REVIEWER: Dan Aptor, director of financial systems for NBC Universal.

BACKGROUND: NBC Universal is one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production and marketing of entertainment, news and information to a global audience. NBC Universal was formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Universal Studios (owned by NBC Universal) wanted to get a better handle on attendance projections, but we were hampered by an unwieldy budgeting, reporting and forecasting process that was spreadsheet based. Changes in attendance required recasting assumptions one business unit at a time. In order to consolidate, we had to create and distribute departmental templates. The departments filled them out and sent them back, and the finance staff would then link the spreadsheets to get consolidated results. This process took place every time the company budgeted or reforecasted, which was at least quarterly.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: With Geac MPC, a preexisting matrix exists on labor requirements at varying attendance levels. Centralized control of attendance projections enables recasting of labor costs and revenue drivers to automatically run to the business unit levels. Users then enter data directly into a centralized database, eliminating the distribution and collection of templates, the linking of spreadsheets, and the errors and version control problems generated by those processes. Data collection time has been reduced by more than 50%. The focus has changed from data gathering and accuracy to analysis, from department heads to senior management. Guided workflow, "what if" analysis, automated calculations and phasing, the ability to save multiple versions of the budget without affecting the central database and the ability to attach notations at the cell level are also valuable features that enable the finance organization to provide better partnership to operations.

STRENGTHS: Geac MPC's Web-enabled scalability and open ASP-driven architecture has enabled our team to design the most optimal tool for the finance community. Using existing templates and interfaces yet having the ability to adjust them to work with the nuances of our business has increased the functionality and adoption of the tool.

WEAKNESSES: Geac MPC's Web-enabled technology requires dependency on cookies to maintain the user session.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Geac MPC was chosen for its ability to deliver the required functionality, large user base, technically knowledgeable sales team and strong relationship with Microsoft. Geac's open architecture was also a key factor because Universal uses both Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle for its enterprise applications and loads information directly from SAP.

DELIVERABLES: Geac MPC serves as our central budgeting, financial reporting and consolidation engine. The tool serves as a model for budgeting builds (bottom up as well as top down), the central reporting mechanism for departmental P&L performance from SAP and our risk management validation vehicle. Using threshold matrices and numerous global-driven event inputs, Universal Studios Hollywood is able to quickly determine the amount of risk to the existing budget "to go" on a scenario-like basis. The tool's robust consolidation engine combined with its ability to snapshot or combine scenarios enables the finance organization to quickly reflect and report the impact that changes in attendance forecasts will cost in margin point or EBITDA.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Geac was instrumental in helping to develop the core architecture for our business model and was quite willing to provide both on/off property support. We requested and received a data architect to help optimize and design the most efficient model for both our budget and reporting needs. Although we are more than six months into production, we continue to receive great support through the architect and help desk when needed.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation was a key deliverable for the team when the project was charted. All architecture-related issues were systematically documented by a system administrator. While the financial process improvement initiatives continue to evolve as the organization continues to adopt the tool, readily available documentation online or from downloadable PDF enables the users to autonomously utilize the tool.

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