Robbie Phillips is no stranger to massive Excel spreadsheets. After 15 years in finance with some of America’s most successful companies, you could almost say Excel is like a second language for her.
But like all seasoned finance pros, Robbie knows how tough it is to rely solely on offline spreadsheets for business planning. As Director of FP&A at FirstService Residential—one of the largest property management firms in North America—Robbie is in charge of consolidating data from the company’s 30 regional markets for accurate budgeting and forecasting.
Prior to launching Vena, this process was entirely manual. Robbie and her colleagues would spend all of their time gathering data from each market and re-inputting it back into Excel—with no time left to actually analyze what those numbers might mean for the business.
“For budgeting and forecasting in particular, that was thousands of Excel documents, thousands of workbooks, each workbook having multiple tabs, in excess of 30 tabs in some cases,” says Robbie. “The task of coordinating and consolidating was a very big one.”
Before implementing Vena in the summer of 2016, FirstService had looked at three other planning tools without pulling the trigger on any of them. But when Vena came to the table, Robbie was immediately drawn to the platform’s usability and minimal learning requirements.
“The biggest factor was ease-of-use because Vena is Excel-based,” she says. “If you’re working in finance or FP&A, you’re already an advanced Excel user, so that was really important to us.”
Vena automated data consolidation for FirstService's regional finance teams and provided each market with a central database for FP&A. Other key deliverables from Vena—on top of cleaning up all those messy offline spreadsheets—were workflow automation and audit trails.
Once the solution was live in every market, it didn’t take long for Robbie to realize that her manual spreadsheet woes would soon be a thing of the past.
The results? Hours of time saved, greater transparency across the business and an elevated role for the office of finance and accounting. Today, instead of spending hours consolidating data manually, Robbie can update the budget and reforecast on demand so leadership is always empowered with the data they need for decision making.
“One of the things that we do in the corporate office is consolidate for all of the markets, all of the regions, all of the divisions. It’s down from maybe a day and a half to an hour,” she says. “Now the teams have more time to do more of the analytical work, which is what we’re there for.”
A personal win for Robbie is the ability to ensure that each regional market is accountable for their budgeted numbers—and also to better understand how each market is affecting the bottom line. With Vena, she’s now able to drill down into each market, analyze their KPIs and come up her own conclusions based on the story the numbers are telling her.
“It allows me to answer questions and to also challenge some of the assumptions that the markets may have,” she explains. “Now I can go back to senior management and have them feel that the final budget is not only accurate, but representative of each market as well.”