With 16 subsidiaries and over 1,000 cost centers to manage, Laura Ashley must be able to monitor performance across its channels effectively to make informed financial and management decisions.
Laura Ashley worked with IBM to upgrade to IBM Planning Analytics and IBM Cognos? Controller, enabling rapid financial consolidations for both management and statutory reporting.
85%reduction in time taken to consolidate a year’s data—from half a day to 30 minutes
Saveshours on monthly reporting tasks by minimizing the need for manual data entry
Simplifiesaccounting for international subsidiaries with automatic currency conversions
Business challenge story
Managing business performance
Laura Ashley is an international lifestyle brand, with 16 subsidiaries and 163 retail outlets in the UK, Ireland, and France, as well as online and mail-order sales channels, manufacturing facilities, and a licensing business.
In practical terms, the company’s operational structure—which includes more than 1,000 cost centers across the various legal entities—means that data must pass through a complex financial consolidation process before company management can make informed decisions at group level.
Seán Anglim, CFO of Laura Ashley, comments: “It’s important that we get detailed and up-to-date information on financial performance across all our channels, so that we can monitor our profitability and align our strategy to take advantage of emerging opportunities.”
Darryl Fernandes, Group Finance Manager at Laura Ashley continues: “Our existing financial consolidation platform had been a mainstay of our business for many years, but it ran on a platform that was reaching end-of-life. We knew we would have to update our software to mitigate the risk of running such a business-critical system on an unsupported operating system.”
The need to upgrade also presented opportunities to accelerate and streamline the consolidation process.
“It was taking the old system half a day to consolidate a year’s worth of data,” says Darryl Fernandes. “That obviously represents an inefficiency, when our accountants could be focusing on more valuable tasks. We knew there had to be a better solution.”
A seamless transition
Laura Ashley decided to work with IBM to implement a new financial performance management platform built around IBM Planning Analytics and IBM Cognos? Controller. The finance team loads data from spreadsheets into the Planning Analytics database, which automatically feeds it into Cognos Controller to perform the consolidation process, and updates the results in the company’s JD Edwards ERP system.
Unlike many companies, which only run their financial consolidations on subsidiary-level data, Laura Ashley decided to go one level deeper, and import its data at the cost center level. This makes the consolidation much more complex and demanding, but it also delivers important benefits.
“The approach we’ve taken means that the IBM solution doesn’t just give us the breakdown by legal entities—it also gives us a much more detailed picture of the management structure of the business,” says Seán Anglim. “That means we can use it as a source for both statutory and management reporting, and get a real insight into how each of our channels is performing.”
During the project, Laura Ashley was impressed by the quality of customer support offered by IBM in making the transition to the new solution.
“The IBM team were fantastic,” says Seán Anglim. “Whenever we hit a challenge during the implementation, they helped us overcome it. We also appreciated their flexibility in being willing to work either on-site or remotely to fit in with our schedule.”
Darryl Fernandes adds: “The continuity and knowledge transfer that the IBM team provided meant that the whole process was smoother than we had anticipated, and we now have a very stable solution that we can manage for ourselves.”
With the solution in place, Laura Ashley can consolidate financial data from cost centers throughout its business much faster than before.
“With Planning Analytics, we’ve seen significant savings in the time taken to consolidate data,” says Darryl Fernandes. “Loading a year’s worth of data into the old system took half a day; now we can do it in just half an hour, which amounts to a more than 85 percent time saving. Instead of waiting for the system to calculate results, we can get on with analyzing the data and making decisions.”
Several new modules and templates in Cognos Controller also help to make monthly accounting processes easier for the finance team.
Darryl Fernandes gives an example: “The journaling module has come in very useful. Instead of having to rekey journal data into the system, I can just upload a spreadsheet template. It probably saves about an hour of work at every month-end. We’re likely to see similar savings with other monthly processes like uploading currency information and fixed assets—so all in all, IBM Cognos Controller makes life substantially easier for the finance team during the busiest days in our calendar.”
Laura Ashley’s finance team is satisfied with the solution, and is considering the potential for expanding its use further in the future.
“We think Planning Analytics has some interesting possibilities for business planning,” concludes Seán Anglim. “Now that our consolidation processes run faster and require less manual effort, we’re freeing up time for our finance team to focus on finding new ways to add value to the business.”
About Laura Ashley
Laura Ashley is a lifestyle brand with operations in the textile, fashion, furniture and hospitality industries. Established in 1953 and listed on the London Stock Exchange since 1985, the company enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s best-loved fashion and home furnishings companies. It currently owns more than 160 retail outlets in the UK, Ireland and France, and achieved total sales of GBP 277 million in 2017.
- Cognos: FPM: Controller
- Planning Analytics
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