche-Tard, of Laval, Que., uses an aging general ledger system in its Eastern Canada Division that started as a package purchased from a third party but has been modified so much over the years that it is effectively in-house software now, says Robert Mathieu, the division’s director of finance. It does its basic job well and Couche-Tard isn’t replacing it, but it lacks reporting capabilities.

Couche-Tard is augmenting the G/L system with Cognos 8 Controller reporting software from Ottawa-based Cognos Inc. The Eastern Canada Division, which operates about 600 convenience stores in Quebec under the Couche-Tard banner, is in the midst of the implementation now and Mathieu hopes to see it finished by October.

“It was not very easy to do reporting that we needed to do for corporate purposes and financial statements for our stores,” Mathieu says, “so that’s why we looked on the market to find reporting software where all the changes that we could make to our reporting would be easier to do than what we’re doing right now.”

For instance, every quarter the Eastern Canada Division must prepare a market review for company executives in a standard format used across the company. Up to now, Mathieu says, this has been a complicated process of preparing and merging financial statements. The Cognos software will make it easier.

Complying with legislation such as Canada’s Bill C-198 and the U.S.’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which set out strict rules for reporting and verifying financial information, is also an issue for Couche-Tard, whose stock is traded on both Canadian and U.S. markets.

The company has used spreadsheet software in the past to prepare reports, Mathieu says, and “it’s very flexible but at the same time it’s very dangerous where you don’t have perfect control over the Excel spreadsheet, so that’s why by buying a tool like Cognos we are able to streamline the process and make sure there is no problems that happen when we do our reporting.”

Spreadsheets are widely used for “supporting or band-aiding a first-generation solution,” says Delbert Krause, director of product marketing for the Performance Management Group at Cognos, but they don’t ensure data quality.

“Spreadsheets are great personal tools,” he says, “but a lot of companies end up creating systems out of them, and they become a security risk because regardless of putting protection on cells and stuff it’s not a very secure environment. There’s a security risk to spreadsheets going missing. There’s a risk of error, because you’re collecting a number of different spreadsheets from a number of different sources and linking them together. Changing a spreadsheet and links to the associated spreadsheet, that all has to be done manually by hand, so that’s not giving you a system or a tool that enables you to monitor and manage the links between spreadsheets.”

Couche-Tard could have built new reporting capabilities onto the existing G/L system, says Mathieu, but the company felt its IT staff had better things to do. “We prefer internally to work on more core applications like price book and point of sale, than working on the G/L application, so that’s why we thought there’s many reporting tools that exist on the market, so why redo everything?”

Couche-Tard has some 5,000 company-operated and affiliated convenience stores in North America, mainly under the Couche-Tard and Mac’s names in Canada and the Circle K brand in the U.S., as well as international affiliates, but Mathieu says the other divisions have their own financial software and there are no immediate plans to extend the use of Cognos 8 Controller to them.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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