We had a chat with Michael Langer, Group Financial Controller at Peldon Rose, about how the insights provided by RedSky’s Summit Business Analytics module are boosting profitability across the business.
Peldon Rose specialises in transforming office design for the benefit of people and business. With a turnover of £40 million, it employs 90 people, including workplace consultants, furniture planners, mechanical and electrical experts, designers and after-care office maintenance and support teams.
Until October last year, you were using one of RedSky’s legacy systems – AXiM. What were your drivers for change?
We had the old system in place for over 10 years and it felt like every department was extremely busy because we had a lot of antiquated processes in each one to cater for the system. We needed quick, reliable data, better speed of reporting as well as exception reporting. I also wanted to introduce a ticketing system for our Service Management business, which has been growing continually. I really wanted to enhance the whole user experience too – and rather than the system being purely for the Finance function and running all the reports, I wanted to empower users across the company to become more self-sufficient and to enjoy the experience of reporting on demand.
Why did you decide to stick with RedSky?
We had made a conscious decision to change our system in 2014. The project team and I wanted something that had the look and feel of something new and went to the market to find a new product. We wanted something that wasn’t completely rigid and could grow and develop along with the business. The only product we found that could do this was Summit; we liked the customisation that was new and not available in AXiM – being able to tag on detail to a project such as who the site manager was 10 years ago is immensely helpful and makes the whole system more of a one-stop-shop.
We also liked the dashboards for the project managers, departmental heads and some exception reporting. The dashboards were really what I wanted in terms of highlighting to the business what was critical at that point in time, to move away from traditional reporting of ‘here are your numbers’. And I think we’ve managed to achieve this and take a giant step forward.
So how did the RedSky demonstration go?
Firstly, getting the right people in the same room to run through the demonstrations was a challenge in itself. We were impressed with Summit’s ability to physically manipulate the existing data, to compare and contrast with other data sets and to customise by adding new fields to enhance that data. We also liked the fact that the system allowed us to download certain items into Excel automatically – albeit we had this with AXiM, we were just unaware of this.
And how did the implementation go?
We made the decision to sign up for the new system in April 2016 and we had quite an aggressive three-month plan to go live in October. We went live exactly when we wanted to, which was amazing.
We refused to do a ‘copy and paste’ transition of our old system as we wanted the opportunity to record and do things differently; therefore we operated a brand new implementation. We thought about each item step by step, to make sure that it was configured correctly from the outset. And when we implemented the new system, we cleared the decks of all the old accounts and only took across the subcontractors, suppliers and customers that we knew met our business requirements for quality and reliability.
The implementation went really well: the first month was spent scoping and building; the second focused on testing and data migration, and the third was all about training users and preparing for the go-live.
We trained around 45 users, to get them ready for day one of the new system. They started off with a RedSky session, where they learned the nuts and bolts of Summit. Then we took things a step further by running in-house workshops for individuals and teams, tailored to meet their needs because they were all going to be using different aspects of the system.
There were a few teething problems during the implementation period, as you’d expect, and on reflection, we would have liked to have trained the users sooner and had time to stress-test the system. The implementation is actually a full-time job – we were told this by another RedSky customer. However, we did it on top of our usual work and we were rushed and under a huge amount of pressure to get everything across the line. But the important thing is that everything was ready by day one when we went live.
How are the processes working now and what impact has the system had on your business?
The entire system is what we wanted; it’s exactly what it said on the tin. We know how to use it. We know what it does and doesn’t do, which is fantastic.
It has improved Finance as an actual function because we now have access to better information in real-time. So when we’re doing a report, it’s a whole lot easier. And if we’re informing suppliers or subcontractors, everything’s much more transparent.
So would you say that Summit is speeding things up in the Finance department?
Yes but not only for finance. Day-to-day queries used to really slow us down, but we’ve noticed a lower call volume coming into the department. We’re now sending out documents electronically, including remittances, so we’re giving suppliers the information they need more quickly, which then eliminates the incoming calls. The spare time has allowed the team to revisit older processes to improve, get out to see our projects on-site and start moving forward as financial partners.
The application App is immensely useful as this allows a link to the system to extract figures and text fields, which we knew would be perfect to add on to some of our weekly reports and drive most of our month-end reporting process.
For the rest of the business, we have moved away gradually from our Excel spreadsheets and using the system as a means to enquire for information. Going paperless for invoices and orders works wonders for information rather than a hard folder that you would be restricted to access in the office. Retrieving information is now very simple and straightforward too – a lot of people do take it for granted, but the fact that it’s all there at the push of a button makes everything easy.
Your month-end reporting cycle is certainly a lot quicker than before…
Yes, it used to take eight to nine working days to complete, every month. We used to download a series of reports on the old system and then manually enter all those into different Excel spreadsheet templates and mass reports. That all took ages to complete and check, and we had huge issues with data integrity, because of moving from one manual system to the other. And by the time we’d produced the report, it was already out of date.
The good thing about the new Summit system and Business Analytics is that we can draw information from different databases and automatically pull it all together into one report. It just makes it all a lot quicker, to be honest. We’ve managed to bring our month-end reporting time down to around three days now, which includes some good forecasting that we used to never have time to do.
Online approvals are proving much more efficient too?
The scanning and imaging of documents, and the online approvals, have all helped us immensely. We used to rely on people coming in to physically sign an invoice, but now they can do it electronically, which makes better use of their time and our time. It also improves the flow of information that we can provide to our vendors in terms of when payments will be made because we know exactly what stage our invoices are at.
Are some reports available to all users?
Yes. If anyone wants to see whether a client has paid or not, they can simply access the ‘Payments due’ sales transactions report and see what’s there. They can pick up the image of the invoice, and resend it if needs be. And they can see notes about what’s happened and if someone is already chasing up the payment. It’s giving us a chance to share information, which we didn’t get to do as much before. Also, rather than being a weekly report, it’s live.
I understand that you’ve really enhanced the margins in the maintenance side of your business – how did you do that?
We do interior fit-outs and provide ongoing maintenance if there are any repairs issues that arise. That planned and reactive maintenance falls under ‘Service Management’ – it’s a brand new Summit product to our business, which was needed as our underlying business has doubled in two years. We didn’t anticipate that level of growth and had no system to support it.
Our contract base has increased, so our additional works have also increased on the back of that, which is fantastic. We’re maintaining clients’ equipment to fixed service schedules with additional high-volume, low-value invoices for additional works could be anything from £50 to £50,000. There’s a lot of volumes for us to keep on top of, and we used to miss some of this with the old Excel spreadsheet process.
We found that we were missing opportunities to log manual calls into the business. The process was predominantly owned by one individual, which made it quite difficult: there was only one access point into the system and consequently calls didn’t get logged and were missed. Three months down the line, if we then found that we had a cost that was chargeable to the client, it wasn’t really in our best interests to go back to the client with an expectation for them to pay, so we’d end up having to let it go and lose the sale and associated profit.
But now, under the new system, we have lots of different people who can physically log incoming calls and requests to log that information onto the system. So when we liaise with the client at our monthly meeting, we’re far more aware of what costs we’ve got going through and the assets we have serviced, and we’re no longer relying on any individual’s memory. And actually, it’s enhanced our profitability. In fact, the improved margins in the Maintenance unit alone have paid for the entire RedSky product.
You’ve also been able to tighten up on your contract renewals in this area…
We knew maintenance was a growing area and our biggest questions were: ‘What risks do we have? Which contracts are coming to an end?’ But we could never get the answers. They were literally in someone’s handbag.
For business continuity, it was ridiculous. We should have been going back to these clients, saying: ‘Your contract is due for renewal in the next three months. How are we performing? How can we do things better for you?’ And basically doing all we could to make sure these clients renewed. That’s what we were missing.
Things are different now. We know exactly how many contracts are coming up for expiry, so we can take the appropriate action. For me personally, it’s brilliant because I can now quantify the risk and the value and start asking the project manager probing questions: ‘What have you done for this client, are we meeting the client’s expectations, how far ahead are we with their planned preventative maintenance?’ From a challenge perspective, it really enhances our role.
In terms of the system, we are just talking about one little tile on the dashboard… yet to get all that information together would previously have taken me three to four days, because the information is all held on different spreadsheets in different areas. With Summit it’s all amalgamated on one summary – I can see immediately which jobs we’ve completed, whether we’re quoting more jobs than we’re doing, the debtor situation, which contracts are due for renewal, etc. And for each of those I can drill down to see more data – it is quite intuitive.
How useful are the Summit dashboards and analytics to the overall business?
We used to keep a manual KPI summary, which gave us a snapshot of information at a point in time. But we have been able to use the Summit dashboards to develop a whole suite of reporting. So we now have some high-level summaries (between 9 and 12 metrics) about how the business or a particular department is doing. For example, in Finance we have a summary that measures cash due in and cash due out in addition to items on hold or overdue. So we are able to see at a glance whether the business is growing or contracting.
And there are dashboards for specific teams too. The teams can use them to see if they are on track in terms of their requirements, if they have the right sort of team size and if they have got the right type of opportunities to match our business model.
The dashboards allow us to gauge performance in different areas of the business. That’s helping to inform our decisions. Also, the dashboards flag up what we call ‘profit leakage’, which is where we’re perhaps using an external designer rather than our internal design team. We’re now able to track that and make an informed decision about whether to recruit more people or provide more training, to enhance the team’s skillset.
Your dashboards certainly look very visually appealing…
We try to standardise the information we’ve got by using colours across all sections of the business: debtors are always red, purchase ledger is always light blue and anything contract-related is purple. The Board members find this approach useful. Making those sort of changes to the system is quite easy. Moving forward, we want to have arrows and thumbs up or thumbs down to show what’s running well and what needs attention.
Has Summit improved the contract and report administration side of your business?
Yes. We’ve typically struggled with the contract administration side of the business. So we are now using Summit through adding tags and databases to enhance our visibility regarding whether or not we have a contract or letter of intent for a certain value, and how much of that value have we spent to date. And where the document is saved, of course.
As a business, we’ve moved away from having a spreadsheet report of what people owe us. We have recreated the report in the system – now, at the click of a button, we can see what’s overdue from our clients. We’ve customised the system ourselves so that each user only sees what’s relevant to them.
We’ve applied the same customisation principle to exception reporting too: in Finance, we like things to be in a project order, whereas a director or the CEO wants to see the most overdue item first, and someone looking at it from a cash management perspective wants to see the largest invoice first.
So you’ve pretty much done all that customisation in house?
Yes, we’ve done it ourselves following the introduction with the help of Andrew Glenn and Brian Sawyer at RedSky. We had a day of training, which helped us to get our heads around how the system works. But it has been particularly good since then; it has been quite easy to bat questions off to RedSky as we are customising the system.
RedSky’s updates, roadshows and user events are fantastic because we always pick up something new, whether it’s a new aspect of the system or a new way that another organisation is using it. You can grow the system to be as big as you need it to be – it sounds a bit corny but your only limit is your imagination really.
You’ve had a year to embed Summit within your business… what’s next on the cards?
We’re about to start a series of Summit refresher sessions every couple of months, just to remind people how to make the best use of the system and avoid getting into bad habits.
We’re implementing credit limits into the system and within the next few months are going to be developing our own credit monitoring system for our suppliers and subcontractors. So we’ll be able to highlight immediately if we have risks on certain trades, subcontractors or projects. We want to use that visibility to help us drive the business forward.
We also want to change the way our projects are monitored. At the moment we’ve got a download/upload sequence with the main system from IXCIPIO, which is quite cumbersome. So we’re going to use the system to log all the information and report that in real-time to the project manager, ready for downloading as and when it’s needed.
We’re looking at our workflow slightly differently within the main system, too. We want to extend our workflows so that people are approving items in different stages to what they are now. We’ve grown as a business and we’ve got a lot more budget holders, so we want the system to flex around us.
In summary, why would you recommend RedSky and Summit?
I’d recommend Summit and the Business Analytics module for people needing a system that can grow with the company and adapt to new business risks. It’s easy to add licences for new items, whether this be plant or service management. We are expecting this product to have an even longer life than our legacy system. However, you do need a person or persons in your company who is passionate about understanding the system and can think outside the box to really challenge the Summit product.