Managing budgets and overseeing financials is a challenge for any enterprise. For National Public Radio (NPR), which oversees 900-plus radio stations in the United States, as well as satellite systems and digital media used by its website and affiliates, it’s critical.
“It’s essential that we have an accurate roadmap,” says senior financial analyst Reggie Newsome. “Tracking the annual budget and the rolling forecasts is vital to operations.”
In the past, that required poring over spreadsheets. However, with a nearly $200 million annual budget that encompasses 10 cost centers and 14 departments, that wasn’t good enough.
“We had to deal with formula errors and human errors, and we had templates to manage and other challenges, including exchanging data with different departments and different people,” Newsome explains. Consequently, processes such as budgeting dragged on for months, and reporting often trailed the current state of financials for the organization.
To deal with these issues, NPR migrated to a cloud-based financial reporting system from Host Analytics. After a two-month process of converting data from Excel spreadsheets and creating data links to the general ledger system, 13 NPR financial analysts began using the software platform.
“We were initially a bit skeptical about using the cloud for financial analytics,” Newsome says, “but it became apparent that it offered some major advantages, including better and faster access to critical data.”
Delivering Continuous Up-to-Date Forecasts
The financial reporting platform has been a net positive for NPR. It has helped the organization engineer a saving of nearly $50,000 in labor costs.
“Analysts do not have to spend as much time handling routine tasks,” Newsome says. “They can use their time more productively and strategically.”
In addition, the previous four-month annual budgeting process now takes less than two months. But that’s only part of the story. The system updates continuously, and it delivers up-to-date 18 month forecasts.
Newsome and other analysts can now track income and expenses more closely and adapt faster when an issue pops up. “We are able to click a button and have immediate answers,” he reports. “We can spot emerging issues and trends more quickly. And we now have a high level of confidence that the data is accurate.”
What’s more, the analysts can dig deeper into the data to understand how an array of other factors—including production and operational costs, hours, ratings and more—impact profitability and other factors.
Better visibility and smarter decisions have contributed to a 26 percent gain in ratings for morning programming, as well as a 43 percent gain in afternoon programming. NPR is now looking at using the system to more accurately map out costs and expenses for shows and streamline data collection for budgeting new shows.
Newsome says that the cloud-based approach has made it easier to access data from any device in any place and at any time. It also has helped NPR ensure that it is currently using the most recent features available—all within a highly secure environment.
“Upgrades occur regularly, and there’s no need to shut down systems,” Newsome explains. “In the past, we had to shut down a mainframe for a few hours and then have people log back in. The cloud has introduced far greater speed and flexibly.”