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By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 01-29-2007 Print

Putting in a BPM system is akin to changing a culture. The days of hiding behind inaccurate budgets or forecasts are over.

National homebuilder and designer Kimball Hill Inc., with over $1 billion in 2005 revenues, faced many typical challenges with its budgeting-and-planning processes. Director of Financial Planning Anabel Lopez says her group previously spent up to four weeks preparing Excel spreadsheets for the division heads, controllers and others with budgeting responsibility, which were dispersed among the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based company's 14 divisions. The spreadsheets were slow and cumbersome, taking up to 20 minutes just to load, she says, so "end users didn't want to use them." Users often overwrote formulas, or used accounts not approved in the corporate chart of accounts. The finance team would then be forced to spend up to three weeks reconciling, aggregating and uploading all that data into the ERP system, with extensive hands-on support from the IT group. Says Lopez: "We had a lot of disconnects between Excel and ERP. My team had to figure out, line by line, where the problems were." Strategically monitoring business performance was out of the question; Kimball Hill could barely monitor its own budget.

In 2005 the company moved to a Web-based, automated BPM system from Cognos, phasing in its new budgeting-and-planning system over nine months. During the transition, the biggest challenge was ensuring end-user support and comfort with the proposed changes, beginning with company controllers and then with divisional accountants, regional presidents and other users.

Initially, Kimball Hill's finance group focused on replacing a single Excel spreadsheet, and gradually unfolded additional features. "Change isn't easy for people to handle," says Lopez." We introduced a little at a time, gradually increasing the data involved, and providing training. Through a process of slow and deliberate training, we made sure people were comfortable at each step before introducing the next one," she says.

Though employees may resist at first, the changes that BPM bring can be very healthy for your business. Janis O'Bryan, CIO and senior vice president of IT at Dallas-based Hudson Advisors, which manages roughly $31 billion in real estate assets, says the move to more streamlined planning has produced a change in culture across the company, including in her own IT department. "IT people now feel more empowered and responsible for the purchases they request. They have more information and can see for themselves if their requests are accounted for in the budget." But O'Bryan concedes that process changes weren't always made democratically. "The corporate controller determined what was required to meet business needs. Regions didn't have input into what data was needed—yet they were key to understanding things like the usability of entering data and the efficiency of workflow processes," she says.

At Princess Cruises, Bozigian believes that strong support from both the president and senior financial executive was critically important to successfully implementing the new budgeting-and-planning systems. He readily admits that "putting in a system can easily be compared to changing a culture. People don't like change." But, he adds, "the days of hiding behind that plan or forecast are over. A lot of excuses have been removed, and everyone has to perform and optimize."

Ask your head of corporate training:

What steps can we take to ensure our employees support our move to a performance-based culture, and embrace the tools they need to use to make it happen?

Ask your I.T. vendor:

What training best practices have you observed within companies implementing BPM systems?


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