Every January, Sydney Festival starts the New Year with a bang, transforming the city with a bold cultural celebration based on critical ideas and cutting-edge art and performance. The first festival took place in 1977 and has grown to become one of Australia’s largest annual cultural celebrations with an international reputation for modern, popular and intelligent programming. They have presented international artists along with the most exciting artists and companies in Australia.
The Challenges in Reporting
The Festival has continued to grow with 100 events in 2019 and a turnover of $20 million. Sydney Festival has a core of 25 staff, but this increases from October onwards, building up to 250 during the festival itself. The challenge for them was to combine an improved accounting system with superior reporting. They wanted to:
- Understand the profitability of each event in the festival.
- Reporting on events as a whole
- Reporting on variances and monitoring on a daily basis to see whether the events were on or off track.
- Ability to share these reports with the right people across the organisation.
Sydney Festival engaged Matt Paff from Value Adders to independently recommend a new accounting, purchasing and payroll platform. Matt recommended an integrated system including QuickBooks Online for their accounting, KeyPay for payroll and timesheets and ApprovalMax for purchase order and bill approval workflows. He identified upfront that a reporting enhancement would be required above and beyond the native reporting in QuickBooks, in order to deliver the multi-tiered, event-based reporting required throughout the organisation.
With 100 events in the Festival, each has its own production team who need to track the project profit and loss and project budget so that they don’t overspend. They used to do it all in Excel. Then as well as the project events team, the accounts team were also tracking the numbers. So there was a lot of duplication of entering lots of data. It was not efficient and there were often discrepancies. After considering a raft of various options, Microsoft Power BI via Smetric Insights was selected as the best solution to meet the Festival’s requirements.
What Did We Do
By putting in Power BI to do the reporting over QuickBooks, rather than spending a whole day analysing in Excel, they can track it all live in Power BI. Using various filters and traffic light style dashboards, it is easy to see if they are coming up to trouble. They currently have 8 users and they can tailor what each team member can see.
The main benefits were:
- BETTER TRANSPARENCY
Previously, for each event, the team would start getting quotes months before, from October onwards. And they’d report it in their own spreadsheets. But the expenses weren’t recorded until after the event when they received the invoice in January or February. Now there is more transparency and efficiency as the data all flows through from the Purchase Order. It encourages people to enter the Purchase Orders in the system as they get them. They now realise the value of doing it now, not 6 months later.
- MORE ACCURATE FORECASTING
They can now predict overspend early, before it happens, not after the event. It makes forecasting much easier. By running a report which showed ‘significant’ variances (over $5k positive or negative (threshold set by Sydney Festival)) this would let Katie have a conversation about why a given event is $5k+ over budget or if it was $5k+ under budget, if they had put all the Purchase Orders against the event
- REDUCED REPORTING TIME
The finance department and Head of Production used to have a 200-page report. Now they can review the dashboards using various filters and see things at a glance, without having to delve through 200 pages. Refresh times are daily for the last 2 months and then monthly on an agreed day for a refresh of the last 12 months to get any changes that may have happened in previous months.
Summary and the Future
Smetric Insights implemented the Power BI reporting solution for Sydney Festival early in the year and only Katie and the Head of Production looked at it then. There are now 8 users, including the Executive Director and heads of each department. As they ramp up to the next festival, they will increase the number of users. Access will be tailored to their own event and their own part of the P&L. They will only see the reports relevant to them, not the whole lot.
Katie was very impressed with the turnaround of Francis on the Smetric team. “He’d have made some changes by the next morning, even if we only asked for them at 4pm the day before.”
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