Using Analytics to Thrive in the New Reality

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Common themes: Invest in integrating systems, distribute data consistently

Bridgepoint Consulting hosted 25 Austin-area CFOs and finance leaders on May 31 at HomeAway’s corporate headquarters for an interactive roundtable meeting. Bob Smith, Principal at Bridgepoint Consulting, moderated a discussion led by Lynn Atchison, CFO of HomeAway, and George McHenry, CFO of Hanger Orthopedics, in which they shared experiences about how they sort, manage and use analytics and data to make better management decisions.

In addition to general challenges with overwhelming amounts of data derived from different sources, the leaders discussed the various financial, accounting and CRM systems they use, as well as related integration issues.  The entire group of leaders shared lessons learned and how they address their individual challenges.

According to Atchison, with the multiple acquisitions that HomeAway has completed, they are always working to catching up. “It’s a constant battle between what needs to be done and controlling costs,” she said, “One of our biggest challenges is converting all the acquired companies from their legacy systems to a common system.”

For Hanger Orthopedics, McHenry says compliance with medical billing rules and regulations is a big challenge, especially since they have over 700 locations with each site doing its own billing and collections. Luckily, they are in the process of developing a new practice management system to better manage the billing and collection process that will allow centralized monitoring of all locations.

Both Atchison and McHenry agreed that investing early in automating data gathering and analyzing is critical. But with new systems come steep costs, so management buy-in of the investment is imperative.

“Getting my CIO engaged in the new system development had been a huge leverage point in moving the project forward with management and the Board of Directors,” said McHenry of his new system. “We currently reconcile accounts receivable and cash each day. We have a team of 16 who deal exclusively with exceptions. The new system will eliminate much of this manual effort.”

For HomeAway, going paperless is a crucial aspect of distributing information in the timeliest manner. Atchison believes that preparing information on shorter intervals—weekly vs. monthly—allows management to make quicker operational improvements to prevent larger issues.

Another tip from Atchison: limit report customization and say “no” to the one-off requests for specific data that adds time to the report creation. “Limiting customization of reports allows information to be generated more quickly, allowing management to make appropriate changes in a timelier manner,” said Atchison, “Distributing key data on a consistent basis is better than more detailed information at longer intervals.”

What were the key take-aways of the meeting? Invest in the necessary systems as early as possible – and fight for the investment needed. Also, if you are growing by acquisition, move to common systems as rapidly as possible. Waiting to make the conversions will cause more problems in the long run.