Company: Eclipse Computing
Customer: Burson Marsteller
Submitted by: The itpr Partnership
Date: July 2002
Burson Marsteller has led the way in the delivery of international public relations campaigns as far back as the 1950s. Increasing competition, client demands and the goal of delivering transparency across its operations throughout Europe and Asia encouraged the company to implement consolidated financial accounting and time reporting systems. With support from financial systems solutions provider, Eclipse Computing, Burson Marsteller has been able to improve international business support, develop enhanced client-centric processes and attain a tighter control over costs with daily access to consolidated global information. Freelance journalist, Emma Mansell-Lewis reports.
Burson Marsteller’s worldwide revenues for 2000 were $304 million – its most successful year to date. The company is part of WPP International, the world’s most comprehensive communications services group with a client base that includes 300 of the Fortune Global 500 and one third of the NASDAQ 100.
In 1997, Burson Marsteller decided to increase its focus on international service to clients, making the business customer-centric at an international level rather than locally. In addition, it wanted to move further away from geographic business areas to create a practice structure that crossed national boundaries, creating a matrix structure across the entire group.
As Chris McGhie, Burson Marsteller’s head of business systems, explains, “To achieve our goals, we required consistent, consolidated financial information and consistent metrics and processes across global borders.”
A further incentive was cost reduction. “It is far more cost effective to develop one system centrally and deploy it consistently across offices worldwide,” McGhie confirms.
Having investigated the market for financial and business management software, Burson Marsteller placed an order with Eclipse Computing to implement SunSystems from Systems Union, fully integrated with third-party time recording software.
McGhie explains, “One of the most important reasons for choosing SunSystems was its excellent multi-currency support. There was no better available solution that would fit all our markets worldwide, supporting offices with 50-200 people in each.”
In addition, SunSystem’s single ledger provided an excellent platform for delivering access to business information whilst its ease of integration with third-party products was also a key benefit. McGhie says, “SunSystems has a range of add-on products, such as the Vision reporting tool which is extremely powerful and effective, particularly in trends analysis. It was important that the software we chose was flexible and allowed us to easily integrate business-critical applications within the enterprise and SunSystems met this requirement.”
Eclipse Computing managed the implementation of SunSystems within 24 Burson Marsteller offices across Europe and Asia, replacing 18 different accounting systems in order to provide a consolidated, business management platform throughout the group.
Eclipse specialises in delivering financial and business management solutions to local and multinational organisations from a global network of offices, spanning the major business regions of the Americas, Europe and Asia. The core competency of each office is the delivery of system solutions based on packaged software from Eclipse business partners such as Systems Union. Commenting on the selection of Eclipse as implementation partner, McGhie explains, “The decision to work with Eclipse was based on the company’s broad global expertise and ability to support our offices throughout Europe and Asia. They also have extensive experience of implementing systems within the PR industry and as a result they were able to clearly demonstrate an excellent understanding of our business requirements.”
McGhie continues, ‘Eclipse’s knowledge of different markets globally was extremely valuable. The project was led from London and their understanding of local legislation and statutory requirements was invaluable. Not only did it ensure a smooth implementation in line with global legal requirements but also enabled us to understand and prioritise the stated needs of the local finance personnel and rationalise their demands where appropriate, ensuring a smooth, appropriate technology deployment.”
ACHIEVING CORPORATE BENEFITS
The implementation of the SunSystems standard Chart of Accounts, fully integrated with the ProActa time recording and project accounting software solution throughout all its markets, enabled Burson Marsteller to achieve its new corporate structure.
McGhie says, “We have the flexibility now to support clients in the most appropriate way for their business, whatever our internal structure. This means that work for one client in the UK may be billed out of our Paris office, for example, and critically we have complete visibility of that information. The implementation of SunSystems and ProActa is supporting efficient, client-facing business processes.”
Another major benefit of the system is that it has also facilitated the rapid dissemination of financial information to a range of business users, from senior management to key client support personnel.
McGhie says, “We deliver ‘flash reports’ of revenues on a daily basis to provide a quick picture across Europe, countries and clients as appropriate.” The creation of one, trusted information source is also supporting global business development processes, which is key during the current economic slowdown in the communications industry. He says, “The availability of information at Burson Marsteller is 100 percent better now. A daily update of the financial situation combined with global access to information has created an open culture that supports both local and global business development discussions.”
Information is also available, via the corporate Intranet, to client leaders who can quickly see the status of client business across the region via reports updated daily.
“The easy availability of this information means that budgets can be managed better,” says McGhie. “In addition, the clients’ perception of Burson Marsteller improves too since we can quickly provide information on the business status worldwide for each client, which is vital when we are managing 20 or 30 projects globally for a major client.”
IMPROVED TIME RECORDING
In addition to the core SunSystems product, Eclipse also worked with Burson Marsteller to manage the implementation of time recording software that is tightly integrated with its financial software, in order to deliver key benefits.
Replacing what was previously a paper-based time sheet process, Burson Marsteller’s time recording product is now used by 500 fee-earners across the company to electronically record the amount of time spent on each client job. Indeed, the software’s flexibility has enabled Burson Marsteller to keep more detailed records about specific activities undertaken by staff for clients, providing improved efficiency and business understanding.
Says McGhie, “In the past, time was just booked to a specific client. Now, we are using time recording software to attain a detailed breakdown of the work undertaken for each client. In addition to being more detailed, we are also able to process time sheets far more quickly now.”
Indeed, Burson Marsteller publishes a list of Missing Time Reports on the intranet, which has further encouraged client service staff to ensure time sheets are completed and filed on time. In addition, the high level of integration between its time recording application and SunSystems means that the company has only one point of input for all information.
MANAGING BUSINESS EFFICIENTLY
This detailed time recording information, which is updated daily, has also enabled Burson Marsteller to address one of the more prevalent issues in Public Relations: over-servicing clients. The danger of over-servicing is clear since it both results in financial write-offs and drastically reduces the company’s capacity to take on new business. With this detailed information now available, the company is in a far better position to estimate working levels and, critically, negotiate with clients for forthcoming fees.
“Prior to this implementation we did not have information about client over-servicing. Now we do and to address the problem we have implemented monitoring processes to flag up over-servicing,” says McGhie. “We are now constantly monitoring to minimise this problem.”
As well as supporting business analysis, this detailed billing information enables Burson Marsteller to support the diverse requirements of the clients. “Burson Marsteller’s goal is to have very detailed information internally but to present high level information to clients backed up with qualitative information about the work we have carried out,” he says. “However, clients have diverse needs. Our systems provide us with the flexibility to meet the information needs of all clients, down to the lowest detail, without incurring significant administrative overhead.”
He says, “We have been able to re-deploy resource within the organisation and in many cases increase the significance of individual roles, moving away from the routine processes now handled by the software, towards detailed financial analysis using Vision and the Business Objects OLAP tool.”
Having successfully achieved the deployment of the consolidated financial solution, Burson Marsteller continues to work with Eclipse Computing on further enhancements and it is currently evaluating the next version of SunSystems with the help of Eclipse.
He says, “Despite some early difficulties, the implementation has been a success. Burson Marsteller has streamlined processes and enabled improved support of international business. In addition, the improved access to detailed information is helping our budget management which has become increasingly important during the recent market downturn.”
McGhie concludes, “The implementation of a new business management system, with support from Eclipse Computing, has enabled us to sustain our market-leading position in the PR industry and ensure we are able to provide our clients with an ‘added-value’ level of service.”