ALS Limited (ALS), was growing rapidly through acquisition and – with many separate entities and a multitude of currencies – group financial management was quickly becoming a nightmare. ALS needed a system that would support their scale, complexity and growth.
Bistech delivered an end-to-end service, from initial planning and design through to the implementation of the technology that underpins Bistech’s FPM Headstart solution and continues to run ALS’s critical financial functions throughout its worldwide operations.
“One of our key requirements was the ability to operate in multiple currencies – and this was a weakness in many packages we looked at,” says Greg Affleck, Group Financial Controller, Corporate, ALS. “Bistech’s offering could handle currency calculations in real time and helped us to meet our reporting and analytics requirements. Freeing-up management time previously spent on loading data into different systems and performing reconciliations was a key benefit for us – it made for a compelling business case.”
As a result of both organic growth and strategic acquisitions, ALS’s revenue stream has grown five-fold since 2000. Its financial consolidation, management, and board reporting processes were struggling to meet the needs of an organisation that now comprises 140 legal entities and operates in over 50 countries across the globe.
ALS’s financial requirements have been streamlined on a single platform using the same technology that drives Bistech’s FPM Headstart solution.
– A single solution for consistent financial consolidation, management and board reporting.
– Improved reporting processes by 20 percent and increased data quality by 30 percent reduced the need for reconciliations and fewer inconsistencies between reports.
– Allowed analysis of results in multiple currencies, better supporting multinational operations.
– Provided flexible, extendable reporting and analytics platform that continues to scale to support ongoing growth.
“Above all, the Bistech delivered 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 informed decisions and react to market conditions more effectively – helping us to keep ahead of our competition.”
– Greg Affleck, Group Financial Controller, Corporate at ALS.
Challenges of growth
ALS was growing rapidly through acquisition and was a decentralised business. A common set of financials was required at a group level to provide accurate financial performance information across the entire organisation. As acquisitions were made and additional subsidiaries brought on board, the consolidation process was becoming unsustainable, and the finance function certainly could no longer be run via cumbersome, error-prone spreadsheets.
“We had 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. “When we changed our organisational structure from a regional to a divisional basis, the tool wasn’t flexible enough to do both. We ended up with two separate data sources, and it was increasingly difficult to keep adjustments in sync.”
ALS had separate tools for financial consolidation, management information and board reporting, which created issues with consistency and data quality. As the business grew, the need to find a more scalable and flexible solution became acute. “Consolidation and reconciliation of intercompany transaction were problematic” says Greg Affleck.
Finding a global solution
The finance team at ALS assessed various types of reporting and analysis software from a number of vendors.
The new tool had to be able to cater for the scale of ALS: currently 13,000 employees across 50 countries in six continents. And its complexity: it is an organisation of 140 entities, with cost centres in the thousands, and transacting in 40 currencies.
“A key requirement was an ability to operate in multiple currencies – and this was a weakness in many packages we looked at,” says Greg Affleck. “Bistech’s compelling offering could handle currency calculations in real time and reduce the time spent on loading data into different systems and performing reconciliations.”
The solution needed to be easy to manage and for senior executive users to leverage the available functionality. ALS sought a partner with the experience to configure a range of analytical tools for different areas of its 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 their solution,” says Greg Affleck. “We were impressed with the results and decided to work with them on the full implementation.”
Working in partnership
Bistech delivered an end-to-end service, from initial planning and design through to the implementation of the technology that underpins Bistech’s FPM Headstart solution and continues to support ALS’s critical finance function.
The first phase of the project was to develop a suite of management reports to generate the comparison of current results to ten years’ worth of historical data, enabling managers to identify patterns and trends.
In further developments, Bistech created a tool for the HR department to collect data and interrogate the system to monitor headcount more effectively and assist labour resource planning across ALS operations. The final phase of the initial project provided a financial consolidation tool that gathers and reconciles financial information from more than 140 legal entities across the group and makes it easier to produce end-of-quarter and end-of-year financial statements.
To reduce risk and impact on staff, the rollout of the new platform was designed to be delivered entity by entity over 12 months.
From consolidation and reporting, ALS and Bistech recently expanded the system’s functionality to incorporate budgeting and forecasting for each key area and division.
Realising the benefits
Bistech’s solution provides the flexibly needed to support ALS’s dynamic environment – catering for ongoing growth, evolving corporate structure and complex reporting requirements. Flexibility underpins this dynamic environment.
– A single source of truth. A financial consolidation tool now gathers and reconciles financial information from all entities across the group and generates the end-of-quarter and end-of-year statements. A more recent development also allows the business to centrally capture and manage subsidiary-based financial forecasts.
“Having a reliable central repository for the whole group’s financial data provides a substantial advantage – we now have a single version of the truth,” says Greg Affleck.
– Improvements in reporting efficiency and data quality deliver significant savings. The ALS finance team estimates the solution accelerated data loading by 20 percent and also improved data quality by 30 percent. Analysts no longer waste time reconciling figures and correcting inconsistent results between different types of reports. Over the medium term, these time savings have helped to deliver a full return on investment in the Bistech solution.
“Reporting was a nightmare – making a change in one report meant we needed to update it elsewhere. Accurately reflecting changes in our organisational structure was particularly difficult. Now as we introduce a restructure we simply apply the change and everything is updated,” says Greg Affleck.
– Leaders make decisions on insights they can trust. Built-in control and validations allow the business to trust the data. “Our processes have a series of validations and reconciliations to ensure the integrity of the data, we can trust it. Everything is matched and reconciled, from month to month,” says Greg Affleck.
“We can also now better manage our multiple currency exposures. We can clearly see the various holdings in various currencies, can better assess the fluctuation risk and therefore be in a better position to negotiate and reduce exchange risk,” says Greg Affleck
– A streamlined forecasting process
Expanding the functionality of the initial implementation, each division now uses the system to manage their forecasting process. ALS is able to aggregate their business to a point where they are planning in key functional currencies and using the levers of revenue and margin to recreate their plans and targets at a much more granular level.
“This is one of the solution’s major strengths. Moving from a spreadsheet based process, we have substantially streamlined and improved the way we handle financial forecasting across the group. The once complex processes – such as the currency translations and segment allocations – are all delivered automatically through a set of pre-determined rules,” explains Greg Affleck.
– The impact beyond the finance team.
The solution’s web interface is customised for each user’s responsibility which supports productivity as well as controlling and protecting ALS’s data. The information portal is central to how ALS does business – staff rely on it to tell them how they are performing and what they are being measured against.
“Above all, the 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 to keep ahead of our competition,” says Greg Affleck
About ALS Limited
ALS is a leading testing, inspection, certification and verification company head quartered in Brisbane, Australia. Servicing multiple industries globally, ALS employs over 13,000 staff in over 65 countries. The Company was founded in 1863 and listed on the ASX in July 1952. ALS are an ASX100 Company with a multibillion-dollar market capitalisation.
Following rapid growth and diversification across Australia in the 1980s, ALS expanded into Asia and South America in the 1990s, before expanding into North America, Africa and Europe in the early 2000s and finally the Middle East in 2011.