The green days of old

Tonia Still, General Manager Finance, joined PBT in 2014. Even though she had been forewarned, the company’s still operational 40-year-old legacy system was somewhat of a revelation. After years of working with Tier 1 ERP solutions, the reality of PBT’s financial solution, in all its green-screen glory, was like stepping back in time.

“We had to manually update every journal. There was no way to import data, so it was a lot of work. The courier system was also a separate application – and not integrated – so we’d have to physically punch the reports from that into the journals as well.”

Not only did the need to re-enter data manually chew up the finance team’s valuable time, but the potential for error – and the knock-on effect on the accuracy and timeliness of their Excel-based reporting – was considerable.

“It was challenging to do a meaningful analysis,” says Still. “The struggle to produce up-to-the minute reporting was a nightmare.”

It was obvious that change was needed. Still and her team invested their time and effort in identifying potential financial solutions and partners, and drew up a shortlist for consideration that included NetSuite and Fusion5.

An impetus for change

Mark Davis, also a veteran of some significant Tier 1 projects, joined PBT as CFO in 2019. He welcomed the challenge and rewards of PBTs long overdue digital transformation.

The purchase of PBT by Waterman Capital accelerated the business’s need to modernise, says Davis. “It was a real driver for change. For a start, their reporting requirements were a lot higher. There’s quite a difference between reporting to business owner-operators and to professional investors. We needed to change all of our reporting formats. We used to report the three main divisions of the business – transport, couriers, and containers – individually. At that point they were all different legal entities, with their own ledgers and reporting requirements.

“While the financials were all in the one system, each legal entity had separate ledgers. To quickly move from that to a consolidated view on a monthly basis was quite challenging. Excel was our friend!”

Great expectations

PBT invited a select number of partners to come in and present their solutions and capabilities. After a thorough review, we chose Fusion5 and NetSuite.

PBT and Fusion5 sealed the deal in October 2019. The original go-live date of April 2020 was pushed out to June 2020 so user training could be delivered face-to-face after New Zealand’s first COVID-19 lockdown.  

“NetSuite was the right size for our business and our requirements. But one of the most compelling reasons for choosing it was that Fusion5 could not only offer us NetSuite (financials), but ApprovalPlus (procure-to-pay), and Workday Adaptive Planning (budgeting and reporting) to help us meet our reporting and budgeting requirements. And they could implement all three as a single, integrated solution.”

Mark Davis, Chief Financial Officer, PBT

Peerless payables processing

PBT’s accounts payable team processes between two and three thousand invoices a month. Before, the details from each invoice were manually entered into the finance system. It would take four people seven working days to complete and close off all the accounts payable.

Keen to make remote accounts payable processing easier over lockdown, PBT and Fusion5 quickly rolled out ApprovalPlus. It was a great decision, says Still. “Instead of emails going back and forwards, and people trying to scan documents while working at home, ApprovalPlus let our accounts payables team maintain momentum through lockdown. Even though NetSuite wasn’t live at that stage, it made quite a difference.

“Now, our payables are closed off by the second day of the month, and it only takes two people to process them. We have touchless matching of invoices to purchase orders, automated workflows to send invoices to approvers, online approvals, and alerts to make sure everything is done on deadline.

“ApprovalPlus has given us more time to do other things. Before, it was just this vicious cycle. You’d finish processing one batch of invoices then you’re straight back into it again - without pausing to draw breath. Not forgetting that we used paper purchase orders too. The whole process was always just-in-time, continuous, and exhausting.”

Previously taking until the 15th of the month, PBT’s financial reporting is now completed within six days. “The abbreviated timeframe has made a huge difference,” says Davis. “Before, the next month was almost over by the time you had the financial results of the previous month. Whereas now, by the second week of the month we’re looking at the results and moving on.”

Reporting revolution

After years of exporting CSV files from the legacy application, and hoping the columns would fall in the correct places, Still and Davis both say that NetSuite has made reporting a piece of cake.

“With NetSuite, we can run a report and then just drill down to the transactions. The integration with Microsoft office is great, it’s easy to export a report and with the press of a button import it into Excel to play around with,” says Davis. “Reporting is an area that has been transformational for us. With Workday Adaptive and Office Connect our data goes directly into Excel, and the data is always up to date. It’s made a massive improvement to the Board reporting process and budgeting.”

A team ready for change

Still says the finance team welcomed the introduction of the new applications.

“The whole team was ready for a change. Bringing your people along with the change when they want it is easy - and that’s a big thing with any move to a new system. It was hard to find anyone who was attached to the old system!

“The way that NetSuite is implemented is quite different to other ERP solutions. The consultants didn’t work on site, or take people out of the business for long periods of time. Essentially, we had two contractors working on the project full time from our side to build up the chart of accounts and handle data conversion. They were across the entire project, and also assisted to introduce the new processes to the team, and deliver training. Mark and I oversaw this to ensure we got an outcome we were both happy with.

“Fusion5 was really responsive throughout the project to any issues or questions that we had, and responded to and sorted them out quickly.”

And after a background in Tier 1 solutions, Still was impressed with NetSuite’s seamless upgrade process. “There’s no need for regression testing, and no risk of things getting out of sync. It was also easy to consolidate the three previously separate entities within the business. “

Davis was likewise impressed. “I would say, for me, it’s probably the most painless system implementation that I’ve been through.”

Part of the ease of implementation he says is because NetSuite is SaaS. “There’s a different mindset to say implementing products like SAP where you can change anything – given budget. Whereas NetSuite comes with leading practices so you can avoid the complexities and cost of customisation.”

Signed, sealed, and delivered

All three applications have delivered PBT the functionality and benefits promised. “I think they’ve pretty much realised everything we expected,” says Still, “although both Mark and I are excited by the potential to drive even more value from the new solutions.

“ApprovalPlus is performing well, but there’s a lot more to explore with Workday Adaptive,” says Davis. “We’ve still got the dashboards to set up, and work to do in the budgeting and forecasting process, but we’ve got to a point now where we’re about to launch into that.”

“As far as NetSuite goes, we don’t know what we don’t know. Luckily, Fusion5 share best practices and tips and tricks with us, so we’re doing things the right way, not just the way we are used to doing them. We really appreciate their commitment to a process of continuous improvement.”

Mark Davis, Chief Financial Office, PBT

Goodbye complexity, hello simplicity

From Davis’s perspective, NetSuite offers genuine value for money. “The last Tier 1 solution I helped put into a major organisation came in around the $10 million mark, and was highly complex. By comparison, NetSuite costs considerably less, but the functionality is pretty much as good.”

And Still has been happily turning away callers trying to sell her lease accounting (IFRS 16) software. “It took me an hour to set these all up in NetSuite using Fixed Asset Management,” she says. “I love that we can do this without having to buy another solution. I don’t know how many cold calls I’ve had for an IFRS 16 solution, and how many times I’ve fielded them, saying ‘no, we don’t need one, thank you’.”

Still says that NetSuite, ApprovalPlus and Workday Adaptive have vastly improved the efficiency of the entire finance team. “Along with a dramatic decrease in manual data entry, we also have fewer errors, and reviews and analysis are easier as well.”

The future

NetSuite has been critical to PBT’s overall transformation.

“Our SaaS strategy is focused on best-of breed systems which are the best at doing what they’re designed to do,” says Davis.

“In choosing NetSuite, it wasn’t about finding an ERP that does everything, it was finding one which manages our financials perfectly. We’ve applied the same fit-for-purpose criteria to everything else we’ve chosen.”

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