REVIEWER: Richard Munyan, first vice president of the financial planning department for Bank Leumi USA.
BACKGROUND: Bank Leumi USA is a full-service commercial bank and the largest subsidiary of the $53 billion Leumi Group, Israel's leading financial services firm. Leumi Group serves clients through 300 locations in 20 countries. Bank Leumi USA is headquartered in New York City with offices in Beverly Hills, San Jose, Encino and Chicago. The U.S. operation focuses on commercial lending to middle-market and high-technology companies, international finance, not-for-profit organizations and high net worth individuals in the United States and Latin America.
PLATFORMS: OutlookSoft products run on a dedicated Compaq Proliant ML370 server with dual Pentium III processors and 512 megabytes of RAM. The operating system is Windows 2000 Advanced Server with SQL Server 2000. Most clients run on Windows 95 and access the server exclusively through a Novell-based wide-area network.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Bank Leumi USA's mainframe-based general ledger system lacked effective reporting tools and only provided a single GAAP-based view of accounting rather than multiple views required for managerial and regulatory reporting. In addition, our spreadsheet-based budget and performance reporting process was not flexible enough to respond to the ever-changing needs of planning and business unit assessment. We leased OutlookSoft Enterprise Analytic Portal (EAP) and the OutlookSoft Financial Planning and Analysis (FPA) application module to facilitate financial reporting and budget development. OutlookSoft FPA allows us to maintain multiple budget and forecast versions, easily rearrange the organization and chart of accounts, send and receive data directly through Microsoft Excel and quickly design reports.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The Web-enabled Excel function of OutlookSoft EAP is the perfect reporting tool for us. We use OutlookSoft EAP with FPA for monthly performance reporting of our 60 business units. For example, we load actual general ledger and complementary statistical data each period to match against the budget. We primarily use Excel spreadsheets driven by the "Book" publishing feature of OutlookSoft FPA for reporting. Our plans include daily updates, expanded external financial and regulatory reporting, and greater use of product functions such as collaboration, data drill through and expansion.
STRENGTHS: Web-enabled Excel reporting is extremely easy. We can rearrange the hierarchy of reporting to get management and legal views of the data without extensive chart of accounts redesign. Submission of data from spreadsheets is also very effective we get only the data elements we want from designated offices across our network. The OutlookSoft system is easy to administer and use, and security is very strong.
WEAKNESSES: Data access in Web-enabled Excel can be slow; mid-sized models can take three to five minutes to load on a Pentium II 350MHz Win95 client. Report delivery via the browser has also presented challenges. Only small, carefully formatted spreadsheets look good when converted to HTML, and reports that work well for normal Excel printing often need to be rewritten for effective Web delivery.
SELECTION CRITERIA: The Web-enabled Excel-to-database marriage is the number one feature of the OutlookSoft system because it replaces a cumbersome process of multiple downloads, re-keying, redundant data, associated proofing and maintenance of numerous Access tables and queries. We considered other products, but OutlookSoft EAP, coupled with the FPA application, was a clear winner based on cost and functionality.
DELIVERABLES: We have created and delivered budgeting templates using OutlookSoft FPA. Managers use the templates to submit plan information and prepare reports for management review and approval. Our reports compare actual results to budget and prior periods at various consolidation levels.
VENDOR SUPPORT: OutlookSoft's consultants were proficient in many aspects of the operating system and networking. They were also very effective in helping us design our processes and had extensive knowledge of the products and their capabilities. We faced some obstacles during our initial installation, probably due to environmental conflicts with NT 4.0, Novell and our LAN configuration. The OutlookSoft team did what it took to ensure a successful project. We received assistance from the help desk, product support and development, and management.
DOCUMENTATION: The Internet-based live training is very helpful to get started. The "Help" materials and searchable online support center are also very useful.
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