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Gaining a Competitive Edge

Eaton Vance does better analysis in less time with new business intelligence tools.

by Karen J. Bannan, February 2009

Like countless other companies before it, Boston-based investment management firm Eaton Vance Corporation realized it needed a business intelligence (BI) boost after making a series of acquisitions and witnessing periods of continued growth.

The company, with assets of US$156.7 billion as of June 30, 2008, had brought several new companies and processes on board in an effort to better serve its clients—a mix of financial advisors, brokerage firms, and private and institutional investors. As a result, data consolidation and analysis was getting to be complex, says William Pannella, Eaton Vance’s vice president of finance and accounting analysis services. Microsoft Excel, the company’s management realized, just wasn’t going to cut it anymore as the company’s primary analysis tool.

“Four and a half years ago when I joined the company, we were going through a growth spurt, and we knew that the current manual consolidation process wasn’t scalable,” Pannella says. “When our associates needed to drill down and get information about something on a repeatable basis, Excel wasn’t allowing them to do that. We needed to make the process faster and more transparent so our associates could spend less time on the actual accounting and more time on the analysis—thinking about some of the more-complex parts of our books.”

Pannella also wanted additional visibility into the processes. Automation, he believed, would be key.

Eaton Vance found the answer to its problems in several BI tools, including Oracle Hyperion Financial Management, Oracle Hyperion Data Relationship Management, and Oracle Business Intelligence Suite, Enterprise Edition Plus. By implementing these solutions in 2006, Eaton Vance added cutting-edge technology and capabilities that the majority of other financial services companies just don’t have and gained a competitive edge, according to Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research, a Boston-based information technology advisory and research firm.

“While I don’t have exact statistics, I’d say 9 out of 10 financial services firms are still using spreadsheets out there,” Wettemann explains. “What we’ve seen with Hyperion in general is the ability to have more consistency around the close process, which means it’s faster and also likely to be better.”

Eaton Vance didn’t jump at the first set of software tools it came across. Instead, the selection team went through a careful vetting process, putting out requests for proposals in 2004 to three separate vendors. Two of the vendors had good products, but neither could satisfy all of Eaton Vance’s business requirements, and there were numerous questions about ease of implementation and maintenance. Oracle’s Hyperion applications, however, were already in production at other firms, and Pannella says he knew those firms were seeing good results with the software.

“If you go around Boston and look around the financial services world, Hyperion was already a gold standard. It had a track record, and a lot of us on the team had used it before in other companies we worked for,” Pannella says. “When it came down to kind of soup-to-nuts functionality and who could we trust, Hyperion was the only option.”

Unique to the Industry

While the company differentiated itself with its software choice—other companies use one or two Hyperion tools, but few have all the Hyperion product offerings installed as Eaton Vance does—the company’s needs were similar to those of other financial services firms, says David O’Connell, a senior analyst with Nucleus Research. Financial companies need a way to distribute information and make sure it’s been interpreted, analyzed, and used in a standardized way. Unless companies can do this—and do it well—anarchy reigns, he says.

 

“You have this folklore that proliferates across an organization as to how analysis is done, what data points require analysis, and how to calculate those data points,” explains O’Connell. “For example, in banking, people have different definitions of exactly how the ROI on a potential loan should be calculated and what those inputs should be. There will be folklore about the proper number to use for the cost of capital, for instance. This can result in errors and a loss of productivity, when everyone has to stop before a big meeting and discuss which version of the folklore was used and how they are supposed to analyze the potential loan.”

This is exactly what Eaton Vance went through on a daily basis, says Pannella. “A lot of our calculations and a lot of our metrics were held in reports, and metrics or roll-ups might be calculated differently from analysis to analysis, depending on who was creating it,” he explains.

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