Colonial Properties Trust, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, is a multifamily real estate investment trust (REIT) that owns and manages commercial, retail and residential assets in key sunbelt states from Virginia to Nevada. We were using several dozen Excel spreadsheets as part of our menagerie of tools for creating financial reports. With data scattered in multiple, disparate sources, the companys financial team had a difficult time gathering data to assemble financial reports. Everything was done manually, making reporting laborious and potentially error-prone. Although the vanilla ice cream reports such as the balance and income sheets could be done easily with the setup we had, as we grew larger reporting became much more difficult when we needed more detail behind the numbers in the reports. Eventually, our number of active properties increased to the point where producing reports by property became daunting. Debt schedules, weighted average shares outstanding and dividend payments, as well as property-related data such as original purchase price, all existed in individual files that were not accessible to the reporting team that needed to use that information. It was becoming painfully apparent that we needed a better tool that would enable us to report and analyze our financial reports in a timelier manner. After evaluating several vendors, we selected Revelwood, a provider of business performance management solutions, to design and implement a driver-based budgeting, planning and reporting system on the IBM Cognos TM1 platform a multidimensional OLAP database known for its data gathering and integration capabilities. The system provided a centralized repository for users to input information, such as debt schedules, equity information and property purchase price data that can be immediately shared to create forecasts and reports. The system also provided for time-based groupings of property to automatically produce SEC and monthly reports. The Revelwood Report Manager, a proprietary software, allowed us to develop rich, dynamic reports and data entry templates without requiring extensive customization and VBA coding. The secret was to find an implementer who could be relied on not just to give us what we wanted, but to be able to figure out what we really needed as a REIT. Sometimes, it is necessary to depend on the business process management solutions provider to be sufficiently adept at picking up on your business and unique requirements because they are far more familiar with the technology. I compare TM1 to a supersized pivot table on steroids that can grab massive amounts of information and allow users to very quickly summarize, categorize and manipulate the data in different ways. Yet, its the Revelwood Report Manager that has allowed the package to work effectively for us. In our business, we seem to be constantly adding new entities. We buy three additional apartment complexes this month and sell off three models the next, or we may have two new shopping centers that are going from a development to a lease up stage, so the makeup of what we have to report on is constantly changing. We can do that in Excel, but every time we made a change we had to go in and manually insert new rows or delete items from particular groupings, and its very easy to make mistakes. But with the Revelwood Report Manager, we set up various property groups and it automatically does all that shifting for us. Ive got 26 different income statements I have to run on different groupings of our assets, and I can set a loop, where all I have to do is change the budget format that I want to use and set up what the current period is, and in 20 minutes all the reports are in. Not only will it run them, but I can set up a dynamic path for each so that it will send the printed file to a particular folder on our hard drive and group all of the income statements in predefined folders in order to generate a book for meetings. This allows me to generate reports in one day that used to take several people a full week to do. This also expedites the creation of other reports. One report, for example, which requires information on Colonial-owned real estate properties from various sources, previously took two to three days to complete. Today, it is produced in less than five minutes. The difference is the speed, accuracy and ability to pull information from multiple sources so you can have mixed data within the same report. With less time spent gathering information, were now able to look for trends and analyze very easily and quickly, positively impacting the performance of our business.
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