Transforming Financial Data Management and Business Intelligence in Midstream Oil and Gas


In the ever-evolving landscape of finance and IT, professionals often face challenges related to data management, business intelligence, and planning. However, for one seasoned expert, the journey from studying finance and IT to transforming organizations was a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration.

In this reference story, we showcase how partnering with ActionKPI helped our client, Mervin Van der Spuy, and their organization, a Midstream Oil and Gas company, reach their goals by solving several complex business problems, improving data management, and enhancing business intelligence.

Mervin’s Journey Through Finance and IT

Mervin has a career journey that combines finance, economics, auditing, and a wealth of experience in IT. Starting as an IT infrastructure specialist building computer networks and becoming Microsoft and Linux certified, his journey continued to software development, business analysis, project management and consulting. His expertise expanded as they moved into IT management roles, overseeing teams and projects for engineering firms and specializing in data management & software solutions.

Mervin honed his skills in data-related projects within the finance and energy sectors which allowed him to work with various systems, platforms, and cultures across different countries and organizations. The focus gradually shifted towards data and business intelligence where he started crafting data-driven solutions to solve complex business challenges within the energy sector while harnessing the power of advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI.

The Movement Towards Best Practices

A turning point in his career came when he joined a large mid-stream oil and gas company, where he encountered a fragmented landscape with multiple contractors handling data integration and reporting. ‘

Although having multiple contractors, the organization was only working with 12 reports and 16 integrations within their data analytics environment and their data practices needed maturation.

Over the course of three years, Mervin and his team transformed the organization’s data practice into a comprehensive framework encompassing data management, data governance, business intelligence, advanced analytics, AI, and Business Process Automation (BPA). He established an AI Center of Excellence, enabling automation and streamlining processes for their business users. Transforming the organization from having no dedicated data teams to having 5 fully staffed and functional teams consisting of employees, contractors and vendors.

ActionKPI, with its expertise in IBM Planning Analytics (PA) and finance performance management, played a pivotal role in this transformation. The partnership covered key financial data management and reporting. This included building data warehouses with integrations into the ERP (Dynamics365) and other source systems to expose cleansed and trusted financial data; automating processes around budgeting, forecasting, long-range planning and monthly allocations; as well as executive dashboarding, variance analysis and real-time, ad-hoc financial analysis. This collaboration not only resolved complex issues but also earned the trust of business users within the organization to help them thrive in a competitive landscape.

Leveraging Planning Analytics and the enterprise BI tool Power BI, Mervin, his team and ActionKPI were able to take a fragmented data landscape that required high-effort manual processes, to a mature data-based organization managing over 600 reports with the ability for business users to self-serve and create their own reports within the environment. Members of the IT team transitioned from being a shadow team nestled within finance to true IT business partners enabling training, education and data literacy to the larger business user group.

Solving the Cost Allocation Challenge

One of the specific areas of improvement made possible by the transformation was automating the cost allocation process. Previously, the company had a challenge which involved leveraging data from their payroll system, ADP, to apply rates and distribute costs across departments and entities within the business.

The cost allocation capability was set up within months, which we couldn’t figure out in almost 3 1/2 years. – Mervin Van der Spuy

 The process they were previously using relied on a mix of technologies, including a mix of .NET applications and SSIS packages. To make matters worse, a single point of failure bottlenecked the system and the data generated by the system required extensive manual manipulation to upload it into Dynamics365. This caused issues with efficiency as well as made it difficult to validate the data.

ActionKPI introduced a more streamlined approach to address cost allocations within the business. A model was implemented in Planning Analytics that automated the extraction of data from ADP, applied customizable parameters and allowed the creation of validation-ready views for data to be uploaded to Dynamics 365. 

The solution also offered additional flexibility by offering functions such as splitting employee costs to different entities and hard coding individual employees to specific projects for defined durations, eliminating the need for manual allocation. 

After implementing the new cost allocation solution, the organization experienced significant improvements. The process became notably more efficient, reducing manual effort and time for both the finance team and the IT department. IT’s involvement shifted primarily towards system maintenance, and the new system provided flexibility to adapt to different business scenarios. It promoted a less isolated process, removing the single point of failure. Moreover, it empowered users with self-service capabilities, reducing their dependence on IT support.

Streamlining Project Forecasting & Budgeting

Another significant challenge that was tackled was updating the project budgeting and forecasting process to plan costs and track actuals. The current use of project-based planning was being updated and tracked within siloed Excel files. These were manually updated with actuals and fraught with the usual Excel issues.

When the organization separated from another business and implemented a new ERP, Dynamics 365, in record time (<1 year), ActionKPI assisted with recommendations within the Dynamics 365 project module to capture the complex reporting planning and requirements.

Utilizing the attributes assigned in Dynamics365 to projects, customized hierarchies were created to represent drilling down through the account string into projects, sub-projects and down to the purchase order/invoice/receipt level.

Connections to Dynamics365 allowed for automated actuals and updates to occur on an hourly basis to keep up with ever-changing planning needs, especially for month-end close and near budget/forecast deadlines.

 Scenario planning enabled the ability to comment on variances at any desired level and to be transferred to finance for their analysis. The finance team was enabled with the ability to investigate the operation’s project planning details and be prepared with the right questions for the operational stakeholders.

What seemed like an insurmountable nightmare, causing people to flee from discussions about project planning in Excel, was transformed into an elegant solution that provided true value to the business users. This solution enabled the organization to manage and integrate project financials and cost data seamlessly without the significant manual effort needed previously.

Added Support

IBM Planning Analytics (PA) is a market leader in the Extended Planning & Analysis (xP&A) software segment for its security, flexibility, and scalability. Knowing that lots can be done with the platform, Mervin sought a more integrated relationship with the ActionKPI team to augment the organization’s ability to optimize the use of PA. ActionKPI brought forward components of their Integrated Profitability Solution (IPS) program which includes administration, elevated support, and regular enhancements aimed at increasing usability and performance.

Pre-built accelerators that can be tailored to the unique requirements of different industries were also leveraged to provide a personalized, streamlined, and effective planning experience. This meant that in times like budgeting season, the organization was able to quickly create and launch a solution to replace a manual spreadsheet-based process for their IT Budget.

ActionKPI’s proactive approach to support also meant that many issues were resolved before they even became problems for business users. The team’s accounting expertise and ability to work directly with business users eliminated the need for intermediaries, ensuring swift issue resolution. The service also includes annual version upgrades and annual performance optimizations to ensure an undisturbed experience for users.

Pre-built accelerators that can be tailored to the unique requirements of different industries were also leveraged to provide a personalized, streamlined, and effective planning experience. This meant that in times like budgeting season, the organization was able to quickly create and launch a solution to replace a manual spreadsheet-based process for their IT Budget.

I look at the reports every month and how much you guys do in the hours you put in and I am fascinated by how much you can do in so little time – Mervin Van der Spuy

Unleashing the Potential of Business Use Cases

The partnership with ActionKPI & their team of CPA/CMAs extended beyond solving immediate challenges for the business. With the data foundation firmly established, the organization was poised to explore various business use cases. They are now set to focus on larger optimizations for the budgeting and forecasting processes, centralizing data, and standardizing practices across the organization.

Future plans include elevating the organization’s Integrated Business Planning methodologies by migrating operational planning and forecasting processes from other systems into Planning Analytics, addressing the cost allocation challenges for the entire organization, implementing rolling forecasting, workforce planning and improving the data aggregation processes. These enhancements promise to optimize efficiencies, enhance data quality, and support better decision-making across the board.

The collaboration with ActionKPI has also paved the way for more complex projects, such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting. Leveraging the IPS platform, the organization will be able to standardize and optimize ESG reporting as government policies and frameworks evolve.

One of the beautiful things about working with ActionKPI is you get a team of actual management accountants who understand the financial processes, KPIs and what matters from a reporting perspective.  You can put them in front of a business user with confidence, knowing they will interact at a professional level, earn their trust, and use their technical skills to turn business problems and challenges into a solution. – Mervin Van der Spuy

Recommendations for Organizations Considering Digital Transformation

Reflecting on his journey, Mervin offered valuable recommendations for organizations considering a transformation from spreadsheet-based processes to integrated business planning methodologies:

  1. Embrace Service-Oriented Solutions: Implementing a service-oriented solution, such as IPS, allows organizations to accelerate the delivery of business value without being hindered by complex IT infrastructure.
  2. Focus on Business Value Creation: Partner with a solution provider that emphasizes business value creation over technology. Expertise in solving business problems and streamlining processes can be invaluable.
  3. Empower Business Users: Invest in solutions that empower business users, reduce overtime, and make them more efficient. This not only enhances productivity but also boosts employee morale and satisfaction.
  4. Look Beyond Technology: Recognize that many challenges are rooted in business processes and not just technology. Choose a partner who understands these challenges and can provide solutions.
  5. Simplify and Streamline: Seek solutions that simplify and streamline complex processes, allowing organizations to concentrate on strategy and vision rather than technical intricacies.

The success story of this finance and IT leader, in collaboration with ActionKPI, illustrates the transformative power of IBM Planning Analytics and integrated business planning solutions in today’s dynamic business landscape. With a focus on business value creation, streamlined processes, and innovative solutions, organizations can unlock their true potential and thrive in a data-driven world.

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