REVIEWERS: Anabel Lopez, director of Financial Planning, and Mark Roper, director of  IT, Kimball Hill Homes.

BACKGROUND: Kimball Hill Homes, based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, is a U.S. home builder with revenues last year of more than $1 billion. The company was founded by David K. Hill in 1969. Kimball Hill builds new homes and neighborhoods in eight states and 14 major markets. It is one of the largest privately held home building companies.

HARDWARE PLATFORMS: HP DL360 G5 1U Server, two Dual Core 3.00GHz processors, 4GB RAM, mirrored OS HDD 36GB, Raid 5 data drive 136GB.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Kimball Hill Homes wanted improved financial planning to replace a spreadsheet-based system that was used across departments and required a significant amount of time-intensive, manual rework. The organization needed more accurate and meaningful financial information to be delivered in a more timely fashion and with a documented audit trail. Employees who were involved in the budgeting and forecasting processes in connection with financing and land acquisition previously spent up to four weeks preparing Excel spreadsheets for division heads, controllers and other officials with budgeting responsibility. These reports were then dispersed among the organization's 14 divisions. The spreadsheets could take 20 minutes just to load, and this shortcoming discouraged employees from using them to their full potential.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Kimball Hill Homes is now using the Cognos Enterprise Planning solution to increase budgeting and forecasting efficiencies across its finance and land acquisition departments. Cognos Planning has enabled Kimball Hill to have a single, consistent view of business plans and forecasts across the organization. This has resulted in a solid  ROI in terms of time savings, reduction of resources required to manage the process and improved reliability of information.

STRENGTHS: Cognos Planning offers both a Web browser and a Microsoft Excel interface option for end-user ease of use. This allows users to work in the interface of their choice while still maintaining a connection to a highly secure and controlled data source that decreases the chance for errors to occur. In doing this, Kimball Hill has embraced driver-based performance planning that delivers high frequency, high participation and control. Cognos Planning has enabled Kimball Hill to gain increased visibility and control over its planning and forecasting processes. Via a centralized model where everybody is connected to a controlled data source with access control features, the possibility of an individual copying a spreadsheet, making changes or even changing formats, which makes it complicated to aggregate, is now eliminated. The result is far fewer errors and faster response times for reporting. Crucial data is more readily available, and the integrity of that data is much more reliable.

WEAKNESSES: The product is too flexible and because of that, at times, the possibilities can be very overwhelming.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Kimball Hill Homes entered the research phase of its project with an open mind, and after careful and deliberate review of Cognos Planning and other competing products, it found that Cognos Planning met all its requirements. The most significant of Kimball Homes' selection criteria was to replace its spreadsheet-based system and thus achieve the data control and integrity required to speed confident decision-making that wasn't attainable beforehand.

DELIVERABLES: The pre-existing conditions were tedious, complex and time-consuming for all employees involved. Cognos Planning has helped Kimball Hill have more powerful, meaningful reports - when and how it wants them, with the assurance that the integrity of the information is consistently maintained. Kimball Hill's land acquisition division especially takes advantage of the software. For example, by plugging in as many parameters as possible about a particular development into the software, the company can make better decisions around its land purchases, a feature that enables the company to save money.

VENDOR SUPPORT:  Lodestar Solutions supported us and Cognos to create prototype models and pilot the solution. Both Cognos and Lodestar Solutions have a very helpful support staff that is readily available around the clock.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is straightforward and comprehensive.

Cognos Planning
Cognos Incorporated
3755 Riverside Drive
P.O. Box 9707, Station T
Ottawa, ON
Canada K1G 4K9
(613) 738-1440

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