Right on the money

For investment banks, financial transactions are more than just the monetary accompaniment to trade: they are the very substance of doing business. In investment banks, therefore, accountants lie right at the heart of operations.

But even in organisations with highly sophisticated technology systems, accountants do not always have the up-to-the-minute, highly granular view of transactional data needed to supervise the operational flow of monies.

It was this exact problem that led the UK division of South African investment bank Investec to opt for the GL Enquiry product from The GL Company. Investec was already a sophisticated user of more traditional business intelligence (BI) software. It uses OLAP-based reporting tools from Hyperion, the BI vendor acquired by software giant Oracle in 2007, for its many and varied reporting requirements.

Being subject to multiple regulatory requirements, the multi-dimensional nature of OLAP reporting is invaluable – it allows accountants to present what is essentially the same information but in many different ways.

But because the database on which the bank’s ERP application – a single, global instance of JD Edwards (also now owned by Oracle) – executes is not multi-dimensional, this OLAP-based reporting requires moving transactional data into a data warehouse or staging database.

That means that, at any given point, the data in the OLAP database is not up to date. This is no disaster when conducting monthly reports, but is insufficient when accountants need to fulfil their more operational role.

“We leverage multi-dimensionality for regulatory reporting, financial reporting and managerial reporting, so it certainly has its purpose for us,” explains Tim Stannard, financial accounting systems manager at Investec. “But because it is staged data, it has a certain lag.”

“In a bank, you are dealing with reconciliation and structured transactions,” says Stannard. “That means you need data rapidly.” What’s more, the OLAP-based Hyperion system does not record data at a transactional level.

Filling a need

Unfortunately for Investec, the native reporting capabilities of its JD Edwards application were insufficiently sophisticated for its requirements. Instead, Investec adopted GL Enquiry. This applies reporting functionality directly to the application database that sits underneath JD Edwards.

Its main benefit for Investec, says Stannard, was immediacy of data access: “Accountants appreciates that immediacy. It means they don’t have to wait for the staged data to update before they can be sure a transaction has been reconciled.

“GL Enquiry is very intuitive,” Stannard adds. “The accountants only needed very light-touch training to get up and running, whereas an OLAP tool can take a long time to get the hang of.”

Of course, the fact that Investec is able to use the tool so effectively results from the fact that the company has undergone a process of IT rationalisation. The global organisation operates

on a single instance of a JD Edwards application – which happens to run on servers located in South Africa. As a result, the GL Enquiry tool can easily access all the necessary data. Were it spread across multiple application databases, it would still be possible to use GL Enquiry but, says Stannard, its application would be “more complicated”.

Many business intelligence vendors will argue that in order to achieve up-to-the-minute data and the ability to drill down to transactional data, businesses must invest in more traditional BI that runs faster and stores more information. But, as Investec’s example demonstrates, there can be another way. By accessing the native application data, GL Enquiry removed lag and improved the granularity of Investec’s financial reporting practice.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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