British Library Turns the Page on Reporting with Excel-based Solution
As the national library of the United Kingdom, The British Library is the world’s largest by number of items catalogued. Boasting more than 1.6 million visitors yearly, the Library places great emphasis on technological changes, according to Stewart Starr, Management Accounts Assistant for the Library, and has devised a future strategy that focuses on key trends and opportunities that will arise over the next decade.
Despite a solid future strategy, the Library felt it was falling behind in its process for creating financial reports. An Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) user since the 1990s, starting with version 11.5.10, the finance department depended on Oracle Business Intelligence Discoverer for downloads from the Oracle EBS General Ledger (GL) to Microsoft Excel for report creation and data manipulation. After years with this cumbersome reporting scenario, the Library found itself in a position to rethink the process.
“While this solution worked, it was relatively inflexible and time consuming,” said Starr. “When the finance department was restructured, we took the opportunity to search for the right reporting tool that would work with Oracle EBS.”
Wanted (and Found): Fast, Flexible Reporting
Starr notes that one of the first things the finance department requested during the restructuring phase was a reporting solution that allowed greater flexibility. While enquiring about potential replacement tools, the Library encountered GL Wand from Excel4apps, an Excel-based financial reporting tool that supports real-time, interactive access to live Oracle data.
“The nature of our business is such that we need to be flexible,” said Starr. “Excel-based reporting allows us to operate as we need, rather than being forced to fit into a specific reporting structure.”
Starr finds Excel-based reporting not only more agile, but faster as well. In the past, creating individual reports could easily take several hours ― even a day or two ―to complete.
“Creating the same report now takes maybe five minutes,” described Starr. “This means huge time savings and massively improves staff productivity.”
More critically, because reports are completed faster, greater accuracy is assured, because there is now time available to analyze the report and make adjustments to the data if required. “In the end, I would say GL Wand probably saves us around a day and a half at each month end,” Starr noted.
Among other functions, Excel-based reporting is used for creating I&E reports at a divisional and full library level, project reporting, overhead calculations, budget monitoring at responsibility center level and monitoring commercial activities with P&L reports.
Triumph over Timing
Starr indicates that although the Excel-based financial planning tool itself was easy to use and equally easy to implement, the Library did face one challenge at the start: bad timing.
“The original implementation took place during our year-end, which was quite tricky,” Starr described. “Fortunately, it is an easy tool to implement, so the challenge was relatively minor. Also, it took our people time when they initially began crafting reports, but they quickly got used to it and grasped its simplicity.”
GL Wand’s ease of use is ultimately rooted in its Excel interface, meaning extensive training wasn’t necessary.
“Our financial people are able to easily and comfortably use it ― anyone with reasonable Excel skills is able to pick it up just like that,” noted Starr. “We also use it for a multitude of other functions such as validation to ensure data we download from Oracle is accurate.”
Customer Input Continuously Refines Product
Timely support from Excel4apps has been a bonus for the Library, although it is rare to take advantage of it due to the product’s stability.
“If they log a call, our people get a response straight away ― unlike many solutions providers that can take hours or even days to get back,” Starr described. “Also, I recently had a response from one of the owners. When you get this kind of service, it builds your confidence in the solution, because it demonstrates how hands on the Excel4apps people are.”
Since implementing Excel-based reporting, the Library has undergone several product upgrades making it “progressively easier to use,” said Starr. “For me, this demonstrates that Excel4apps listens to clients like us and learns from our inputs.”
This open door policy with continuous product refinement has been an unexpected bonus in helping The British Library turn the page on its reporting processes.
“Excel4apps takes into account client wishes and needs when they add new functionality,” said Starr. “There are few solutions providers that are this in touch with their customers, which is just another reason why we are glad we chose the GL Wand tool.”