Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Growing by Leaps and Bounds in the Cloud

Lynne Sampson
Managing Editor

Sim International prides itself on being a full-service production house for some big players in the entertainment game. Their motto, “From first frame to finishing,” covers everything a TV show or movie might need during and after a shoot: studios, cameras, lights, dailies, editing bays, special effects and post-production—even freelance talent. With studios in major locales including Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles, Sim’s clients include big names like Netflix, Universal, Warner Brothers, and many more.

But despite its global cultural clout, the entertainment industry is a small world. Relationships matter, and landing the business requires cultivating close connections with the power players holding the purse strings. Since 2010, Sim has set about expanding this network—acquiring seven different companies, each with its own culture, leadership, and carefully nurtured client list.

That created a hodgepodge of financial systems, accounts and processes—and a lot of visibility challenges for Sim International executives.

Julie Anne Mong, Vice President, Financial Technology Services, Sim International“Our old individual legacy brands managed their own books with their individual chart of account and separate policies,” said Julie Anne Mong, vice president of financial technology services at Sim International. “We originally had seven systems with separate chart of accounts; in aggregate, we had approximately 5,000 accounts.”

The acquired companies were using a variety of software packages to manage their finances, from Quickbooks to Great Plains. During the financial close, each entity had to run its own trial balance on its own software.

“These seven individual trial balances would then be aligned as accurately as possible to each other and consolidated in Excel,” Mong continued. “This was very labor intensive and typically took many weeks. If there was any other unusual activity during that period, such as M&A or audits, the close could take months.”

In addition to a painful period close, these disparate systems stymied efforts to further grow the business; without a single chart of accounts, it was a labor-intensive process for Sim to look at potential acquisitions and run “what-if” scenarios with any confidence in the numbers. “Typically, by the time the results were available, the data was stale and any agile response opportunities were lost,” said Mong.

Breaking Down Silos to Support Growth

To support its growth strategy, Sim International decided to turn to the cloud to manage its finances. With help from Gold Standard Management Consulting, Sim International implemented Oracle ERP Cloud as the system of record across its entire business, replacing the siloed financial software from its seven acquisitions.

“The big win here is the standardization,” said Mong. “The system forced better fiscal discipline and unification across the divisions. We have adopted unified policies and have improved our internal controls.”

Sim implemented a single CoA, reducing the number of accounts from about 5,000 down to 400. “We are on one set of books that aggregates the company data in subledgers and ledgers in a way that allows us to look at information strategically.”

That strategic view has proven critical in supporting Sim’s future growth plans. With Oracle EPM Cloud, “we’re able to align to and measure against our corporate strategy to be a full-service entertainment brand. Planning and budgeting allows us to measure our successes, as well as model new opportunities. We have far more data points to leverage and are able to access this information far faster than before.  Both will support our growth strategies.”

Richard Kadeg, President, Gold Standard Management ConsultingFrom an IT perspective, Sim International can now take advantage of world-class security, hardware, availability and redundancy—at a cost available to SMBs. “Sim does not need to have multiple database administrators on staff to support the system,” said Richard Kadeg, president of Gold Standard Management Consulting, Sim’s implementation partner. “Monthly security patching is now part of business testing between Oracle and Sim. The environments are always current on patches and the process is rigorously managed to minimize downtime.”

This helps Sim International scale easily, adding more transactions without adding more staff or hardware.

The Importance of Change Management

Mong said that the technology was the easy part of the project. The toughest challenge was the change management. Leaders from the acquired companies, who were used to running their own businesses on their own software, found it a tough adjustment. For example, simple control changes—such as purchase order requirements for non-capital expenditures—were processes that some found unfamiliar.

“We prepared for the changes through frequent communication about the goals of the project, highlighting the alignment with our company strategy,” Mong said about Sim’s change management strategy. They brought key financial stakeholders into the system early to acclimate them. They spoke to stakeholders about why the company needed to standardize and adopt best practices.

And, when the cloud went live, they immediately decommissioned the old legacy applications—forcing users to adopt the new system. 

Mong notes that change management is still a struggle, but “the system is bringing the discipline.” And it’s supporting the goals that Sim’s CEO laid down at the outset: supporting future growth and absorbing new acquisitions in weeks, rather than months.

“The company is maturing by leaps and bounds every month,” Mong notes. “These types of changes require constant vocal and visible executive sponsorship to be successful.”

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