“Analytics & Planning as a Platform” at Sella Group
Creating a data-driven organization and empowering the entire workforce with a self-service approach to information.
Sella Group is a private, independent Italian holding company with offices in Italy and abroad. It has an open attitude and has always seen innovation as the solution to future challenges. The Group’s history is marked by the values of responsibility, love for their customers, passion and meritocracy, and the goal to help customers in their personal and business challenges – better enabling them to compete in a fast-moving, digitally exponential world.
Sella Group is Italy’s leading player in the eCommerce sector with Axerve, the international payments platform, as well as being one of the best providers of electronic payment systems and digital solutions, such as Hype - the new way to manage money using a smartphone.
In conjunction with six family members, including brothers and cousins, Gaudenzio Sella (1860-1934) founded Gaudenzio Sella & C in 1886, laying the foundations on which the current Sella Group is built. In 1996, Banca Sella became one of the first banks not only in Italy but the whole of Europe to develop a website and put it online, migrating the entire banking business to digital.
In 2013 it became the first Group in Italy, and again one of the first in Europe, to establish an open banking division. In that same year, the Group inaugurated SellaLab, their innovation center with offices in Milan, Biella, Lecce and Salerno, to support start-ups and businesses with their open innovation and digital transformation processes.
Milan’s Fintech district (Via Sassetti 32, known as S32) was established in 2017 in the presence of Italy’s finance minister. It hosts dozens of national and international open collaborations and fintech initiatives.
Without compromising on the Group’s traditional values, the holding company’s management is constantly committed to reshaping its mindset and identity in order to establish itself as a global player. “If there is one perennial feature of our Group, right from its origins, which date back to the 1500s when the Sella family established itself in the textile industry, it is continuous change,” explains Alessandro Basile – Sella Group’s Head of Group Planning, Execution and Control.
“Sella Group’s history could be summed up as 450 years of innovation and self-disruption. As you can see from how we have evolved, innovation has always underpinned our development. Alongside innovation, the second constant is passion for our customers. As part of this journey, the adoption of the Board decision-making platform and its gradual extension across the Sella Group matches up perfectly with our approach to technological innovation and self-disruption, and with the importance we attribute to our customers and all stakeholders who come into contact with us, whether directly or indirectly. Our strategic goal, our purpose in fact, is to build the financial eco-system of the future, to help people fulfil their ambitions.”
To achieve this purpose, Sella Group has structured its organization into 20 companies that provide a vast range of innovative solutions across Italy, Switzerland, Spain, United Kingdom, Romania, United Arab Emirates and India through five Business Lines:
• Investment Banking (market making in the main corporate & investment banking and venture capital markets)
• Private Banking (investment services, fiduciary services and family office)
• Commercial banking (traditional and online, including consumer credit, insurance broking, property and casualty insurance, P2P, lending and leasing)
• Open Banking (digital solutions, electronic payments, credit and debit cards, e-commerce)
• Information Technology for the banking and financial sector.
Challenge and software selection
As a result of the difficulties caused by the financial and economic crisis during the period 2008-2012, it became increasingly urgent for Sella Group’s planning & control team to be able to handle a vast number of requests for reports, analyses, and data summaries in real-time:
“As soon as I was appointed to my current role, I was faced with the need to improve our capacity to provide analytics and significant insights relating to the Group’s data assets. That meant re-defining the logic of our processes, starting – before we could actually select the software – by picking a dedicated team,” recalls Alessandro Basile.
This team was made up of professionals with multi-disciplinary skills – from IT to finance and project management – in such a way that it delivered an in-house center of excellence that could take charge of redesigning planning and control processes and - on this basis - implement a new software solution:
“We undertook a long, in-depth software selection process, which highlighted the fact that Board was by far the best platform for three main reasons. Firstly, it is an all-in-one solution, in which Performance Management is fully integrated with BI functions. This was one of our key requirements, because we needed to have a single platform for analysis, planning & control. Secondly, Board has intuitive, native drill-down and drill-through functions that give us a lot of agility in terms of data navigation and enable us to switch between static displays and dynamic representations of information. Lastly, the platform is versatile and can be fully customized, without requiring the user to write any programming code,” explains Basile.
The “Board as a platform” project for the Sella Group’s 20 companies
“With Board, we have undertaken a real journey, during which all of the Group’s planning and control processes have undergone substantial remodeling with the aid of Board,” says Basile. Over the years, the Board project extended to countless areas of the Sella Group, from the reference infrastructure – in order to have a complete and solid information baseline – to a vast range of latest generation mobile applications. This helped improve peripheral processes, which particularly involved the sales and headquarters network, and benefited top management up to the CEO.
• Monthly economic/financial/capital reporting for all the Group companies and for the Group on a consolidated basis
• Financial Budgeting and Forecasting
• Sales Analysis & Reporting for the entire network (over 2,000 sales staff)
• Dedicated dashboarding for each sales staff member and Portfolio Analysis
• Benchmark analyses on “vertical” indicators (e.g. geographical areas and market shares etc.)
• Collaborative reporting on the Group’s core information
• KPI analysis of significant drivers for budget and actual figures
• Business Model Analysis (BMA) – sustainability analysis in accordance with European guidelines (EBA – European Banking Authority)
• Dashboarding connected to the start-up of each new business
• Dashboarding and self-dashboarding for each manager (in the network and at Headquarters)
• Google Analytics connector for reading and analyzing information relating to website traffic and onboarding (conversion rate)
• Daily Group Indicators (showing financial indicators, including daily margins, and industrial drivers, including of strategic transformation)
“The organizational model that we have successfully adopted can be summed up as ‘Board as a platform’: all of the reporting, analytics, dashboarding, planning and business modelling processes of the 20 companies that make up our Group are perfectly integrated into a single platform,” says Basile. “This is an enormous advantage for myriad reasons, the most important of which are: the quality and completeness of the data, the speed and effectiveness of business information delivery, and collaboration between the various stakeholders, starting from shared data."
The Sella Group opted to implement Board by dividing it into two levels:
• the layer composed of the Board database, which consolidates information from the organization’s various sources, mainly from the DBUs and departmental systems
• the layer dedicated to the applications built with Board by each Sella Group Company.
“With the ‘Board as a platform’ organizational model, we have achieved full consolidation and coordination of our Performance Management and Business Intelligence activities,” continues Basile. “Each of our 20 Group companies needed different custom functions over the years, and as the Headquarters planning and control team, we could not meet these needs effectively, for the simple reason that only the managers of each company have a really clear idea of which operational details they need. Thanks to the two-layer structure, each company can build and customize its own application to match the needs of its own structure and – at the same time – operate within a shared framework, thereby aiming at the same general Group goal."
Collaboration and sharing between the various Sella Group companies is also facilitated by the fact that data is not represented in separate reports disconnected from the database layer and the Board applications layer, but can be viewed on what the Sella Group calls the “Reporting Portal”: a single access point to all information, intended to represent business planning and performance data, which can be accessed via the company intranet.
“Board is the environment in which we conduct business analyses in real time anddiscuss our results, even during meetings rather than at a later date as we always had to previously. With the reporting portal, we have provided a “home” for all the reports we had created with Board: at present, all 5,000 employees have access to these, with various levels of permission depending on their role, from branch sales executive to CEO,” explains Basile. “I am also proud to say that we were the first bank in Europe to implement a direct connector with Google Analytics. This enables Board to communicate with this vital tool to read data about our website traffic in real time: These data feed a dashboard built on Board, which provide us with daily conversion rate data regarding visits to our websites, so that we have a really clear picture of our Customer Journey.”
Dashboarding for over 2,000 sales accounts: Financial Budgeting & Forecasting aligned with the sales network.
The “Board as a platform” model not only enables Sella Group to have all its financial planning and forecasting processes integrated into a single environment, that performs analysis and reporting tasks. It also enables it to connect these processes with the entire sales network, which in turn makes a major contribution to target setting and improves sales and economic results. This led to the development of one of Board’s key features - its ability to deploy an end-to-end process that includes strategic, financial, and operational dimensions alike.
“To implement this project, we started from our strategic goal: the customer. We wanted to manage our relationship with customers as effectively as possible. So, we collected feedback on the requirements of our network sales staff, who – before we adopted Board – were in a difficult situation because the way we managed and controlled our data was no longer in line with the times. That is why we decided to build dashboards dedicated to our sales staff, first at branch level, then at individual salesperson level. We currently have over 2,000 sales staff, each with their own dashboard for composing portfolios,” explains Basile. “As we started issuing dashboards to our sales staff, we soon found that everybody wanted one, it triggered a chain reaction that I called the “iPhone effect”! In these dashboarding applications we combined the data quality and effective insights that they offer, with an attractive look & feel (designed in conjunction with the network managers) and an intuitive way of representing information.”
In fact, one of the key features of the applications built with Board is their outstanding level of usability, a vitally important aspect, especially when you have lots of users and lots of screens and dashboards. As Basile recalls, to help users find their way around the myriad of applications created with the decision-making platform, Sella Group decided to implement a Google-like search engine to create a top-class user experience. Thanks to this search engine, users can quickly and easily locate the information they need at a specific moment in their working day, on their own device.
“This is what we were asked for by our managers, who we see as our “internal customers,” explains Basile. “Here in the planning and control team, we are like a start-up that has set itself the goal of supplying its clients – our colleagues in the organization – with highly attractive, usable applications, capable of yielding significant insights. With over 1,000 screens and an average of about 2,000 Board-connected users per day, usability is undoubtedly an essential requirement for the quality and efficiency of our work.”
With the introduction of these applications, the main growth indicators of the sales network, and so customer service, started showing a noticeable improvement. To take one example: the “performing customers” indicator, which relates to those customers who make the most use of Sella Group services, rose from 0.5% to 3%. This trend turned out to be a driver of increased digitalization and automation across the Group: a digital transformation that was requested by the organization’s own stakeholders.
From “report producers” to “business partners”
The analytics and reporting applications were further expanded with the creation of dashboards dedicated to “vertical” topics; benchmarks relating to markets shares and active rates by technical form and province, which could all be accessed and browsed online from the user’s own device. The verticalized dashboards are presented to the “internal customers” of each Group business to provide a daily overview(or at most a weekly overview), where, before the introduction of Board, they were only able to get a quarterly representation of the information. This further digitalization has yielded another major benefit: the time that was previously used to discuss how to sort out the reports (manually) is now used to interpret data proactively and improve decision-making, whether by a strategic or more operational nature.
On this journey towards digitalization with Board, Sella Group increasingly considered the drivers that were not merely of a financial nature, i.e. the volumes and prices for each income stream. For this purpose, for each of the Group’s Business Units, the quantities allocated to customers and the related individual margins were first mapped so as to obtain a better understanding of the phenomena from a strictly analytical point of view.
“Using this mapping as a starting point, we managed to switch from a “lag” set of financial indicators, which by definition are already old by the time they make it onto paper – so to speak – to a “lead” set of indicators, which give us a prompt understanding of how the financial indicator is likely to move in the future, by analyzing its industrial genesis,” recalls Basile.
Thanks to the introduction of these innovations with Board, Sella Group’s controllers can now establish proper partnerships with the organization’s managers based on analysis of the available data and shared knowledge.
“Our planning and control team, which is made up of about 60 people, was asked to change its mindset and make the transition from straightforward report producers to fully fledged business partners of the Group,” points out Basile. “The production of reports is now entrusted to “machines” and software, which actually generate them more quickly, precisely and correctly. This is a plus not only in terms of report quality, but also in terms of the time saved by our team members, which they can then spend on tasks with higher added value. In fact, our finance professionals can now make the most of their intelligence to challenge the business, on the basis of those automatically produced reports. This turns our team into a useful source of guidance for the business, while the reports are seen increasingly as a commodity. This evolution in the mindset of our analysts happened thanks to Board.”
And it was not confined to only the finance team analysts but also extended to decision-makers and top executives. In fact the process of digital dashboarding is becoming established at Sella Group as a response to the needs of individual managers, both when starting a new business and retrospectively for businesses that are already up and running:
“Here in the planning and control team, we have introduced a clear and specific organizational principle with the aid of Board: when we launch a new business and the product is then released onto the market, we have made it a requirement that a dedicated dashboard must be in place to show the daily performance of that product. The dashboard is built with the full collaboration of the management of the business concerned. While the need to apply this principle might have looked like an over-stringent requirement at first, all our personnel now see it as an extremely useful commodity,” exclaims Basile.
Automated sustainability analysis and management scenario, in accordance with European guidelines
Since it includes several companies in the banking and financial services sector, the Sella Group is required to comply with European Banking Authority (EBA) guidelines. To achieve this, the holding company has built a Business Model Analysis environment on Board for the purpose of managing and using specific views for sustainability analysis: “By using analytical models developed on Board, we have equipped our company with a cross-company representation for all 20 Group companies. This has enabled us to automate the periodic sustainability analyses in accordance with EBA guidelines: for each business line, we have periodic online reports that show us profitability and development potential in terms of margins, according to various parameters and scenarios,” explains Basile.
“Our CEO makes extensive use of Board”
Each manager can access information about their own target and key results, which – since it is defined on the basis of a solid, complete and accurate baseline…in other words the Board database – is aligned with both the finance area results and execution results. Sella Group’s organization chart has been replicated in the Board environment so as to enable each stakeholder to find their way around the organization’s various component parts in order to check and assess business performance in terms of financial results, KPIs, and Key results. Additionally, a dashboard with daily Group data has been made available to the CEO and all other C-level staff in multi-device mode:
“By combining about 20 KPIs, the dashboard enables our top managers and CEO to see the main business-as-usual and transformation indicators dynamically and in real time from any device, with a single click. This view also includes margins, which – as is widely known – are not easy to monitor and analyze in the banking world because there is no actual “cash desk”, in the way there is in major retail chains. Gathering information about margins, in the face of the diversification of the products sold by a bank, is by no means simple. Thanks to Board, we have managed to implement daily monitoring of margins, which helps us take immediate decisions if we find that actual figures are deviating too far from our budget figures. So, it is no coincidence that this dashboard is one of the tools our CEO uses most of all!”
Becoming a data-driven organization
Having first dedicated a wide range of Board applications to the sales network, in full integration with Headquarters, the planning and control team then decided to digitalize the analysis tasks of the 600-plus managers working at Sella Group headquarters, in order to complete the project of creating a data-driven organization. To achieve this, a self-dashboarding tool was developed with Board to make the managerial functions both autonomous and responsible for their performance:
“At Headquarters we have to respond to the needs of 600 organizational units (areas/offices/services) and their dedicated managers. So, enabling our staff to create, monitor and maintain their own dashboards gives us an enormous competitive advantage in terms of the Group’s efficiency and effectiveness. Board’s self-dashboarding tool gives our managers a set of data and indicators that each of them can use according to their business needs. Together with this tool, we also have a wizard, built on Board, which enables individual managers to choose which information to include in their dashboard and then publish. All this is done automatically, without needing to know any programming languages or having any other specific IT knowledge, but simply by selecting the set of indicators that enables you to monitor your work most effectively,” says Basile.
Board’s self-service technology has enabled the managers of the various Sella Group companies and their individual businesses to boost capacity and interpret their data and the development drivers of their activity, autonomously, while still sharing the same work environment with the others and the same sets of data on the Board platform.
“With approximately 800,000 logins to Board per year – representing a year-on-year increase of 30% – 2,000 Board users connected (which also represents an increase) and approximately 1,000 screens regarding Performance Management, Analytics, Dashboarding and Data Quality – automatically checked and updated by Board twice a day, it is fair to say that Sella Group has made plenty of progress towards becoming a fully-fledged data-driven organization. And we have no intention of stopping here with Board: in the near future we want to implement the platform’s What-if Analysis and Artificial Intelligence functions so that we can forecast the economic impact of potential changes in market scenarios more effectively, for example by simulating the impact of a daily or periodic change in GDP on the business in question. We also intend to use Board’s machine-learning capabilities to continuously improve our forecasting capacity, thus also increasing the challenge to the business” concludes Basile.