Expert Insights

ERP is not MI – are you getting the right information?

With increasing pressure on CEOs to grow their businesses, accurate management information (MI) has never been so important. But as companies continue to invest heavily in transactional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to optimise their business processes, former finance director turned management consultant Paul Cullen believes many businesses are not getting the user-friendly, actionable MI they need from the huge amounts of data they have.

According to Paul, while ERP systems undoubtedly dramatically improve the integrity of transactional data and enforce common process compliance across an enterprise, they’re not themselves the solution to your management information needs.

“I believe many CEOs and CFOs commonly confuse ERP with a good MI reporting platform,” he says. “ERP is really the transactional engine, not the reporting solution.” He likens implementing ERP without an MI solution to buying a high-performance car with a V6 engine but no steering wheel.

“What most companies lack is the right interface that aggregates all those terabytes of data out of their ERP system into a structured, report-oriented and user-friendly platform so business leaders can proactively spot emerging trends and make informed decisions. This is where bespoke MI systems really add value.”

Many CEOs and CFOs commonly confuse ERP with a good MI reporting platform

A single source of truth

As a consultant, Paul works closely with companies to help them implement fit-for-purpose MI. His approach involves clearly defining the accountability matrices (for revenues, costs, customers and products) in each business area; optimising data-flow processes to automate the aggregation of all key data sources into a single data ‘warehouse’; and implementing a bespoke, simple-to-use MI reporting suite to ensure there’s only ever ‘one truth’ for all MI.

Getting it right can have enormous benefits for a business, he says: “One CEO told me that had he been aware earlier of the MI I presented to him on the relative performance of his 60-plus UK branches, he would have made an entirely different decision on a £10m capital expenditure project he was already committed to.

“Another was able to head off a £10m cost overrun when he was presented with MI on costs-to-revenue ratio trends and full-time equivalent productivity KPIs over a two-year period. This resulted in a deep-dive on customer profitability and facilitated off-shoring of key transactional and support processes.

“The above complex analyses could only be performed once data was properly cleansed, reporting hierarchies robustly structured and the organisation acknowledged that all MI must come from a single source of truth – without exception.”

Free up your finance directors

One significant advantage that Paul points to is the amount of time a good MI solution can free up for finance leaders. “In my experience, a typical divisional finance director spends at least half their time either compiling or checking reports. Given the demand on the finance function to be better ‘business partners’, faster, higher quality financial reporting frees them up to make a greater contribution to the company and tackle emerging issues.”

Paul has one final tip for those looking for a reliable MI solution: “Before you go out and spend a lot of money on an off-the-shelf MI package, don’t underestimate the power contained within core Microsoft products that can readily be tailored to work with your existing systems and platforms.

“For example, once your data is well warehoused, Microsoft’s SQL Services and Analysis Service, used in conjunction with MS Excel, can deliver an enormous range of data connection, reporting and dashboard tools most users aren’t aware are there.

And since you probably already have in-house IT skills in the SQL data warehousing platform it offers – and all your end users know Excel well – it’s something you should consider, given how easy it would be to maintain.”


  • Don’t confuse an ERP platform with a good MI solution.
  • Spend time clearly defining the right reporting structures for cost centres, customers and products in each business area, and build the reporting hierarchies to match.
  • Automate the aggregation of all key data sources into a single data ‘warehouse’.
  • Implement fit-for-purpose MI software to produce a single source of truth for all MI reporting.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a management consultant who has held various group finance roles with Bombardier Aerospace, Survitec Group, Coca-Cola Hellenic, Towergate Insurance, Worldpay and Equiniti. He’s worked for major private equity groups on a range of corporate MI projects through his own boutique consultancy based in London and Belfast, and is currently CEO and Founder of 1TRUTH Ltd, a MI solutions provider.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.