In an expanding business, cash visibility across multiple companies and countries was a real challenge for Kieron Kavanagh, CFO, Milner Browne and Enterpryze. He talks TMI through his journey with vendor Agicap to “expose the daily workings of the business”.
Milner Browne is a long-established SAP Gold partner operating out of Dublin and the UK. It incorporates a software development wing, building specialised add-ons for SAP users across a broad range of verticals. The business is a software and services provider, and one that has seen strong organic growth. But the business has expanded into new areas in recent years, says Kavanagh. With the rise of cloud computing, he explains that a separate entity, Enterpryze, was created to deliver and support “the world’s first truly mobile seamless cloud-based add-on for SAP Business One” and a stand-alone Business Management Platform (BMP).
As well as a solution for dedicated SAP users, the Enterpryze offering is intended to give lower-cost accessibility for light-touch users where full SAP cannot provide key functions or access is not available in the field. Indeed, with its live mobile feeds and notifications across a purposefully limited range of SAP ERP parameters, Kavanagh believes that it could be useful for a wide spectrum of users, including treasurers and other finance professionals. And with this light footprint in mind, he adds that Enterpryze has its own proprietary business engine that underpins its own-brand cloud-based BMP.
Currently, all Enterpryze activities are managed through offices in Ireland, Singapore, the US, Malaysia and Colombia, with support offered to clients in 32 countries. The nature of the business proposition, with its ease of delivery, is such that growth for both sales and geographic reach has multiplied “exponentially”, notes Kavanagh. However, he acknowledges that with rapid expansion, certain issues were mounting.
Not least of these was the finance function’s dwindling ability to monitor cash flow across the firm’s ever-widening commercial reach. The lack of immediate and accurate data was impacting on its capacity to optimise financial decision-making. More importantly, as a growing business, Enterpryze was calling upon cash to sustain its progress. This meant it had to be funded by effectively running it as one entity with the established Milner Browne.
The root of the issues was clear. “For a cash collection report, it meant downloading the debtors ledgers from eight different sources into one spreadsheet, creating a snapshot, and then trying to decide which would be paid and when,” recalls Kavanagh. The risk being taken with this approach was that this increasingly complex set of spreadsheets was created by and under the control of just one or two people. “No one else had access to the details,” he says.
Aside from the problems that would arise if these people were for any reason absent, simply getting answers to questions on the debtor side meant locating the individuals, requesting that they open the spreadsheet, find and copy the relevant data before producing a report, which hopefully provided the answer first time.
Likewise on the payment side, other than those transactions that were known to go out every month (such as direct debits and standard credit repayments), much of the information was to all intents and purposes “hidden away”, admits Kavanagh.
What’s more, with updated cash flow forecasts being created in Excel, it was taking up to 40 hours every week just to monitor and manage the funding commitments of the eight companies in the group through their dozen or so different bank accounts. As Kavanagh states: “It was a hugely cumbersome process to try to maintain control of our cash”.
The finance team had come to the conclusion that it was “now an extremely difficult job to try to manage our cash on a more regular basis, and to eliminate any unpleasant surprises”, admits Kavanagh. Handed the details of cash flow management software vendor Agicap by Milner Browne’s CEO, he saw a potential solution to the firms difficulties. A product demonstration followed very soon after. “I didn’t fully get it straight off, but after a few sessions with Agicap I began to understand what the platform could do for us.”
When a new multi-function system is scheduled for implementation, customers are often faced with a vast and somewhat daunting feature set, which naturally leads to a steep learning curve. This is certainly something Enterpryze’s own BMP customers (and those of other core system vendors) often wake up to, and so it was with Agicap, reports Kavanagh.
Indeed, with the vendor offering such a wide range of functionality, he admits that his team, several months on, is still getting to grips with all that it can do. “There are elements that we have still to build out, so the full benefits of credit control modules such as automated dunning letters, which are just coming on stream, are still being discovered.”
Of course, to be able to see what Agicap could do on a day-to-day basis, the first step for Enterpryze was to get the platform operational. As part of that process, everyone in Enterpryze understood, as an SaaS business, what it meant for Agicap at a technical level to establish a bank feed, for example. “But what we didn’t consider was how difficult the concept of change can be, especially when legacy processes are so embedded. We needed a complete shift in our mindset to fully understand and get the most from Agicap.”
With all transactions feeding into Agicap – blending bank, incoming revenue and supplier payment data – the legacy processes of Enterpryze had first to be transformed to be able to leverage the new system, says Kavanagh. “We had to change the fundamentals of our entire credit control and cash management approach in order to feed Agicap rather than feed spreadsheets.”
On the supplier side, the team had to revise how it managed its creditors. As an example, a simple concept that had not been leveraged in its old systems was the invoice due date. These are a key element of effective credit control and supplier payments management. However, Kavanagh explains, “it was not feasible to have a spreadsheet with 30 days in columns; it just becomes unmanageable”. Instead, invoices were being raised and then chased at due date, with no provision for oversight or adjustment.
Although Agicap was now providing this key data, by sheer force of habit it had become “just a field on the screen that was ignored”. Resistance to change had to be overcome, and the old mindset altered, he admits. “It’s something every business implementing a new IT system has to go through, including our own customers, and now we understand what it is to change, and that it requires patience.”
By taking it step by step, and changing small elements of the process, now when the field for supplier due for payments is opened, the team has an enhanced global view of cash flow through a single screen of live data. That single view now means that where there are invoice queries, for example, they can easily be moved into the next month rather than being chased unnecessarily. As Kavanagh notes: “it’s made a huge difference to us and to our customers”.
Access to a single pool of live data also enables Kavanagh and the team to build a range of cash-based what-if scenarios. As a case in point, he says Milner Browne often has big-ticket implementation projects. Being able to explore the cash flow impact of payment delays within these projects provides valuable insight when plotting the best course of action up- and downstream.
An additional but nonetheless important advantage facilitated by Agicap is that it enables all data to be instantly accessible for everyone with appropriate access. In fact, the provision of self-service on the platform has completely bypassed the previous convoluted and time-consuming method of requesting and waiting for reports.
Together, Milner Browne and Enterpryze possess a great depth of experience in the IT systems world. But Kavanagh is not complacent about the group’s products or position in the market. Indeed, the project with Agicap delivered “a few lessons”, which it now applies to its own business approach.
“There was a weekly meeting organised by Agicap. At the end of each meeting we were sent an action list for both parties to complete before the next meeting. We also received an agenda before each meeting,” he explains. “They really helped us through the process. As new users we occasionally fall foul of our own ignorance but Agicap were very responsive to our needs.”
The level of responsiveness is a mark of a good partner when it comes to tackling issues too. Milner Browne has sold software for more than 20 years and knows that bugs will emerge from time to time and that they have to be tackled quickly; the same realism and understanding applies to Enterpryze’s systems. So when a bug afflicted Agicap – a recent break in the bank feed – it was not seen as a failure but as an opportunity for the vendor to demonstrate its level of commitment. Kavanagh expresses “full satisfaction” with the firm’s reaction in this respect.
One notable Agicap intervention concerned Kavanagh’s future (i.e. not operational) cash flow forecasts. These are derived from budgeted P&Ls and give him a three-year plan, with figures rolled forward every month. It was found that building the budget, and enabling it to feed the forecast, was not possible in Agicap as a direct capability. Initially, data had to be manually keyed in from Excel.
Following discussion between the two parties, a workaround has been built. “The cash flow forecast is as result of your budgeted revenue and supplier costs forecast. That was not in the system but Agicap built me a workaround that enables me to key figures into a template and upload it,” explains Kavanagh. He is anticipating a permanent solution which he believes would “mark a major development” for users such as Milner Browne and Enterpryze.
Agicap is lauded by Kavanagh at a general operational level too. He feels it has “exposed the daily workings of the business”, an outcome he describes as “a real positive”. Indeed, he continues: “It means there are no longer any mysteries behind what’s happening with our cash flows. We know what’s in every account, and what the overall fund is, because Agicap brings all our transactions together.”
To achieve this, the Agicap platform enables a single view across all debtors’ ledgers, all cash management and the cash flow itself, and across all supplier payments. “In practice, when dealing with day-to-day finances, we’re now looking at a live screen, across eight companies and a dozen bank accounts globally, seeing them as a single business, and making sure there are no surprises lurking anywhere,” enthuses Kavanagh. “I know how much money we have today, regardless of which bank account. I can see how much we need to pay out, and how much we expect to collect this month. And I can forecast for both at any time, and feed that into my global annual budget.”
The unifying nature of the platform appeals to other functions too, he continues. “There was a time when credit control and payments lived in their separate systems, and never the twain shall meet. Now they’re together in Agicap, and because they can now see both sides, it has made each more flexible.”
The platform also means Enterpryze’s bank accounts can be managed with near real-time accuracy and efficiency to ensure every entity within the business is well serviced. As an example, its Malaysia development office is a cost centre that needs regular funding for salaries and expenses. With a single live view of the entire cash position presented in Agicap, it’s now “very easy” to judge the timing of cash transfers to this location, or anywhere else in the world, and keep all bank accounts funded at their optimal levels rather than holding potentially costly cash buffers.
With the credit control elements in place and the team building towards their full use, the next steps will see Enterpryze’s further roll-out of Agicap’s dashboards. The main view is live on screen all the time, giving an at-a-glance reading, for example, of due payments and collections and cash positions. It’s a screen that can be accessed by anyone authorised to do so but is currently operationally focused. Dashboards will soon be tailored for other reporting scenarios, at board-level for instance.
With the system now in production, albeit with a number of functions yet to be enabled, Kavanagh states that “Agicap is part of our working lives now”. To those looking to take a similar path, he offers words of encouragement and advice. “Everything we do has changed. It is not just about getting a nice image on a screen; it involves changing the way you do things, as you would when implementing an ERP system. But there are many more changes than you may first think, and you have to take your time and be patient when doing it.”
The bottom line is that Agicap has given Kavanagh and his team what was needed to help the business grow. “Exposing the running of the business to senior management and the boardroom has been a big bonus for us,” he comments. “We could have continued to have challenging conversations around beautiful but out-of-date graphics, but we have chosen to present real-time facts on a 12-month rolling cash forecast, with Agicap in the background live feeding it data. For any business that moves beyond having two companies, something like Agicap is so valuable.”