The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service and is responsible for the National Severe Weather Warning Service, which aims to give advance warning of extreme weather to the public, businesses, emergency services and Government. The Met Office is one of the world’s leading authorities on weather and climate science, working in the area of climate change for more than two decades. A Trading Fund within the Ministry of Defence, operating on a commercial basis under set targets, the Met Office employs more than 1,800 people around the world and in 2009/10 generated revenues of £192 million. It provides services to the general public, Government, local authorities and businesses of every kind.
The Met Office runs its finance out of one central department based at their head office in Exeter, Devon. Richard Martin, Financial Planning Manager, manages the team that oversees the organisation’s financial systems; the annual budget; and monthly financial forecasts, and has successfully utilised IBM Cognos at the Met Office for over 10 years but the finance department was still running their planning, budgeting and forecasting data collection and analysis via multiple Excel spreadsheets. “The data proved difficult to collect, validate and aggregate as well as time consuming for the team”, says Martin. The team needed a new system to improve collection and consolidation and provide version control and security, allowing more time to review and analyse the budget and forecast information.
“The monthly reforecast is collected from the whole organisation. Individual managers are responsible for their financials so as a finance team we were doing a lot of Excel template collection; trying to get those in and consolidate them” Martin comments. He continues, “It was a very cumbersome procedure so we needed a solution that could streamline the entire collection process; IBM Cognos Contributor was our first choice”.
The Met Office knew that IBM Cognos Contributor would facilitate end users across the entire organisation having access to a complete, linked set of templates specific to their role in the planning process, where they would enter data and evaluate information prior to submission. “Contributor would allow us, the finance team, to monitor the entire planning process and view the status of every participant”, says Martin. The Met Office turned to Logicalis UK Ltd, their IBM Premier Business Partner of choice, for advice and guidance throughout the implementation.
Having attended several interactive courses at the Logicalis training facilities, the finance team were ready to take on the challenge of implementing the software. It was imperative for the Met Office that a very collaborative approach be used throughout the process to ensure a transfer of knowledge to the finance department. “We wanted to be self-reliant using Contributor, Logicalis did everything they could to help us accomplish that”, comments Martin, “Implementation was a very smooth process; we achieved all our goals set out beforehand”.
With IBM Cognos Contributor in place, the Met Office have benefited from several noticeable improvements in their forecasting process across the organisation. “For the Met Office as a whole, one of the main improvements is that managers now have a longer window to think about their financials and get their input right, because of the shorter time it takes Finance to consolidate the data”, says Martin. “It’s easier to incorporate changes to the business, and managers can change numbers based on the information they have. In fact, managers like Contributor so much that we now load the actuals into Contributor so they can see past information as well”.
For the finance team, one of the key benefits has been the efficiency of integrated information collection; this has changed beyond all recognition as Martin explains; “Contributor has really transformed the way we collect information, it’s immediate and we don’t have to rely on waiting for emails, we also have more visibility of the process”. Martin continues; “The speed in which we can now turn the information around and re-present it for review is remarkable; I can’t imagine us ever going back to the way we worked before, it doesn’t bear thinking about”.
The Met Office forecast for the current and next financial year, which then becomes the next draft budget; Martin expounds; “Our budgeting process has been made much easier because we no longer have to start a separate budget collection exercise - we use the information already there along with the information from our ERP system, E-Financials, to become a formal budget. This makes the process much quicker; 3 iterations at most instead of up to 8 previously”.
Martin concludes; “The IBM Cognos applications are very reliable; we haven’t put in a support call to the helpdesk in over 2 years. We’re still using Contributor in much the same way as when we first implemented it so that’s some testimony, both to the product, and the way it was implemented by the Logicalis Business Analytics team”.