CATEGORY: Analytic Applications

REVIEWER: Ken Kraft, CFO of Blethen Maine Newspapers.

BACKGROUND: Blethen Maine Newspapers, a member of the Seattle Times family, is the publisher of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Maine's largest daily newspaper, as well as the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Coastal Journal. In 1995, the Portland papers launched their first Web site, which grew to a full-service Maine news site with a series of specialty sites on business, entertainment, tourism, Casco Bay and other subjects. MaineToday.com is an award-winning site for news, information, entertainment, advertising and community in Maine.

PLATFORMS: Blethen Maine Newspapers runs Advisor Series 8.21 from SRC Software on a Micron Server with a Windows NT 4.0 operating system.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Prior to SRC, Blethen Maine Newspapers was operating a budgeting and reporting model of rekeying information into extensive Excel spreadsheets. This approach had significant security, efficiency and general usability issues. We needed to streamline our processes for a more user-friendly and efficient solution. We wanted a controlled solution that would also have enough flexibility to handle budget levels ranging from the individual employee to expense accounts to total budgets. Also, we hoped to find a system that could be easily cloned for our sister company, Central Maine Newspapers (The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel).

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SRC's Advisor Series is a suite of products that provides enterprise-wide budgeting, financial planning and reporting functions. SRC's product allowed Blethen Maine to immediately streamline our budgeting and reporting processes. The Advisor Series provided us with fully user-definable yet controlled budgets and reports. We are now able to spend less time on "manual" issues such as rekeying data and more time analyzing forecasting data.

STRENGTHS: The Advisor Series' main strength is its combination of an Excel environment with a database back end. Familiarity with Excel is universal at Blethen Maine, so the learning curve was very short for our users. Blethen Maine desired a solution that could be implemented without extensive and confusing training. The look of Blethen Maine's previous budget sheets was brought forward to the Advisor Series, allowing a tremendous level of user friendliness. Combining this user comfort with the raw power of a database back end, we were able to optimize our analytical abilities.

WEAKNESSES: After installation, we decided that we wanted to perform more robust ongoing forecasting than we had anticipated originally, and the system was not initially set up to accommodate this. Fortunately, the product is adaptable, and we are currently making revisions to enable forecasting at the level we desire.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Blethen Maine submitted a standard request for proposal to several industry-leading providers and found that SRC was the front-runner in ability to meet our needs. We were pleased with the overall look of the product, the user friendliness of the Excel environment and the power of a database-driven system. SRC's follow-up during the sales process was excellent.

DELIVERABLES: Blethen Maine utilizes the system for budgeting and performance reporting. We are currently generating various budget- to-actuals reports, as well as monthly financials; and we look forward to taking further advantage of the Advisor Series by eventually moving all financial report needs from the general ledger to customized SRC reports.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We found SRC's pre- and post- implementation support to be exceptional. The transition from sales to implementation to post-implementation support has been smooth and enjoyable.

DOCUMENTATION: SRC's Advisor Series is not a product that is intended to be implemented from documentation alone. Consulting and training are involved in installation to allow the product to be optimized for each individual company. Documentation is intended as reference material and as a secondary means of post-implementation support. We find the documentation complete and easy to understand.

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