Virgin Limited Edition (VLE), is part of the Virgin Hotels Group Limited and is Sir Richard Branson’s collection of stunning retreats and luxury hotels including Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, The Lodge in Verbier, Switzerland, The Roof Gardens and Babylon Restaurant in London, Mahali Mzuri, safari camp in Kenya, Mont Rochelle, hotel and vineyard in South Africa. Also part of the estate is the luxurious 100 foot catamaran Necker Belle. Virgin Limited Edition offers its clients a unique and highly tailored service ranging from accommodation on a per night basis, property hire on an exclusive use basis, to all inclusive packages.
In this case study, Nicola Ballantine, Group Financial Controller, explains why VLE implemented PS Financials, their experience of the implementation process and the benefits they have gained since going live with the new system.
In 2012 VLE made a decision to change their ten year old SunSystems 4 financial management system to something more modern. The most common complaint about the existing system was that it was not easy to use with all transactions having to be entered as a journal exposing users to on screen double entry accounting, thus making the system prone to errors. The system had also run out of analysis fields, which meant that any new requirements for the business could not be catered for easily.
“Reporting was a big issue, there were no standard reports as part of the system and so had to be developed in spreadsheets using an Excel add in that came as part of the system, this became a real issue for us when we upgraded to Excel 2010 and the add in stopped working, it was at this point we made the decision it was time to find a new system,” commented Ballantine.
A system specification and selection project was undertaken and a number of potential systems were reviewed including SunSystems 6, Access Accounts, Microsoft Dynamics and PS Financials. Any new system had to address the shortcomings of the existing system, but also offer improvements in other areas such as payment processing and reporting, bank reconciliation, workflow facilities, document attachments and better analysis capabilities. Other important considerations were cost, including the ongoing cost of support and maintenance and the ability of whoever was chosen to be able to implement the system in a short period of time.
After undertaking a selection process, VLE chose PS Financials to replace SunSystems 4. The team from PSF met with VLE and presented the software to the senior members of the finance team. “We liked the fact that it was based on a unified ledger system which is what we had been used to with SunSystems, but it offered us a lot more functionality” said Nicola. “We also liked the fact that we would be dealing with the author of the software and that PSF were receptive to new ideas that might be beneficial for all users and were willing to incorporate these into the software in future releases, after all it’s in the author’s interest to continue to improve the software and you wouldn’t get that with a reseller,” she went on to say. VLE also took a reference from another Virgin company which used PS Financials which helped affirm the decision to go with PSF.
PSF put in place a project team made up of a number of people including a project manager, technical and application consultants. VLE wanted to ensure that they did not simply take the existing processes and practices that were in place with SunSystems and migrate these over to PS Financials, what they were looking for was real improvement over and above what was in place. The PSF team worked closely with VLE to define the business requirements, not just for the present but also with the future very much in mind, these were then mapped into the software. Ballantine comments; “The PSF consultant was very knowledgeable and the fact he came from an accounting background was really beneficial, he also challenged and questioned some of our processes and suggested better ways of doing things, which was great.”
Nicola went on to talk about lessons she had learned during the implementation process; “If you were ask me would I do this again and with PS Financials, the answer is yes, like any project we had our challenges, for example the data conversion didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped, but what impressed me was the way PSF dealt with it by bringing in additional resource at no further cost to VLE. From my perspective, the big lesson for me was that a project like this requires someone senior to be dedicated to it. In hindsight I should have spent more time on it by backfilling my own role during the implementation process.”
PS Financials was rolled out across the VLE estate in February and March 2012 in one go, with a number of remote locations connecting into the central shared service centre located in the London head office. “With the standardisation of the chart of accounts and business processes, the roll out process was made easy as all we had to do was train the users in the field, the training provided by PSF was very good as was the documentation which we were able to customise to reflect our specific needs, this is important when you get staff leave and new people join as they need to be able to pick up the system quickly without having to go on training courses, we also find PSF’s support service really good too, we log calls either by phone or via email and find the team at PSF prompt in getting back to us”, commented Nicola.
The initial emphasis of the project was to replace SunSystems 4 for the main accounting engine, which PS Financials did, however to fully benefit from the new software, VLE will also be looking to take advantage of some modules which have yet to be switched on, namely PS DTT (Data Transformation Tool), this will be used to integrate VLE’s Protel property management system to PSF to allow revenue information to be posted directly without any manual intervention. “We make extensive use of the Pivot Inquiry, which has the ability to output to Excel, which is a great feature and so much easier than what we had, however to allow us to take full advantage of the reporting tools we will be looking to implement PS Insight or PS Power Pivot, we see this as the next phase,” commented Ballantine.
She went on to say “VLE being a Virgin Company is always on the lookout for new opportunities and one of the reasons why PS Financials was chosen was for its ability to be able to set up a new business quickly and easily with its own currency and tax treatments, so far we have implementations in Kenya, Switzerland, British Virgin Islands and United Kingdom, I’m sure this will grow.”
PS Financials, is so much more user friendly and easier to use than SunSystems, which was like being back in the dark ages, with old grey screens and everything being entered as a journal. We wanted a system that our users would find easy and would be easy to rollout with just some training.
Easy inquiry facility, without the need to use an add on such as we had with Vision in SunSystems, we can get all the information we need through an inquiry screen which users can customise by dragging columns and export to Excel at the click of a button.
The ability to add extra ledgers (analysis dimensions) to any account that we want and to capture whatever information we want, a good example of this is on Necker Island we have a number of boats for which we want to capture all the costs, which we can now do, so we can see exactly what each vessel is costing us. Similarly if we carry out refurbishments to a property we have a projects ledger and can analyse how the money is being spent versus the budget for that refurbishment.
It’s clear the system is highly flexible and you can do a lot with it, unlike other systems where you might have to bend or change your business processes to accommodate the software, with PS Financials we configured the system around our business. For example, we now attach invoice images as we post the transaction, these can be viewed online when you make an inquiry, this was a manual task with our previous system.
One consistent chart of accounts across all our businesses which is cleaner and simpler than before and which makes comparison between companies and consolidation easier. Simplification of our recharge process, we capture costs centrally, which then have to be re-charged across the various entities. Beforehand this was a time consuming and manual task but this has now been automated with PSF. We simply enter a cost in once into the central ledger and it is re-charged across the business on entry.
Similarly we have automated quite a few other processes, which were time consuming in the old system, for example payments. Previously you had to print off a list and then go back in and edit it, we can now do this online and initiate a payment run at the same time. Another big time saver has been bank reconciliation which is now fully automated.
Finally, we asked Nicola, would she recommend PS Financials, to which she answered, “Yes I would, however I would say, think carefully about how you can best take advantage of all the features and functions PS Financials has to offer. There is a temptation to want it all straight away but that might mean your implementation could become extended. My advice would be to start simple and add to the system, that is the big benefit of PS Financials, it allows you to do that.”