Stellar analytics

Like others in its fiercely competitive sector, Constellation Brands has grown to become one of the global giants of the drinks industry through a ferocious thirst for acquisitions. Over a three-decade run, it has added scores of product lines to a portfolio that now includes Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wine and Old Pulteney whisky.

That hugely diversified portfolio – and a variety of customers that range from single pubs to supermarkets – presents a major challenge in terms of financial analysis – and one that is not so well suited to ERP systems.

The company’s UK organisation has been a long-term user of the JD Edwards OneWorld ERP system, owned by Oracle. The problem it encountered was that financial reporting enquires launched using the standard JDE tool executed too slowly, says John Riley, VP of business systems at Constellation Europe. And that encouraged uncontrolled data analysis by frustrated users.

Individuals would pull data from the ERP databases down into their Excel applications using the spreadsheet’s standard ODBC connectivity option. “The perverse thing about people thinking they can get data out in that kind of way was that it was exacerbating the very problem they were trying to address,” says Riley.

Different perspectives

Take the example of inventory valuation. “At a meeting on that subject, supply chain people, finance, sales and others would all argue about who has got the right value of it,” Riley explains. “What you have is so many different ways that people have managed to extract that data.”

And often, none of them were right. “People didn’t use a scheduled extract, they frequently used the wrong table, they frequently don’t have the skills to match one table to another,” says Riley.

The solution for more rigorous financial reporting came in the form of the Really Real-Time Enquiry Suite from The GL Company, a specialist in accounting BI. The first issue that it addressed was enabling users to get data out of the system in a timely manner. “An account enquiry that was previously taking 20 minutes now takes sub-one minute,” says Riley.

But there were further benefits. Constellation has two main businesses – Constellation Brands Europe, supplying supermarkets and cash-and-carry outlets, and Matthew Clark, supplying pubs, clubs and restaurants. Both use a single instance of the JDE system. In the second implementation of the GL tool – at Matthew Clark – all of the unit’s financial reports were constructed using the toolset. “The additional benefit was a very rapid development time: we built 24 reports in three days.”

As the reports all pointed directly at the ERP database, users were prevented from making extracts of their own and presenting those in Excel. Encouraged by that, Constellation has expanded the toolset’s use beyond the general ledger, to target the analysis of stock, sales orders and procurement data for users in supply chain, customer service and elsewhere.

But the overriding aim is better control. “This is the way users are going to access their information, with all the table joins ready for them,” says Riley.

Does this mean an end to spreadsheet analytics? “It’s a gradual thing. For certain people, you are stripping away their individual power,” says Riley. “But without exception, everyone who has used the new system has seen the value of it.”

David Cliff

David Cliff is managing director of Houghton le Spring-based Gedanken, a company specialising in coaching-based support and personal development. Cliff is an experienced trainer, manager and therapist,...

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