The simplest questions are often the most difficult to answer. Not too long ago, when Microsoft CFO Peter Klein asked, “How much cash do we have this morning, and where is it?” it would precipitate a fire-drill response within treasury to come up with the answer. To make matters worse, there often would be discrepancies in the answer because different treasury groups had their own definitions for “cash.” Those responsible for bank balances would produce a different number than portfolio managers, whose answer would differ from the tax team’s.
“This is what got us on the quest of, when we say ‘cash’ that we all mean the same thing,” explains Anita Prasad, general manager of treasury capital management at Microsoft. “It might sound simplistic, but when we got into the details, reconciling the definition of cash is very important. For example, accruals might be included. And if you look at actual hard cash that we can use, you also need to look at liquidity, whether it is invested in equities or in U.S. or foreign bonds.”
To address this issue, treasury formed a small cross-functional team with stakeholders from the major groups within the department. After examining, and dismissing, various treasury workstations that lacked the necessary functionality or were too expensive, the team decided to leverage off-the-shelf Microsoft technology including Microsoft Exchange, Internet Explorer 9, Office 2010, Outlook 2010 and SharePoint, along with SWIFT’s messaging architecture and connectivity, to build its own treasury dashboard, dubbed CashView.
After the team invested approximately 500 hours over three months, key executives now can type “CashView” into their Web browser or read an e-mail sent to a CashView folder in Outlook to see portfolio-level information and bank account balances culled from Microsoft’s Aladdin enterprise investment platform from BlackRock Solutions and its SAP books-and-records system every morning at 8 a.m. PST.
The project’s return on investment has been limitless, says Prasad. Now that executives have the necessary data at their fingertips, they can maintain the momentum of their conversations about investments without needing to interrupt the conversation for a few days to obtain the relevant information.