For the international construction company Ballast Nedam, project insight is crucial. A versatile corporate reporting platform facilitates consolidation, as well as weekly cash forecasts, project forecasts and the company’s order portfolio. To achieve this type of project insight, Ballast Nedam has used various SAP BPC applications for more than 10 years, as well as CXO-Cockpit to enable graphic online reporting and easy commenting.
Ballast Nedam’s corporate reporting platform can be distinguished by its use of a wide range of different SAP BPC applications. The performance management solution is not only used for consolidation and budgeting, but also for cash flow reports and cash forecasts, CSR and safety reports, and analysis of housing supply and housing exposure.
When asked about the different applications the company uses, Jeroen Lans, Information Manager at Ballast Nedam, says: “I don’t think so much in terms of applications, but in terms of solutions that we can achieve through applications. We use around five or six applications within SAP BPC, but they all serve one purpose: producing periodic reports.”
“In addition to consolidation, we also wanted to bring the different divisions and business units together under one reporting model”
The solution is also used for market information. This allows information for each project to be set out in an overarching ‘features application’. “Here, detailed information from across the whole organization is set out for each project,” explains Klaas de Roo, Group Controller at Ballast Nedam. “The application allows easy access to the information during contract award procedures, for instance.”
One statement for annual accounts and management information
For 10 years, Ballast Nedam has used SAP BPC, or OutlookSoft as it used to be known. When initially setting up the applications, there was a deliberate focus on integrating management reports and annual accounts. “Previously, management was confronted with many different types of report,” says Klaas. “In addition to consolidation, we also wanted to bring the different divisions and business units together under a single reporting model.”
As such, the choice was made to use one statement as the basis for both management information and annual accounts. “The statement is primarily focused on the annual accounts, but in a way that ensures they also support the management information,” Klaas explains. “The previous system was mainly a reporting system, so this is what makes SAP BPC a true management system.”
Decentralized project team
Ballast Nedam is decentralized, with projects being led by different divisions. “In a decentralized organization like ours,” says Jeroen, “we have different ERP systems, but we still want a shared single, golden source of information that everyone can agree on. We see SAP BPC as a source that brings together the various ERP systems used by the business units.”
What’s more, Jeroen sees a difference between reporting and registration systems. “You need to see the world of reports as separate from that of ERP systems. ERP systems do produce reports, but if you want to make cash reports, you need a reporting system that gives you more flexibility to adapt them. We can now look at forecasting, without the information necessarily having to be in the ERP system first.”
Cash forecasts via CXO-Cockpit
Cash forecasts are vital for the company. “Since 2008, cash forecasts have been vital for every company, in fact. In construction, where previously 10 larger projects could cover the smaller loss-making ones, the margins have become much tighter. We can’t allow ourselves to make a single mistake,” explains Jeroen. “Credit lending by banks has also changed,” notes Klaas. “That’s turned things upside down: the traditional way of approaching accounting has changed forever.”
“Now the focus is on the forecast itself, not on cutting, pasting and checking if the numbers tally”
Ballast Nedam decided on a dashboard solution – CXO-Cockpit – to supplement SAP BPC in this regard. “External parties were asking us for a cash forecast for each individual entity, as well as explanatory notes on development. At first, we did this in Excel sheets, using data from SAP BPC. That’s not just labor-intensive; when you start copying and pasting information like that you’re bound to make mistakes,” says Jeroen.
“SAP BPC just doesn’t offer enough flexibility when it comes to saving texts. On the advice of Finext, we started looking at CXO-Cockpit. This dashboard solution lets you use graphics as well as texts (‘narratives’). Furthermore, CXO and SAP BPC can be integrated straight away, so there’s no lengthy implementation process. After a three-day proof of concept it was only five days before we were able to go live.”
More time for the real work
For Ballast Nedam, adding CXO-Cockpit has also improved the quality of cash flow forecasts. “We felt a real need to take forecasts seriously. Now the focus is on the forecast itself, not on cutting, pasting and checking if the numbers tally. This has made the system a lot cleaner.”
Ballast Nedam is now utilizing the dashboard tool more widely, using it to replace their periodic and quarterly reports and their business plans. “It’s saving us time. We need to reduce the time we spend drawing up reports, so we have more time to do the real work. The system shouldn’t stop people from thinking about content. Take the cash forecasts, for example. Before, people used to be working on them for days.” “It’s must less labor-intensive now,” adds Klaas. “And on top of that, it’s easier, quicker and the quality is better.”
A single benchmark
When asked what advice they have for organizations looking to expand their corporate reporting platforms, both Klaas and Jeroen agree on the importance of having a single, shared source. “I’m all for standardization,” says Klaas. “Where possible, work from one database, so everyone has access to the same figures.”
“Make sure you have a single qualitative and a single quantitative benchmark, so you can focus on your targets,” continues Jeroen. “Always aim to be reading from the same sheet, have clear definitions and make sure the figures you’re entering this week mean the same thing next week. And, above all, stop using Excel sheets, whether they’re freestanding or linked. Of course, you can still work in Excel. But it’s a place for finishing things off, not starting them.”