Spitfire Analytics were proud to be part of the ICAEW CFO conference 2019, hosting a breakfast session and taking a stand. Thank you to all who attended the session How to plan better and improve efficiency with Planning Analytics which we ran with Phil Talbot from Robertson Group.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing a series of articles expanding on the theme of our presentation which explored the journey Robertson Group has taken to remove spreadsheets from critical processes and invest in a management information system. We’ll start with their specific example.

Part 1 – Addressing a looming problem

The journey started in 2011 when Robertson consisted of businesses, employing around 1000 people. With turnover at £200m and making a marginal loss, significant growth was occurring. Despite this strong position, a significant issue loomed on the horizon due to a lack of investment in management information systems over the previous few years.

Seven accountants were supporting eight business units. They were spending most of their time preparing management information in the form of weekly cash forecasts, monthly management accounts and full year profit forecasts. In addition, approximately 50 projects were running at any one time, each of which required a detailed cost value report (CVR) every month.

All of this management information was produced in standalone spreadsheets. With no automation of data transfer they were prone to data corruption. The additional factor of storage of the majority of the spreadsheets being on local PCs with no cloud-based backups, meant there were inherent risks to this approach.

We use the analogy of each spreadsheet being a data ‘island’ within the business. With Robertson creating 1,000 more ‘islands’ every year, the potential issues associated with the spreadsheet approach were increasing month-by-month and storing up a greater problem for the future. At their rate of growth, this methodology was clearly not sustainable.

This triggered the search for an enterprise system that was:

  • Able to interface with any external source
  • Able to process, store and retrieve large volumes of data efficiently
  • Scalable
  • Flexible enough to accommodate numerous diverse business applications

These requirements were met by IBM® Planning Analytics, using the annual budget as proof of concept before moving on to the monthly management accounts and weekly cash forecast consolidations.

Through this implementation, Robertson Group replaced more than 6,000 data islands with a single data continent, making all current and historic budget, actual and forecast data easy to access and interrogate regardless of where the user is situated. The first step towards removing spreadsheets from the business was complete.

Missed out on our CFO conference session? Contact us today and sign up for a free health check – just quote ICAEW.

Simon Bradshaw

I have worked in finance and business systems development since 2001 and am an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. In 2016 I became a founding member of Spitfire Analytics, a consultancy specialising in IBM Planning Analytics. We are committed to building long-term relationships across all industries. I focus on my CPD through CIMA and IBM badges, ensuring I am always abreast of best practice and developments within the industry.


Spitfire have a depth of understanding not only in Cognos/TM1 technologies, but also in finance and accounting. It is this combination of expertise and their ability to get to the heart of business problems that has resulted in such confidence in their delivery and capabilities. The insight and value-add they have brought is evident.

- Peter Smith, Head of Solution Delivery, Edrington

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