How the Boston Red Sox Modernized Finance with Planful: Tim Zue, Boston Red Sox CFO, on the Being Planful Podcast

How the Boston Red Sox Modernized Finance with Planful: Tim Zue, Boston Red Sox CFO, on the Being Planful Podcast

Our third episode of Being Planful featured Tim Zue, Executive Vice President / Chief Financial Officer for the Boston Red Sox. This professional baseball team, which formed in 1908, is one of the winningest teams in the sport, and has won nine World Series championships. But, just like any business, they faced the common Finance challenges of gathering data, generating reports, and juggling spreadsheets. That is, until they modernized Finance and moved to Planful.

In this episode, Tim explained how the Major League Baseball organization used Planful to accelerate their modernization efforts and strike out four of their biggest Finance challenges. He also covers how Planful has helped Finance reduce manual work, respond more quickly to the needs of the business, and be more effective in their financial planning, forecasting, and analysis. And, he shares some insight on how the team is planning their post-pandemic comeback. 

Here are a few highlights of this episode.

Modernizing a 110-Year-Old Organization

Every successful business has incorporated technology into their processes, and the Boston Red Sox are no different. But, they chose to accelerate their Finance modernization efforts starting a decade ago. In the past 10 years, the organization has moved from handwritten timesheets, manually signed paper invoices, and paper-based expense reports into a digitally-driven team. However, their core FP&A processes remained mostly manual and entirely in spreadsheets. That drove Tim and his team to rethink how Finance operated. 

“We had 50 to 100 different Excel templates that were emailed out or saved on network drives,” Tim explained. “As you can imagine, that was a process ripe for human error.”

But as the Red Sox started to modernize FP&A, they were faced with four key challenges to overcome: 

  1. Adoption: Users were reluctant to leave the familiarity of Excel.
  2. Security: They struggled to control access to sensitive spreadsheets and data within those spreadsheets. 
  3. Productivity: Finance was burdened with manual heavy-lifting of data collection, coordination, and reporting.
  4. Impact: Finance couldn’t easily run or revise what-if scenarios and forecasts.

Luckily, Planful helped Tim and team overcome all of these challenges, and more! 

An Excel-based Syntax in Planful

Excel has become the defacto Finance tool over the past few decades. But with manual spreadsheets scattered across the organization, Tim explained the frustration of keeping them current and tracking down the source of frequent errors. Adding to the frustration was the nearly 100 spreadsheets used by more than 50 departments, all connected to a primary spreadsheet. “If a link was broken, it was a nightmare to troubleshoot,” said Tim.

But, since Planful uses an Excel-based syntax and a familiar user interface, the transition away from spreadsheets was fast and easy—even across dozens of individual sheets. 

“People got up to speed very fast, and they embraced it right away,” Tim added. “Planful has the ability to have all of those different workbooks all in one system. They’re all under one roof. They’re all linked together so there’s no issue with error checking. And Planful provides easy template creation, maintenance, version control, and user adoption. It was really an easy transition.”

Easy Access Control with Planful

Protecting sensitive information is quite the challenge in spreadsheets. So the Red Sox built workarounds using password protection on entire sheets, individual tabs, and even departmental shared folders. But that presented new challenges in maintaining those passwords, sharing needed information within sheets, and changing access as individuals required or no longer needed certain access. 

“Planful allows us to manage permissions with the quick click of a button,” said Tim. “We can give different access to different people, or even just give read access to certain people.”

Tim also mentioned the various hierarchies across different departments, which impact the appropriate access levels. But Planful helped Tim’s team create role-based access controls, further easing the implementation and management of permissions. 

More Efficient Finance with Planful

The budgeting process was particularly challenging for the Red Sox finance team. It required business managers to provide the data manually, but it was then up to Finance to do all of the data entry and reporting. Worse yet, when managers asked for specific data or reports, Finance just didn’t have the bandwidth to respond. 

“When we got a request for a report, we asked them how important it was,” explained Tim. “It could take us hours to run an ad hoc report, so it didn’t happen very often.”

But Planful gave the entire organization self-service budget entry and reporting, which removed much of the burden from Finance. Managers can now enter and approve their budget submissions, but more importantly, can easily generate valuable reports to track progress.

“At the click of a button, they can get all the access to the information they need,” said Tim. “Being able to spot trends, being able to look at unexpected variances, being able to see around corners has really empowered our budget managers.”

What-Ifs in Minutes Not Days with Planful

Every business has uncertainty and relies on assumptions, and the Red Sox are no exception. But with Finance running on spreadsheets, it just wasn’t feasible to revise their what-if scenarios or adjust forecasts frequently. It was just too “cumbersome, error prone, and time intensive,” as Tim put it, so they only updated forecasts twice per year. 

Now, with Planful, Tim and team can easily set up multiple what-if scenarios, quickly adjust assumptions, and easily compare results. It’s enabled better and faster decision making for the entire business as conditions change or new information becomes available. Planful has even enabled the team to instantly compare actuals versus forecasts and budgets. 

“The actual results feed into the forecast so we have immediate visibility to do the variance analysis,” said Tim. “Literally what used to take us days now just takes us minutes.” 

The speed has helped the Red Sox move from semi-annual forecasts, to quarterly, and now to monthly. 

Red Sox Hit a Planful Homerun

In the podcast, Tim also dives into some of the deeper benefits they’re realizing with Planful. These include the minimal IT involvement with the Planful cloud platform, and the easy remote access for users to engage with the platform from anywhere. Tim also expressed his delight with the online and phone support offered by Planful customer service. And, he specifically mentioned the Planful product team and how they incorporate customer needs into new Planful features. 

“Probably one of the most important things that we value from the partnership is the idea that they’re always constantly improving the product,” concluded Tim. “Their development team is proactively seeking to make product improvements every day.”

Subscribe to Being Planful

To hear all about Tim’s journey to modernize Finance at the Boston Red Sox, listen to episode #3 of Being Planful

This new podcast series explores the benefits of adopting a “Planful” mindset by inviting your FP&A peers, analysts, industry experts, and more, to share their experiences and insights. Podcasting also lets us stay socially-distant while giving you a more flexible way to learn about Continuous Planning, whether it’s watching it on your phone, listening during your morning run, or tuning-in whenever it’s convenient.
If you’d like to subscribe, click on your podcast platform of choice (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify), or just search for “Planful” wherever you listen. I’ll be releasing new episodes often, so be sure to subscribe. And, if you have any comments, questions, or think you’d make a great guest, send me an email at beingplanful@planful.com.

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