Blue Mountain is Ontario's largest mountain resort, located just 90 minutes north of Toronto. The resort is a four-season recreational and conference facility destination. In 2002, with 13 different lines of business, including restaurants, ticketing, call centers and lodging, we needed a comprehensive software package to run traditional budgeting, consolidation, reporting and forecasting as well as performance analysis on revenue trends.

We faced two further complicating factors. With multiple lines of business, the software package we selected had to be able to draw on many different types of applications and data sources. It had to be easy to install and maintain because we only have three IT staffers and could not afford to have any one employee dedicated full-time to maintaining the system.

Our existing system was not robust enough to handle all of the company's data input. In a business that has so many variables - weather, hotel occupancy, season ski packages and holiday events, to name a few - it simply took too long to run the real-time daily reports we needed to shift priorities appropriately. Also, because that system was not automated, it increased the time IT spent waiting for reports from disparate data sources.

After reviewing a number of options, we settled on Applix's performance management solution TM1, a complete application that streamlines the performance management process and includes planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting and analysis. In a controlled rollout, we introduced Applix's software to each line of business, one at a time, based on when each seasonal business opened. In each case, we started by configuring the financial applications based on previous expectations from the old system. If we faced an anomaly between our expectations and the actual numbers, we dug down into the data to reconcile the apparent incongruity. It took approximately one to three weeks to roll out the solution to each line of business.

Our previous budget process relied on a maddening amalgamation of spreadsheets. Often searching for the right data was like mining for coal with an ice pick: it could be done but not without difficulty.  Once the TM1 engine put all of the budgeting information in one place, we gained a clear estimate of what  was spent at each business level, creating a finely sliced view of each department's performance.

Because the performance management engine updates revenues in real time and can slice data in any number of ways, every day, C-level executives at Blue Mountain can compare year-to-date actual sales to projected revenues and previous years' totals. This daily snapshot and compilation of trends allow senior managers to intervene quickly should corrective action be needed in a particular department

The greatest challenge we face with Applix is getting people to realize the potential of this application. Like any resort, personnel staffing is a considerable chunk of Blue Mountain's operating budget. Holding this line item down is critical to the success of the organization. While staffing models are set during the budgeting process, actual levels must be adjusted daily based on the weather, number of presold tickets, hotel arrivals and departures, major conferences taking place at the resort and historic business patterns. Considering these factors, Blue Mountain uses TM1 to determine appropriate staffing levels, which front-line managers must follow. This built-in check means that if staffing levels exceed the prescribed budget constraints, the overage must be cleared with an area director. As a result, at the end of the year, this highly variable and volatile line item tends to map closely to the budgeted targets.

We purchased Applix initially for budgeting and forecasting, but we have been able to configure applications that help people who do not work in our finance department. The real measure of satisfaction is whether we would do business with this company again. In our case, we are putting more skin in the game and upgrading to the latest version of TM1, which will make it even more configurable and user-friendly for people with limited spreadsheet skills, a considerable portion of our staff.

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