Before Robertson could even think about taking the first steps on their journey to profitable decision making, they first had to recognise that there was an issue to address.

When we first started working with Phil Talbot at Robertson, seven accountants were supporting eight business units. They were spending most of their time preparing management information (MI) – weekly cash forecasts, monthly management accounts and full year profit forecasts. Approximately 50 projects were running at any one time, each of which required a detailed cost value report (CVR) every month.

Spreadsheet reliance

All of the MI was produced in spreadsheets which were prone to data corruption thanks to a lack of automation of data transfer. With no cloud-based backups, most of these spreadsheets were stored on local PCs – if one went that could mean the loss of an entire month’s worth of CVR reports. All of Robertson’s reporting, planning and forecasting was vulnerable.

Each of the 1000 spreadsheets created every year and saved on local PCs was effectively a data island, disconnected from the bigger picture. With the company embarking on a rapid growth period, this methodology was clearly not sustainable.

Tying up valuable resource

A team of highly-skilled accountants were spending two weeks of every month manually entering data into spreadsheets. It doesn’t take much to see that this non-value-adding activity was not a reasonable use of their time.

Factor in the issues of version control and the duplication of effort amongst the team and there was a clear problem requiring a solution. The potential issues were compounded by the fact that in a spreadsheet-based world there are myriad ways that calculations can go awry, the key factor being human error. Attempting to then unpick and trace errors back to source, somewhere within more than one billion cells, is a monumental waste of valuable resource.

“Spreadsheets are prone to all of the problems they are notorious for. However tightly you lock down a spreadsheet there’s always something that will break.”

Disparate data sets

Storing data on local PCs not only created risky single points of failure, opening up the very real possibility of losing an entire month’s reporting, but also led to serious challenges of version control and duplication of effort. Keeping data accurate is virtually impossible when a group of people are all accessing and working with their own versions, potentially introducing errors or corrupting spreadsheets.

The existing decentralised setup also made change management difficult:

“Obviously, enhancing and improving the spreadsheet was always quite challenging because you had to harvest from the 60 or so individual contracts to the spreadsheets, make changes 60 times and then feed the spreadsheets back. The data within the spreadsheets could only be seen for that contract, so consolidation was impossible – It just wasn’t practical”

Phil Talbot identified that he had a problem that was only going to be compounded by the future growth for Robertson. Once he had recognised that a change was needed, he could focus on taking the right approach by removing all non-value-adding activities. From there he could embark on the journey towards profitable decision making that all proved worth it in the end.

You can read more Robertson’s journey with us or learn about the practical steps to transforming your FP&A activities from our expert insight seriesGet in touch today to discover the difference Planning Analytics could be making to your business.

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.


Working with Spitfire Analytics has resulted in the Finance Team becoming an integral part of the business. We are now able to provide analysis and strategic advice on the future direction of the business, rather than spending our time poring over endless spreadsheets.

- Lee Boyle, Finance Director (Engineering), NG Bailey

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