Santos drills spreadsheets for BI

Billions bet on spreadsheets

Australia's largest domestic gas producer, Santos Limited, has replaced some 80 disparate spreadsheets with a central business intelligence application for financial analysis and business planning.

With some 80 analysts creating their own reports with spreadsheets which were being saved around the company's network, Santos looked at consolidating the creation of information into a central repository.

Over the past three years, Santos has implemented two suites of tools from vendor Business Objects and, according to financial services manager Craig Metters the result has been a significant improvement in collaboration between the company's financial community and the end users of financial information.

"We've done some comparisons and the application is used by all analysts, not just financial people, and has saved 10 working days for each analyst," Metters said. "This means analysts spend less time inputting information into Excel and more time analyzing."

Santos has achieved an ROI of 230 percent in the first year of moving to enterprise business intelligence, which still enables analysts to use Excel as a front end, but the data is centralized in a database.

Santos now does most of its financial reporting with Business Objects' Xcelsius, and the reaction from the executive team has so far been positive.

"The executive team said this is a revolution in financial reporting at Santos," Metters said, adding the project was successful because the right tools were deployed to solve real problems.

"And we have put it in the right way. How? It involved people and change and was not about plonking in a new technology and saying 'use it because you should', we had open sessions every Friday so people could get involved."

Santos is not looking to expand the use of the BI product suite.

"To me it's about getting a quick ROI [and] a quick return will come from efficiency of processes," Metters said. "People have much more insight into the Santos information which has always been there."

Santos also purchased new planning software in February and finished deploying it in June. As a result, it completed its entire 2008 planning cycle over the past four months.

Metters said IT implemented the planning software and allowed it to be accessible to his team of two finance analysts.

"IT really allowed the product to work - it was a simple thing and their involvement was quite small," he said. "We are fortunate at Santos the head of IT is my peer and we report to the same person, so it's a nice combination."

To decide on an appropriate tool, Metters looked at the functionality and the IT team looked at the technology fit and what was required to run it.

Santos is not an SAP customer and Metters believes the acquisition of Business Objects by SAP won't have any impact on how it uses the BI tools.

Business Objects' managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Rob Wells, said the relationship with Santos was a low-cost entry with one copy of Crystal Xcelsius and it was used to re-engineer the way all financial reporting was done.

Wells also awarded Santos Business Objects' annual customer excellence award.

"We look for the best example of a customer with tangible, quantifiable results with BO technology," he said.

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