During the pandemic, West Coast-based boutique hotel chain Oxford Collective was successful at leveraging technology to navigate the many challenges and disruptions within the travel industry. In particular, the hotel brand focused on leveraging technologies that would allow it to view revenue and expenses on a real-time basis, so that it could identify best practices for profitability across its portfolio of hotels. But it has also been able to use technology to improve forecasting and budgeting as well as accounting efficiencies at the corporate level. To learn more about this, HT spoke with Megan Walker, Vice President of Accounting and Finance, Oxford Collection.
Did you implement any new technologies specifically because of COVID? If so, what were they and why did you implement them?
Having gone live on 2/1/2020, we used Sage Intacct throughout the pandemic to gain crucial insights into our business. The pandemic meant that we had to watch every penny we spent, so having technology in place that let us see where our revenue and expenses were on a real-time basis was paramount. We benchmarked property performance and identified best practices for profitability across hotels. We built complex layered structures within the technology platform to reflect Oxford Collection’s hierarchical entities, locations, and departments. By creating formulas that would automatically calculate expected expenses based on revenue, with manual adjustments possible if needed, we had a flexible budget model easily reused monthly. This increase in insights and agility was crucial for us throughout the last year and a half.
Did you change the way you were using any of your current technologies because of COVID? If so, how and why?
Starting from scratch with a new system always takes legwork, but once we were up and running, the existing Sage Intacct Budgeting and Planning structure made it simple to duplicate going forward. For example, in the past, Excel-based monthly forecasts required manual entry of actuals once a month, resulting in a lack of real-time data insights. Now, our monthly forecasts reflect current data, accessible to stakeholders via Sage Intacct dashboards. It used to be a full-time job to do monthly forecasts. Now it’s streamlined and they take 20-25 minutes to duplicate, update, and share with our general managers. As a result, we’ve eliminated 20 hours a week of budget-related work that can instead be put toward strategy and staying ahead of the curve as the pandemic continues to upend business as usual.
How were you able to use technology to improve business decisions when it came to timely budget vs. actual reporting?
Having easy visibility for data-driven business decisions has had one of the most significant impacts on our business. Budget vs. actuals reporting is now based on up-to-date data and available on-demand in dashboards to hotel managers, department heads, and other stakeholders. That’s a vast improvement compared to when the finance team would spend eight hours a month updating actuals as the books closed around the 20th of the month. General managers now have real-time budget vs. actuals data at their fingertips, allowing us to make real-time decisions based on current data, not information that’s weeks old.
How were you able to strengthen technology to improve collaboration between corporate and hotel GMs?
General managers are now spared from inputting daily expense data into Excel, as accounts payable processes are automated through integration between Sage Intacct and a Yooz AP solution. That’s improved efficiency for corporate accounting, too, eliminating 40 hours a week of manual AP work and helping reduce the close from up to 25 days to just 10. And by connecting Sage Intacct with a RoomKey property management system, revenue is automatically imported daily in the general ledger, versus an eight-hour monthly exercise previously. The GMs are now taking more ownership in the numbers and using the data as part of their daily routine.
How did you improve all aspects of budget reporting, data entry, etc. and what is this time now being used for?
Budgets for each property used to be managed in 17-tab Excel spreadsheets, each with up to 500 rows and 30 columns. Those massive spreadsheets were formula-driven, so one incorrect formula would break the whole spreadsheet. With multiple people entering data, it was easy for human errors to happen. Confidence in budget data suffered, while reporting and forecasting were time-consuming exercises that didn’t deliver the needed visibility and results. Accounts payable entries also consumed 40 hours a week, while closing the books could take 25 days.
By eliminating pain points in both budgeting and accounting with new technology, we modernized our accounting department. We started delivering trusted real-time data for informed decision-making to company leaders. Previously, using outdated methods meant extensive manual data work with little time for analysis. Now, the finance team is no longer just number-crunchers. We’ve become a more strategic partner to the business through the visibility and automation we’ve gained through our use of cutting-edge technology for both budgeting and accounting.
How did you use technology to meet the summer travel spike?
Our technology allowed our budgeting, planning, and accounting to all be in one place so that everything we needed to make financial decisions was all centralized and connected. We adjusted to the summer travel spike as needed by adding on new modules and third-party applications. Implementation of both accounting and budgeting components by Armanino LLP, one of the top 25 largest accounting, consulting, and technology firms in the U.S., was especially helpful in ensuring we were on top of everything during the summer travel spike.
Any other comments?
In addition to really putting technology to work for us during COVID, there was also a definite cultural shift in how the business ran. We benefited from switching to a more collaborative culture rather than the previous top-down approach. Every general manager took on more ownership as a whole and collaboration across the company increased exponentially.