6 February 2015

Shelter Afrique boosts productivity and increases efficiencies with GL Wand

When the only Pan African housing finance company, Shelter Afrique, implemented Oracle ERP financials, it soon discovered a limiting factor with the efficiency of the solution with regards to reporting: getting information out of the system and to the people who needed it to make decisions was just too difficult and time consuming. The problem was quickly solved with the addition of GL Wand from Excel4apps, which enabled the organisation to respond immediately to its partners' requests for real time financial information.

Shelter Afrique focuses on building strategic partnerships and offers a host of products and related services to support the efficient delivery of affordable housing and commercial real estate. As such, there is an ongoing requirement to provide its multiple stakeholders with relevant information and reports. The introduction of Excel4apps GL Wand has directly solved this problem; as an intuitive solution immediately familiar to Excel users, little training is required, allowing the software to deliver practically immediate value. By implementing GL Wand, Shelter Afrique gained competitive advantage, enabling users to generate real time reports on demand to quickly analyse data, improving productivity and performance.

Shelter Afrique occupies a rarefied niche as it is the only pan-African finance institution that exclusively supports the development of the housing and real estate sector in Africa. Focused specifically on mobilising resources for housing development with a view to meeting the needs of the continent’s rapidly growing urban population, the organisation’s work has a direct and positive impact on the lives of many. To this end, Shelter Afrique is incorporated in Kenya, with its headquarters in Nairobi and an additional West African office located in Nigeria.

Given the nature of the organisation’s work, underwriting projects for housing development in conjunction with international financial institutions from the Netherlands, France and elsewhere in Europe, as well as with the European Investment Bank, it is obvious that having a clear picture of its finances is crucial to the effective operation of the business.

Hillary Kilonzo, Finance Officer at Shelter Afrique, says the organisation was formed through a partnership of 44 African governments, alongside the African Development Bank and the Africa Reinsurance Company. “We focus on building strategic partnerships and offer a host of products and related services to support the efficient delivery of affordable housing and commercial real estate. These include project finance, institutional lending, equity investments and joint ventures, trade finance and social housing. The organisation also offers practical advice and technical assistance to a wide range of industry stakeholders.”

He explains how Oracle ERP financials was restricting performance: “Because of our structure and the nature of what we do, we often receive requests from various stakeholders for information. What we needed was a tool that was able to generate such financial information in real time and be able to immediately respond to our partners’ requests.”

Getting that information out, however, depended on engaging IT staff to assist, using the Financial Statement Generator (FSG). “We wanted real time production of reports and updates to financial statements, but this was an incredibly long and tedious process.  Needless to say, it also impacted on the data analysis, since most auditors require the schedules to be produced in Excel. This led to a lot of cut-and-paste work, which is both boring for the employees and an inefficient way of doing things, meaning user productivity was also being lowered,” he says.

Simple choice

In the search for a better way of extracting and presenting data, Kilonzo came across a white paper from Oracle Corporation validating Excel4apps GL Wand as a real time link between Excel and Oracle ERP financials.

“I insisted that we conduct tests on GL Wand to find out whether it was suitable for our organisation. It seemed ideal based on what I saw in the white paper, as we were already using Oracle technology and needed to work with Excel as well. It didn’t take our testing long to confirm my initial findings and we implemented it immediately.”

Kilonzo says adoption of the GL Wand tool was a rapid process. “We began testing it at the beginning of 2014 and procured our first licences in June. Following this, we brought in a trainer for just two days, who trained 15 of our people.”

“GL Wand is so simple to use that training was completed in one day. Employees spent the second day working with the solution on their own, with the trainer standing by in case. This demonstrated to us just how easy it is to use and our people quickly became familiar with it.”

He adds that the Shelter Afrique people were not resistant to the solution in any way, thanks to their familiarity with Excel. “Our people quickly recognised that GL Wand boosts their productivity and performance, so they embraced it right away.”

Improved efficiencies

GL Wand is a big hit in the Shelter Afrique offices; Kilonzo points out that it takes minutes to install, is easy to use, and – because it enables real time reporting and the quick analysis of data – delivers on all the organisation’s requirements.

“In addition, it gives us the ability to convert FSG reports to Excel in the report templates we have already defined. That makes it ideal for our needs. It also provides a brilliant drill-down feature, enabling access to any level of detail as required, very useful when the source and origin of particular transactions is needed. High speed refreshes are also important; there is no doubt that GL Wand delivers efficiency which frees our people to focus on more important tasks.”

New modules to drive further efficiencies

Being able to provide reports on a real time basis and not having to rely on IT staff means productivity and efficiencies are increased, delivering substantial returns on investment to the organisation in the long term.

“Since our finance professionals are effectively tied to Excel, Excel4Apps GL Wand keeps them happy while making the data in the ERP system easily accessible – and as new versions of the ERP system come out, there will be little impact on our peoples’ ability to continue working with it,” Kilonzo adds.

With the success of the GL Wand well established within Shelter Afrique, he says the company is keeping an eye on the additional products from Excel4apps and how these can add value in its environment. “We know there are other modules available, including the Budget Wand and Reports Wand offerings, and we plan to adopt them. When we do, I have no doubt we can drive efficiencies even further,” he concludes.