Ability Options

Next-level Budgeting and Financial Reporting at Ability Options

Reducing annual costs by $150k and saving over 1,900 hours of manual work with an automated, driver-based process

With increasing demand for its services, disability support provider Ability Options was struggling with time-consuming, manual budgeting and reporting processes that were no longer fit for purpose. Using the Board decision-making platform to drive digital transformation, Ability Options has moved to a driver-based budgeting process which has significantly reduced the manual effort required and improved the efficiency and accuracy of its financial activities.

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  • Industry: Charities & Non-profits
  • Department: Finance
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Reducing annual costs by $150k and saving over 1,900 hours of manual work with an automated, driver-based process

Established in 1976, Ability Options is a disability support services provider covering the east coast of New South Wales, Australia.

The organization’s 1,100 staff provide several types of assistance to clients, from in-home support to community health, education, and disability employment. Each year, more than 3,000 individuals benefit from increased opportunities thanks to the Ability Options team.   

The Challenge: An inefficient spreadsheet-based budgeting process 

As demand for its services grew, Ability Options’ administrative support functions faced increasing pressure. Staff were grappling with time-consuming financial processes that could no longer cope with demand and management realized that changes were needed. 

“For an organization of our size, we really didn’t have a very smart system for budgeting,” says Manish Sharma, Group Financial Controller. 

The finance team relied on a series of inefficient Excel spreadsheets that were difficult to manage and keep up to date. Compiling budgets by hand was extremely time-consuming, meaning it could take more than a week to manually pull budgeting information together for the senior leadership team. The process also lacked the ability to support effective short, medium, and long-term planning and assess the impact of business drivers on the bottom line. 

“We had very limited ability to compare our actual results with our budgets, and there were constant issues around version control of the spreadsheets. When we had more than 100 cost centres and were approaching $100 million in turnover, it was clear that things had to change,” explains Manish. 

The Solution: A self-service approach to budgeting, planning, and forecasting 

The Ability Options team set about searching for an alternative solution that would transform the budgeting process. After reviewing a range of potential solutions, the decision was taken in November 2018 to deploy the Board decision-making platform, which combines Business Intelligence, Planning, and Predictive Analytics in a single interface. Board was able to readily integrate with Ability Options’ other core applications, which would make data sharing much easier and remove several tedious manual processes. 

“One of our key selection criteria was having a solution that could be used by accountants who are not IT experts. We wanted finance staff to be able to configure and operate the platform unaided. We could see that Board clearly offered this capability,” says Manish. 

Board was also prepared to come and demonstrate the solution’s capabilities in our own environment. They didn’t just rely on a standard demonstration but related it to our particular requirements, which stood out during the selection process."

Board was implemented by technology partner Mecklemore in just four months and went live in March 2019. Manish says Mecklemore’s knowledge and experience was invaluable during the deployment process. The firm worked closely with the Ability Options management team to ensure the solution was tailored to meet the organization’s specific needs, which was made easier thanks to Board’s flexible platform approach.  

The Benefits: From Excel to Driver-Based Budgeting   

With Board in place, Ability Options has significantly streamlined its budgeting process and the management team now has a real-time view of how actuals relate to forecasts. 

“Our budgeting process is now much simpler. Board has allowed us to move to driver-based budgeting and away from a situation where end users entered revenue or expense numbers into the P&L. Now, users input drivers and the software takes care of the calculations,” explains Manish. 

Thanks to the reduction in manual activities, savings equal to the annual workload of one employee have been made. 

By integrating with the organization’s accounting system and payroll application, Board has increased transparency across other finance processes and is used for month-end reporting. As information is now automatically pulled together from different systems, the manual effort associated with collating the data has been removed, the accuracy of reports is ensured, and security has been enhanced as there is no longer a need to share spreadsheets via email. 

“Previously we had to manually send out Excel files, but now people can simply review the reports in Board. It’s a real advantage to have a single source of the truth across the organization,” comments Manish. 

The Future: Expansion of Board to further reporting and forecasting 

Looking ahead, Mark Twomey, Chief Corporate Services Officer, says the organization wants to make more use of Board beyond the budgeting function, and access will be provided to a larger number of staff so they can take advantage of its functionality.  

Because the Board platform is highly flexible, it can be extended and customized to meet the changing requirements of the organization.  

“I think Board is a really good product because you can mould it into whatever you want it to be. It has an almost unlimited potential in many ways to give organizations whatever they might need for their budgeting, planning, and analysis,” says Manish. 

Moving forward, there are plans to use Board for activities such as KPI monitoring and reporting, bringing data into interactive dashboards for greater visibility. The company is also currently going through a major project to replace its legacy CRM system with Salesforce, which will be linked to Board to provide an extra dimension to the data. 

“It’s all about evolving and fine tuning what we have in place. We are constantly looking for ways to make our processes even better using Board. It has virtually unlimited potential for us. I’m looking forward to how it will meet our needs as we continue to evolve and assist growing numbers of clients,” concludes Mark.