May 25, 2023

Making scenario forecasting as easy as child’s play

The vision behind the largest childcare network in New Zealand, BestStart, is to put whānau (family) at the heart of everything they do. Whānau values, language, culture and identity are respected and nurtured at every centre. Recently voted as New Zealand’s most trusted kindergarten brand two years in a row, this philosophy resonates widely with their local communities.

Time lost using spreadsheets

Running a good business though, requires good planning. With over 260 centres nationwide caring for 15,000 full-time children daily, this large network of individually managed centres needed a better way to manage their complex annual budgeting and forecasting process.

BestStart’s annual budgeting process worked well when the business had only a handful of centres, but as it had grown, the process simply didn’t scale.

The degree of manual data entry and the heavy dependency on the IT team meant that the process was overcome with challenges, including:

  • Low visibility and understanding of calculations and assumptions behind the forecasting model which was resulting in a high degree of risk and low confidence in the calculated results.
  • Huge amounts of time needed to consolidate 260 forecasts in Excel.
  • A difficult process for centre managers to prepare forecasts independently.
  • Lack of visibility of the consolidated forecasts for the head office team.

New system, new processes

After another lengthy annual forecasting process in 2019, BestStart began the process of reviewing potential vendors. Key outcomes the team was looking for included: moving to rolling forecasting, eliminating the double handling of data, removing dependence on the IT team to make changes, and allowing the forecasting model to be a sustainable, manageable process across many groups.

Six Degrees was chosen for its ability to apply a model setup and to fully customise the configuration to BestStart’s business processes.  This included being able to map to how fixed assets work, financial rules and configuring their financial statements.

The implementation project gave BestStart the opportunity to review their entire forecasting process and its underlying assumptions. Rules were double checked, old rules removed, and new ones added in. By the end of the setup, BestStart’s Six Degrees had hundreds of new rules. These included balance sheet and cash flow rules, which meant that the resulting forecasts were of the highest integrity.

Added integrity. Added control.

Centre Managers now enter their data directly into the Six Degrees interface and have an instant consolidated view of their centre’s forecast and financial performance.  Surfacing this data to the centre managers’ is invaluable. And for BestStart’s Finance Director, Jill Barnard, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

“From a Centre Manager perspective, the feedback I’m getting is that they’re enjoying the different scenarios. We have four different versions of forecast budgets – pre-COVID, conservative (post-COVID), stretch and optimistic. They’re finding that useful and uptake of the software has been really good.”

For the Head Office team, they now have earlier visibility of an individual centre’s performance, as well as the aggregated performance of all centres.  Being able to manage and control changes to the rules and models themselves, as well as validating them, gives confidence to the team that they have the best forecasting tool at their fingertips.

Additionally, the consolidation of groups of centres into regions gives the regional managers greatly improved visibility. BestStart are supporting users with the new system as it rolls out widely across the business. Jill says:

“Our Business Improvement Leader has rolled out an operational excellence programme across the country, and she’s had a lot of positive feedback about the platform and usability from business managers.”

The transformation of what was once a lengthy annual forecasting and budgeting process into an efficient monthly process with a rolling outlook has set up BestStart to be agile (and reforecast) when it counts. And their timing was perfect. Jill comments:

“Despite everything over the past few months with COVID, the budgeting rounds after implementing Six Degrees have been relatively painless. We’ve been able to keep focus on the business at such a crucial time.”