Customer Story

AirAsia’s BIG Rewards: Accelerating forecasting and budgeting and increasing agility with Connected Sheets

With Connected Sheets, BIG Rewards employees can analyze and report on large volumes of data through a familiar Sheets interface, accelerating decision-making and enabling the business to become more agile and relevant to a fast-changing market.

Google Cloud Results

Improves the speed of forecasting and budgeting by up to 10 weeks

• Enables the business to pivot quickly to lead in changing market circumstances
• Ensures efficient and accurate analysis of data
• Democratizes data to empower users across the business to create relevant reports for decision-making

Originally the loyalty program operator for Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia, BIG Rewards has expanded the BIG Loyalty Program into a lifestyle rewards platform that operates across travel, financial services and ecommerce. Members ‘earn and burn’ points with 300+ earn partners that provide shopping, food & beverage and other products and services. About 100 employees support members from a range of locations including offices in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Faster forecasting critical to the business

Sereen Teoh, Chief Financial Officer, BIG Rewards, says traditional budgeting and forecasting cannot keep pace with the dynamic environment the business operates in. “We are evolving rapidly and things change quickly: for example, during the coronavirus pandemic we needed to forecast more quickly with variances of + or - 5%, and we needed to provide these within a shorter time frame.”

Faster budgeting and forecasting enabled BIG Rewards’ leadership team to transition the business from survival during the pandemic, to stability and finally to sustainability. This meant continuing to pivot BIG Rewards from an airline loyalty program to the broader lifestyle category. The transition required the finance team to quickly and accurately develop business and financial modelling to support initiatives such as the rollout of vouchers redeemable at large convenience foods chains.

However, team members had to manually extract and add data to traditional desktop-based spreadsheets for modelling, leading initially to formula errors and the use of inconsistent and outdated data. The team then had to check the data, adding further time to the process. BIG Rewards needed to resolve this issue to ensure its long-term sustainability, and realized it needed a technology solution that enabled finance to act on change requests in-house and provide accurate forecasts quickly.

An initial evaluation of vendors and tools determined the business change requirement for many products would require BIG Rewards to engage expensive consultants to resolve. An existing user of Google Workspace applications such as Sheets, Slides and Docs, as well as Data Studio, the business explored working with Google to develop a solution. “Our finance team was familiar with the collaboration and instant auto-saving features of Google Workspace and Google Cloud,” explains Sereen. “In addition, we save our rewards data there, making integration with a Google Workspace and Google Cloud-based forecasting and budgeting solution seamless.

“We also found that by working with Google Cloud, we could minimize license and maintenance costs, access almost unlimited and secure cloud storage, and provide impressive corporate and business review dashboards,” says Sereen.

The business formally decided to work with Google Cloud and Google Workspace on a solution and officially commenced the project on 1 October 2020.

Minimizing costs, accessing near unlimited storage and creating impressive dashboards.

“Finance roles are evolving and the Finance function needs to take the steering wheel in driving businesses - particularly during crises such as coronavirus pandemic. I am a strong believer in digital transformation and in empowering the business by moving from traditional spreadsheet and slide products to Connected Sheets and Data Studio dashboards. Working with these tools and the Google Cloud team, we have built a solution that enables us to seamlessly complete actual-to-budget-to-forecast and vice versa reporting.” -- Sereen Teoh, Chief Financial Officer, BIG Rewards

BIG Rewards partnered with Searce, a partner that specializes in helping businesses use cloud, automation and analytics to innovate, to implement the solution. “Searce is an established partner within the business and is already helping us migrate our data cloud to Google Cloud, a move we expect to reduce our data costs by 50%,” says Sereen. “Searce’s role includes studying BIG Rewards’ business intelligence models, determining the best approach to integrate each model into the solution and recommending that approach to the business.” The partner worked with BIG Rewards to convert the models to Sheets, create data marts in BigQuery and create efficient Ui/UX for models and dashboards.

With a live connection between Sheets and BigQuery through Connected Sheets, BIG Rewards provides a familiar front-end for finance team members to use current data in the analytics data warehouse to budget and forecast. The team works on the data with standard Sheets tools like pivot tables, charts and formulas, with the results fed into Data Studio for visualization and reporting. The business uses automation through an Apps Script application to save these outcomes back to BigQuery. With Connected Sheets, team members work with thousands of rows of data, such as the number of transactions made, points issued per member and points redemption by partner each month, under multiple tabs. BIG Rewards also used Sites to create a single location for team members to view the reports.

“Finance roles are evolving and the Finance function needs to take the steering wheel in driving businesses - particularly during crises such as coronavirus pandemic. I am a strong believer in digital transformation and in empowering the business by moving from traditional spreadsheet and slide products to Connected Sheets and Data Studio dashboards. Working with these tools and the Google Cloud team, we have built a solution that enables us to seamlessly complete actual-to-budget-to-forecast and vice versa reporting,” says Sereen.

Slashing budgeting and forecasting times

Google Workspace and Google Drive are superior in quality and products I would love to last a lifetime - they are thoughtfully connected and integrated in a way that makes them simple to use and enable us to undertake remote working anywhere at any time on any device. As accountants, they improve our day to day productivity. In addition, they align with Malaysia’s current education system and our future workforce, as most students these days use Google Classroom, Google Meet and Google Workspace for online learning during the pandemic.” -- Sereen Teoh, Chief Financial Officer, BIG Rewards

With the new system due for use in a 3+9 forecast exercise in the second half of March 2021, BIG Rewards has calculated the benefits it expected to achieve: “With the Google Cloud and Google Workspace solution, we expect to reduce the time to complete budgets from up to three months to just two to three weeks and lower the time to undertake quarterly forecasts from one month to one to two weeks,” says Sereen. “We also expect to cut the time to complete monthly forecasts from one week to one day.

The business set these targets by comparing the time needed to complete a forecast or budget manually - including the requirement to extract and add data to spreadsheet models - with the time required to perform these activities when a model links directly to a data warehouse, and the process of extracting the data and adding it to the model is automated.

Automating the linkage of data in Google Cloud to models also running in Google Cloud enables the finance team to eliminate the formula errors, incomplete and inconsistent data and subsequent checking and fixing that hampered the prompt development of budgets and forecasts in the traditional solution.

The time savings achieved with the new solution will enable the finance team to analyze data more efficiently and effectively, while colleagues from departments such as commercial will be able to look at revenue uplift drivers rather than simply deriving the revenue numbers themselves. Marketing, Legal, Operations, IT and People & Culture team members will also be able to review data such as expenses incurred and determine where costs can be trimmed or eliminated.

Democratizing data access

“We generate a considerable volume of data and senior leaders need to process a lot of information and work with a number of priorities. Selecting the data to present to them is an art. If you want to stand out in a sea of bland presentations, you need to think about the visual aspects of the story you would like to tell. Data Studio dashboards make analysis and visualization to support confident decision-making easy, and enable people to drill down into data for further insights.” -- Sereen Teoh, Chief Financial Officer, BIG Rewards

The enablement of self-service data access through the solution will also help BIG Rewards effectively navigate the change and diversification of its business. “As we want to grow using technology rather than adding headcount, deploying an agile solution with self-service capability through Google Cloud helps people at different levels and functions within the business create the data presentations they need to support different types of decision-making,” says Sereen.

“We generate a considerable volume of data and senior leaders need to process a lot of information and work with a number of priorities. Selecting the data to present to them is an art. If you want to stand out in a sea of bland presentations, you need to think about the visual aspects of the story you would like to tell. Data Studio dashboards make analysis and visualization to support confident decision-making easy, and enable people to drill down into data for further insights.”

The Chief Financial Officer is particularly impressed by the ‘smart cleanup’ functionality of Sheets that flags unusual data to relevant team members so they can address issues and make timely decisions. In addition, automated refresh functionality enables the finance team to send out revenue forecast calculations based on the previous 30 days on a daily basis, enabling management to view likely actual revenue if no changes are made.

Data serving the business

Overall, Sereen says, the Google Cloud solution ensures data serves the business, rather than the business serving the data. “This will eliminate the Monday blues for finance leaders,” she says.

“A live connection of BigQuery plus Sheets plus a Data Studio dashboard gives me full confidence in the accuracy of data, as it comes from a single source of truth,” Sereen adds. “It also provides the real time insights needed to act quickly.”

“The interactive dashboard built on a cloud base is very useful not just for presentation but to provide data that can be accessed by relevant people at any time from any location. This is very convenient as we have stakeholders in different timezones.”

Once the modelling is completed and stabilized, BIG Rewards plans to use AI-based Sheets solutions such as Sheets Smart Fill and Sheets Smart Cleanup to achieve further efficiencies.

“When the project is completed, we expect that it will be rolled out across the airasia group of companies,” says Sereen. “Thanks to Google Cloud and Google Workspace, we will be ideally positioned to improve our forecasting and decision-making by unlocking big data insights, accelerating data workflows, improving cost-efficiency and strengthening data security, enabling us to become more agile and pivot to meet changing market circumstances.

“Google Workspace and Drive are superior in quality and products I would love to last a lifetime - they are thoughtfully connected and integrated in a way that makes them simple to use and enable us to undertake remote working anywhere at any time on any device,” concludes Sereen. “As accountants, they improve our day to day productivity. In addition, they align with Malaysia’s current education system and our future workforce, as most students these days use Google Classroom, Google Meet and Google Workspace for online learning during the pandemic.”

*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.

Google Cloud Premier Partner

About Searce

Searce is a Google Cloud Premier Partner on a mission to futurify businesses by leveraging cloud, automation, and analytics. It helps businesses through digital transformation by replacing on-premises applications with cloud solutions.