FirstGroup transforms financial planning with SAP BPC

First_Group.pngFirstGroup plc is a transport company operating in the UK and North America. One of the largest train operators in the UK, the group runs rail franchises including First Great Western and First TransPennine Express.

FirstGroup needed to standardise and automate financial planning and consolidation across its train operating companies, starting with First TransPennine Express. This needed to be done in an extremely tight timescale, to avoid disrupting TransPennine’s planning cycle.

The business challenge

FirstGroup’s train operating companies each have their own financial planning and reporting systems, processes and technologies. Group finance had the cumbersome task of reformatting and manually consolidating the outputs into the group accounts, leaving little time and resource to analyse financial performance.

The company therefore wanted to automate budgeting, forecasting and reporting across its train operators, in order to standardise planning and consolidation. It opted to start with a single operator, before transferring the solution to the others over time.

First TransPennine Express was considered an ideal test bed. Its planning system was Excel-based, so there was real scope for modernisation. And as it was only a few years into its government franchise, it had the internal resource to focus on a major project of this kind.

The solution

Recommendation

Bluefin Solutions recommended SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) for a number of reasons:

  • Capability. SAP BPC has the budgeting, forecasting, reporting and consolidation functionalities that FirstGroup required
  • Compatibility. FirstGroup’s train operating companies all use SAP Business Warehouse to capture financial data, as well as other SAP solutions, meaning SAP BPC would readily integrate into its  IT infrastructure
  • Speed of implementation. The solution had to be installed within three months so it was ready in time for the next planning cycle
  • Ease of use. It was essential that FirstGroup’s IT team could support the application after it had been deployed.

Implementation

Bluefin Solutions conducted a due-diligence exercise to understand TransPennine’s existing planning processes and determine how the solution should be designed to meet FirstGroup’s objectives.

The implementation phase encountered several challenges:

  • Minimising disruption to the business was crucial. Given the three-month timeframe, Bluefin Solutions used TransPennine’s existing planning definitions as a template, improving the system by standardising and automating processes wherever possible
  • The UK rail sector is highly regulated and unionised, which has complex implications for planning and consolidation. Bluefin’s consultants instinctively understood these nuances, and configured SAP BPC to reflect them
  • A pre-deployment project, being run by FirstGroup to lay the groundwork for BPC, hit unexpected delays. This was overcome by Bluefin temporarily hosting BPC on its own servers for TransPennine Express.

“Bluefin Solutions gave us complete confidence that they understood SAP BPC, and could address the particular challenges of the rail environment to make the application work for us.” Tom Grant, Head of Rail Management Information, FirstGroup

Collaboration

Bluefin Solutions collaborated with TransPennine Express to form a joint team of developers, ensuring that both parties were involved in all stages of the project.

This ‘one-team’ approach offered the agility to draw on Bluefin and TransPennine resources as needed to achieve the project’s objectives. It also meant that problems could be addressed and resolved as soon as they arose to keep the project on track. This flexibility was key to implementing the solution and skilling up the TransPennine team in just three months.

“BPC was a whole new application for us, and a new way of doing financial planning. The skills transfer that was achieved in such a short period was extremely valuable to us.” Tom Grant, Head of Rail Management Information, FirstGroup

The business benefits

SAP BPC has given TransPennine Express a fully systemised financial planning and consolidation process. This has resulted in several major benefits for the operator and for FirstGroup:   

  • Reporting can now be done far more quickly – even in highly regulated areas of the business such as staffing. For example, payroll reporting is on course to be completed 1-2 days faster each month than was previously possible
  • As the solution is easily integrated into FirstGroup’s SAP infrastructure, and tailored to the sector’s regulatory demands, it can readily be rolled out across the remaining train operating companies when the time comes
  • Streamlining planning has freed internal resource to focus on more strategic tasks, such as analysis of the outputs and measuring financial performance.

Following the success of the project, Bluefin Solutions is extending its engagement with FirstGroup to develop a Yield Management solution for FirstGroup TransPennine Express using SAP HANA. 

Why Bluefin Solutions?

"Bluefin Solutions is well known for its SAP BPC expertise, and came highly recommended by SAP as the ideal implementation partner for the project. We have an excellent working relationship with the Bluefin team." Tom Grant, Head of Rail Management Information, FirstGroup

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