CATEGORY: Analytic Applications and Enterprise Performance Management

REVIEWER: Chris Dautel, director of financial planning and analysis for Raycom Media Inc.

BACKGROUND: Raycom Media owns and operates nearly 30 television stations in 21 states. It also owns Raycom Sports, which is involved in marketing, production, events management and the distribution of syndicated sports programming. Headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, Raycom Media employs more than 2,800 people.

PLATFORMS: Operating System: Microsoft Windows 2000; Application and database server: Microsoft SQL Server 2000; Web server: Microsoft SQL Server 2000 with Internet Information Server; Clients: Microsoft Windows 98, 2000 and XP.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services centralizes and automates the storage and retrieval of data related to budgeting, forecasting and reporting for our television stations nationwide. The database software integrates with Comshare MPC software to consolidate company information into a single system with ease. Together, the Microsoft and Comshare products provide summary and detailed budget data for Raycom down to the network, department and account level. Our previous method – e-mailing copies of a spreadsheet template containing 40 different tabs and thousands of calculated formulas to each station's business manager for completion – lacked confidentiality safeguards. Consolidating the data from 30 different spreadsheets into a single report was a logistical nightmare. Using SQL Server 2000 as the underlying database for Comshare MPC, information is consolidated into a single system, updated instantaneously and made easily available to all authorized users regardless of their location.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We prepare an annual budget, but we forecast weekly. We use a rolling forecast that tracks current and next-quarter projections each month. Finance managers and other authorized employees receive access to information stored in Microsoft SQL Server 2000 by logging onto the Comshare application through a password-protected link on the Raycom Media intranet. Microsoft SQL Server supplies the data that Comshare MPC uses to compile financial reports for our employees including historical data for each account. Authorized users review their completed reports online and make further changes before filing a preliminary income statement and budget forecast. As soon as changes are saved, the information is automatically updated in the central Microsoft SQL Server database at headquarters and is accessible to all authorized users. Local stations make their own adjustments and updates directly to the SQL Server database, from which I can easily run a follow-up report to ensure that all changes have been made. Our business units use these same capabilities to handle their weekly, monthly and quarterly financial reporting tasks.

STRENGTHS: SQL Server and Comshare MPC's ease of use is the greatest benefit. SQL Server 2000 makes our financial information readily accessible via the Web, which allows our employees to complete their budgeting responsibilities in less time and share the information company wide. The centralized information provided by SQL Server helps ensure consistent reporting across all stations. Having all our enterprise-wide data consolidated in the Microsoft/Comshare solution has also helped me produce faster and more reliable financial updates for our executive board.

WEAKNESSES: During the initial implementation, we found that some functionality within the application required certain specifications to be present on the user's machine to ensure optimal performance. Once we defined those system specifications, the problems were quickly solved.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Because we were already using Microsoft SQL Server throughout our organization, it was the clear choice to support our new corporate performance management software. SQL Server was competitively priced, provided the Web integration we were looking for and had the strongest overall database functionality. We also valued the openness of SQL Server database technology.

DELIVERABLES: In addition to generating annual budget projections and related documentation across various business accounts, we use the Microsoft BI platform with Comshare MPC to compile and report weekly spending and cash-flow statements as well as monthly and quarterly closing statements.

VENDOR SUPPORT: As a fully Microsoft-licensed business, we get excellent in-person and phone support across the board.

DOCUMENTATION: Microsoft's technical manuals are comprehensive and straightforward. All procedures related to SQL Server were clearly outlined in our Comshare MPC implementation plan.

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