It used to take Ancestry hours to make changes to their applications – now it takes minutes. Forecasting took weeks, now it happens instantaneously. Accounting and financial planning departments have access to real-time data.
How analytics hero, Jose Balitactac, helped Ancestry achieve faster planning, reporting, and forecasting
Ancestry knows data. Their goal is to help users discover their family stories and gain insight into their genetic lineage. To do this, they manage more than 100 million family trees, 13 billion ancestral profiles, and 300 million user generated photos, scanned documents and written stories. Ancestry is by far the world’s largest genealogy site with the largest consumer DNA database.
For the last nine years, Jose Balitactac has served as Financial Planning and Analysis Applications Manager at Ancestry. Sitting between the financial planning and accounting teams, he’s the point of contact for IBM applications including Planning Analytics with Watson, Cognos Analytics and Watson. Balitactac designs, develops and manages finance-related applications that enable analysts to quickly derive insights from Ancestry’s many expansive data sets. His mission is to build tools that enable the company’s analysts to better plan, report and forecast business performance with faster, more accurate and more reliable results.
“I enable my stakeholders to get insights on the data, so they can make informed business decisions,” says Balitactac.
The applications Balitactac had been using were no longer meeting the growing company’s needs. When Ancestry moved from on-prem to the cloud, Balitactac saw it as an opportunity to look for alternatives.
“Every time we needed to run a calculation or a forecast, or to make changes in our application, we needed to bring down the system for a minimum of one to eight hours,” says Balitactac. What’s more, all users had to be ejected from the system during this downtime. This was unsustainable.
“Because we had such a large application, it took hours to do the fragmentation,” says Balitactac. “We cannot afford to bring down the system for hours so that I can add a new account or business unit.” Even before the pandemic, Ancestry maintained a global workforce spread across many time zones, so there was no convenient time to conduct these processes.Forecasting was also a challenging task. “Our forecast process was taking two painful weeks because it takes hours to make changes to the hierarchy,” he says. “We needed to move into the 21st Century. Executives need to have real-time info,” says Balitactac. “And we need to leverage AI.”
Balitactac now uses IBM Planning Analytics with Watson on the IBM Cloud for several applications, including for income statement, balance sheet and cash flow. With Planning Analytics with Watson, Balitactac can make changes in real time. “It helped a lot during the pandemic,” he says. “I can make a change now and the users wouldn’t even know it.”
Balitactac’s team started with the income statement as a test case. They built their workforce module, their revenue module, and their CapEx module. When they were satisfied that it was working, they built out more modules and started to integrate planning across their enterprise. Now they use Planning Analytics with Watson, Cognos Analytics and Watson to analyze all financial data, including budgeting, labor costs, and forecasting subscriptions and revenue, and have even started to use Planning Analytics with Watson to manage their DNA supply chain. The team also built a new data source for Cognos, and they are working on using Planning Analytics with Watson as a data source as well to deploy Cognos in the mobile app.
“The biggest benefit is that we’re able to make changes so quickly,” says Balitactac. “The ability to do “what if” analysis, to be able to see results instantaneously, is the biggest benefit. The key in any business is to be able to react quickly. You don’t want to wait one day, two days, or even several hours to make a decision. With Planning Analytics you can go in, make a change in the parameters or make a code change so easily, and users are able to see the end results.”
Before implementing these solutions, the time required to change a parameter in a model might run to an hour or more. Now the same task can be performed in a matter of seconds. While Ancestry enables its customers to look more deeply into the past, Balitactac’s application modernization efforts are helping to ensure the company has a clear-eyed vision of the future.
“Don’t compromise on your requirements,” Balitactac says. “Build for the future, not only for today.”