J.L. Clark is a leading manufacturer of specialty packaging for the confectionary, spice, health and beauty, and smokeless tobacco industries. Based in Rockford, Illinois, J.L. Clark supplies high-quality metal lithography and custom metal, plastic and combination packaging. J.L. Clark uses DataRails for financial reporting, forecasting and budgeting, and also uses its dashboard capabilities for data visualization.
The problem: Gathering the data for financial reporting takes too long
[Before using DataRails], I was feeling that this is so repetitive, and it takes so long, and I do the same thing literally every day, and it’s not a lot of value added just to get the numbers.
—Kathy Opsahl, operations financial analyst,
J.L. Clark has an ERP system, but the company’s finance team found that while the ERP stored the data they needed, they were unable to access it in an efficient way because they couldn’t link the transactions and fields they needed to see at a glance.
That translated into several days a month of work just to extract and sort through the data in order to get the information needed for financial reporting – plus an additional 1-2 hours of daily reporting.
“On the FP&A side especially, we had difficulty reporting and getting answers quickly” prior to using DataRails, said Annette DeYoung, director of FP&A at J.L. Clark.
“The ERP system that we have doesn’t have reporting capabilities. I used to extract data with SQL and do data dumps, and then we’d have to go through the data, massage it, do all sorts of lookups just to get the information we wanted,” said DeYoung. “Now we bring in just the fields we need for reporting. What used to take days now takes maybe an hour.”
Part of the problem was a heavy reliance on that old standby for data collection: manually cutting and pasting data from other files into the financial statements, a time-consuming process that is prone to error and fails to make good use of the true strategic value of a finance team.
“When I first started, we were copying and pasting into our financial statements,” said J.L. Clark controller Lori Mack. “But with DataRails, it is seamless. We can make the changes we want quickly without having to update everything for hours upon hours.”
“In order to publish our financial statements, first we had to update the journal entries,” said Mack. “Then we had to recalculate the financial statements in order to update them because we couldn’t publish the statements with formulas in them, so we had to break the links on every single statement we had created. It was very time-consuming.”
The data consolidation process was not only time-consuming before J.L. Clark implemented DataRails but also frustrating for the finance team.
“I was feeling that this is so repetitive, and it takes so long, and I do the same thing literally every day, and it’s not a lot of value added just to get the numbers,” said Kathy Opsahl, operations financial analyst at J.L. Clark.
“It was just the same thing every day, and it was taking hours just to get to the numbers, without having the ability to explain them,” said DeYoung.
The solution: Spend less time on low-value tasks
Having the data living in just one place that is accessible has been a game-changer. DataRails makes it much easier to get the data.
—Annette De Young, director of FP&A,
With DataRails, J.L. Clark went from spending hours on low-value manual effort to creating updated financial statements in minutes.
Data collection now goes much faster, for both monthly statements and daily reports.
“I used to spend a good hour to hour and a half on daily reports,” said DeYoung. “Now it’s just there, and all I do is double-check it, which saves a lot of time.”
Closing the month also takes significantly less time now that consolidating the data is no longer a task that takes so much effort.
“With DataRails, we make the changes and sync the data, and we just publish those updated financial statements in minutes,” said DeYoung. “Having the data living in just one place that is accessible has been a game-changer. DataRails makes it much easier to get the data.”
Month-end analysis: 2 hours instead of 2 days
The J.L. Clark finance team is also using DataRails’ drilldown function to conduct its monthly analysis with department managers – which used to take two days and now take two hours.
“Every month we’d do a month-end analysis with department managers,” said DeYoung. “We’d go through them line by line at the end of every month, forecasting out future months. We’d say to supplies or maintenance: ‘You’re $40,000 over for the month. Why?’”
Instead of looking up invoices to provide those answers, the finance team or the department managers themselves can drill down into the data using the DataRails drilldown function for Excel and dashboards.
“Now we can drill down, create and save as favorites so it’s the same every time, and we can see things like who the vendor was, what account was charged, the purchase order number and the items,” said DeYoung. “We can drill down really quickly. I can do it instantly right in front of them. Before, they’d say, ‘Well, we have to get back to you,’” said DeYoung.
“We can do it on the fly right now. Those meetings used to take two days and now it’s about two hours and we’re done, and we spend the time analyzing the data instead of trying to get the data.”
The impact: More time for strategic analysis leads to cost savings & better visibility for management
The drilldown capabilities in DataRails have saved hours upon hours because we can literally have our answers within seconds. … DataRails has enabled us to give the rest of the company more data and more results and to answer questions quickly.
—Annette De Young, director of FP&A,
Saving on costs by identifying purchase price variance early
The finance team is able to easily analyze different slices of the data by drilling down into information such as which products each customer is ordering or what the price increases are by customer, by item, by month, by week or by day. “We have so many more reports now,” said DeYoung. “They’re easy to create, to publish, and to drill down on to get answers.”
What makes it easier to analyze the data and answer questions fast is the ability to quickly link disparate data points together in DataRails instead of spending hours digging through different levels of data in the ERP, said Opsahl.
Purchase price variance is a key business metric Opsahl uses DataRails to analyze, because that’s a significant source of cost variance for the company and can lead to significant cost savings. To quickly identify the source of the variance, Opsahl links up the general ledger with item numbers and vendors.
“When management sees higher variances related to specific numbers, I think it’s surprising for them because we had no visibility into that anywhere else,” said Opsahl. “If we don’t tell them, they don’t know.”
Drilling down fast: Answering management questions on the spot instead of a week later
Expending extensive manual effort into consolidating data for financial statements not only uses the valuable time of finance professionals for low-value, repetitive tasks, but also has a broader impact on the company as a whole: namely, the missed opportunity of strategic financial insights that the finance team could have provided if they had had more time to analyze the data they spent so long collecting.
Before using DataRails, the finance team at J.L. Clark spent time digging into the data to answer questions from management, but the process was highly inefficient because the data was not easily accessible or structured in a way that made it easy to answer questions fast.
“There were always a lot of questions, like ‘Why was this so much higher than what we forecasted or budgeted?’” said DeYoung.
“Before we started using DataRails, we’d go into the ERP system and look at journal entries, but that was not user-friendly,” she said. “We’d do big data dumps and try to figure it out.”
And now? “The drilldown capabilities in DataRails have saved hours upon hours because we can literally have our answers within seconds,” said DeYoung. “When management asks us questions, before we told them it would take about a day or two but could be up to a week to get them what they want, and now I can get it the same day.”
Executive dashboards for immediate, accessible data visualization
J.L. Clark uses DataRails’ built-in data visualization capabilities to create dashboards for key business metrics like sales revenue, purchase price variance, sourcing and production.
The company’s senior management and department managers receive daily emails with a link to the dashboards so they can keep their fingers on the pulse of the company’s KPIs and closely monitor any changes.
The dashboards make it far easier for managers to stay informed, because J.L. Clark did not have a way of visually representing the data before implementing DataRails.
Other departments in the company have noticed that new reports are now available and requested to see additional data as well, such as a production report showing the units produced.
“They can just go out there and drill down on any one they want and they don’t need to go to finance and say, ‘Okay, I see $1,000 in this account. What is it?’ They can be self-sufficient,” said DeYoung.
“I think for the most part, especially for the finance team, there’s been a lot of time saving,” said DeYoung. “DataRails has enabled us to give the rest of the company more data and more results and to answer questions quickly. I think for us this really has been a game-changer.”
Update: Annette DeYoung no longer works at J.L. Clark.