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Matt Newman helps drive better business decisions in a fast-growing industry

Content Producer, IBM

This story is part of Analytics Heroes, a series of profiles on leaders transforming business analytics.

Perched on a stool and going over his notes, Matt Newman prepares for an on-camera interview at Data and AI Forum in Miami, Florida. Matt is the Senior Financial Systems Manager at Sunbelt Rentals, the second-largest heavy equipment rental company in North America. Sunbelt considers FP&A (financial planning and analysis) to be critical to their success.

Starting as a Staff Accountant, Matt climbed the ranks over the past decade to his current leadership role and is spearheading great changes with the FP&A organization. In any industry, it’s a well-known fact that anyone who puts their team before themselves is a natural-born leader. And that quality is obviously present in the way Matt approaches FP&A.

At Sunbelt, Matt ensures the company’s financial data and reporting is accurate, stating “We have a mantra in operations: we’re about availability, reliability, and ease for our rental customers. So, we've adopted that mantra in FP&A as well, and that’s the heart of my role — to ensure that the data and financial reports are also easily accessible and reliable for our internal customers and the operations management team.” Any inaccuracies have a potentially devastating effect on the business, from finance all the way down to safety of the employees and customers. “Our management team is very busy. They work in an environment that can be dangerous at times, and we don't want to be a burden to them in FP&A,” says Matt. “We want the planning and reporting process to be as simple as possible so that they can stay focused on one, being safe, and two, taking care of the customer.” In essence, Matt’s successful execution is directly linked to the success of other teams within the organization.

Matt Newman helps drive better business decisions in a fast-growing industryThe call for change

Sunbelt’s executive team saw opportunities in emerging and existing markets since Matt joined them in 2004. In 2016 they devised a five-year plan to manage and sustain growth, called Project 2021. While the executives were putting together an operational plan, the functional leaders of the company—including Matt—were putting together their own plans for supporting that growth. “In the FP&A team, we knew that to support operational growth, we needed to grow headcount, have better data, and of course we knew we needed a financial system that would scale.”

It wasn’t just the FP&A team that required more robust software. Sunbelt’s IT department was also seeking a new business intelligence solution. “I was definitely an advocate for change…but we knew we couldn’t go down this path alone.” After an extensive search for a consultant, and demoing software with multiple vendors, the BI Steering Committee, which Matt sat on, chose QueBIT as an IBM Analytics Business Partner. “QueBIT showed us that the IBM Planning Analytics and IBM Cognos Analytics would fit the bill on both sides of the coin, for the FP&A team and the IT department.”

Once the partnership was finalized, Matt laid out the groundwork to transition to the new platform. “We started by migrating our reporting data. We wanted to take what we currently had, and ‘forklift’ it over into the IBM Planning Analytics software—we wanted it to be so seamless that our customers wouldn’t notice they were using new software.”

Next, came reporting. “We created new cubes and imported a new data set and were able to take our daily and weekly reporting and bring that into the IBM Planning Analytics platform.” With a wide-ranging and highly mobile field staff, Sunbelt needed convenient ways for its users to access information. The answer: iPads. “We didn’t realize or anticipate that we could go mobile so fast,” says Matt. “Having IBM Planning Analytics on the iPad allows our users to access the data and financial reports anywhere, anytime.”

Empowering his finance team

Before switching to Planning Analytics, Sunbelt’s financial team had required manual intervention at month-end to pull in missing data, and they had spent nearly 60 man-hours a month generating and distributing performance statements to more than 1,300 managers. By implementing new solutions, they have drastically reduced the time pulling data, thus saving overall time and cost. “Before this, we relied heavily on spreadsheets. IBM Planning Analytics has empowered me and my team to be the owners of both the data and the processes…It’s no longer a question, is the data right, or is the report right? It’s this is the result, go ahead and take action and improve your business.”

By making the decision to apply an all-encompassing analytics solution, Matt Newman has helped Sunbelt reap the benefits of their investment and is finding continuing success. “It’s changed the way our end users access financial data and reports and enables them to make more educated business decisions,” says Matt. “It allows us to be nimble, so we can adjust on the fly and accommodate those decisions.” Not only has Matt been exceedingly effective in his role —seeing the implementation from conception to execution — Sunbelt has found a sustainable business in their analytics approach.

Being a champion with analytics

Matt learned a lot over the transition. “If I could offer advice to anybody, the first thing I would say is, get your data right. If you don’t, everything else falls apart.” Speaking from 15 years of experience, Matt adds “know your dimensions. If you don't plan it, then it doesn't need to be in your planning model. I found there was no need to get too granular, into transactional-level detail. Leave that to the Business Intelligence tools in Cognos Analytics.”

After over a decade of hard work and his role in driving FP&A at Sunbelt, Matt is being celebrated by IBM as an Analytics Hero. And like any strong leader he prefers to share the stage with his team. “I’m honored to be an Analytics Hero, and I think my whole team appreciates the recognition. Since our planning stages, about four years ago, there has been a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and late nights. This is validation that our process is moving in the right direction.”

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