This Halloween, turn out the lights and read these truly terrifying tales of transformation gone wrong.

These very true stories of finance failure are the stuff of nightmares; the kind of things that people never forget. They are horrible to live through, but in the long run, very useful – they teach you lessons that ensure the success of future projects.

These CFOs relive their tales of terror around the metaphorical campfire, so you don’t have to.

The Railroad

The rail transport company I worked for had a very domineering CEO. Each month, we had a briefing where the MD and FD of each area was asked to present the prior period results (for a four-or-five-week period) and forecast for the following period. There were a set number of trains per week, with known limitations on train length, which could not be varied in the short-term. The forecast was easy to put together as we knew the train timetable, the number of carriages and the average rates. We were rarely wrong.

The CEO insisted on driving the meeting and had a strong idea of what he wanted to hear. He asked me for the following month forecast and I gave him the figures. These, though based on reality, were unacceptable in his eyes. We argued about these figures until I was forced to up the forecast to the numbers he wanted. The following month, we were inevitably chastised for forecasting too high and not meeting the target. I left soon after that. I learned then not give into pressure when I know I’m right.

The green screen

The international company I worked for decided to implement an accounting solution from a well-known vendor with a high-level of knowledge in this particular sector.

The company decided that they did not like the user interface, so developed their own green screen alternative, posted directly into the underlying tables. The result? A solution that did not leverage on any of the functionality that was available and was nigh on impossible to maintain. Upgrades could not be made as they impacted on the previous development. The project was a disaster.

The moral of the story – be prepared to modify processes to leverage on new technology!


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The shadow of Excel

This particular company was, at the time, in the FTSE100. They wanted to develop their budgeting and reporting capability to go alongside their consolidation solution. The technology vendor of choice had a product set that could be integrated to deliver their requirements.

The Business Intelligence solution was market leading. It had, as you would expect, a high level of capability and functionality. Rather than embracing the technology, however, the company took the rationale to reproduce all current Excel reports within the new BI environment without changing the layout.

As many of you may know, Excel is a cell-specific solution, whereas BI has limitations. Many of the reports were complicated and broke standard formatting rules.

We (as advisors) recommended changing report formats to utilise the functionality on offer and estimated around three months to complete the work. The customer insisted on their approach – creating the reports their way, whatever the cost. This took over 15 months. Reports were highly bespoke, unmaintainable and inefficient to run.

You must make the most of your investment in technology by embracing the functionality on offer. Also, if you are prepared to pay for an advisor, take notice of what they say!

The abyss

I’ve seen a few of those in my corporate days. One in particular ended up taking double the time we estimated (think a few years) and triple the original budget. The sad part is that it still was not ready when it launched. There were bugs galore. It was a textbook example of how ‘too much invested to pull the plug’ is a terrible way to go.