Geoff Ball, finance director of Kodak, switches on his EIS as soon as he arrives at his office in the morning. All the latest accounting figures for the group are immediately summoned to the screen in easy-to-interpret colour graphics. If he wants to know more about what is happening in any particular area of the business he can 'drill down' at the touch of a button to explode more levels of detail on the screen. 'Checking the system is a top priority every day,' he says.
Kodak's EIS was conceived by the financial department in 1989 at a time when all its reports were still distributed on paper. Ball's team wanted to provide senior managers with immediate access to financial data via their desktop computer screens.
It took four people six months to come up with the first version of the EIS. 'It is not something you do quickly,' says Ball. 'You need to be fully committed to making the investment.' Kodak paid for a 50-user licence for Commander from Comshare, which at today's costs would be around £90,000. But software accounts for only around 25% of the total development cost, Ball estimates.
Sales figures were the first to be put on the EIS, drawn directly from the existing reporting systems. One of the advantages was the fact that previously diverse forms of data had to be brought into line. 'We built systems that let people look at everything in a similar format using similar timescales,' says Ball.
Sales information is updated weekly - on Monday morning users can check the figures for the previous week. More detailed sales analyses are produced monthly, as are other reports such as inventory, departmental expenses, profits, costs, recoverables, staff numbers, cash and capital.
Kodak's EIS is now used by all its business managers, their financial managers, and the rest of the financial team.
More recently, detailed feedback on customer satisfaction surveys has been added to the system taking it beyond purely financial data. The possibility of including other types of economic information, such as exchange rates and GDP figures, was also investigated, but did not prove viable.
The system is now almost complete. Further expansion would probably clog it up and reduce its usefulness, reckons Ball. 'The law of diminishing returns sets in.' There are also security implications in opening the EIS for a larger number of users. It is currently limited to around 50 people out of a total staff of 6,000. 'We have some confidential information that we would not want widely spread,' says Ball. Although data could be protected with passwords this would increase administration and software licence costs.
One of the biggest benefits of the EIS, not least because it was unexpected, is the level of management responsibility and control it has provided for managers of the company's various businesses. Previously they were highly dependent on the financial department to crunch their numbers and produce their financial reports. Now they can have the information first and get the chance to investigate it before questions are asked from above.
If Ball raises a question with one of the business managers as to what went wrong with sales the previous week, there can be no debate about whether or not the figures are right. 'I know that the manager and I will be looking at the same information on our screens.'.