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Data-Obsessed Baseball Teams Are Turning to the Cloud for Help

April 10, 2017, 2:42 PM UTC

Baseball can be a complicated game of strategy on any given play. But the operations running in a team’s executive suite might make what happens on the field look simple by comparison.

To run a team, the financial staff typically has to enter data and then consolidate multiple Excel spreadsheets—each of which detail projected and actual budgets for travel, groundskeeping, food service, player and staff salaries, ticket sales, and more. And that’s year round—not just during the heat of the season.

“You can only imagine a mothership Excel workbook that links to 100 different spreadsheets where people may be mistakenly inserting rows or columns to templates. That causes a massive nightmare,” Ryan Scafidi tells Fortune.

For Scafidi, the senior director of financial planning and operations for the Boston Red Sox, tracking those row-and-column and other errors back to their sources and fixing them before getting on with other business was not a fulfilling experience.

And it was one big reason the team adopted cloud-based software from Host Analytics to eliminate errors and ensure everyone is working from the same, most up-to-date data. This type of software, known as enterprise performance management or EPM, enables all of those parties—appoximately 55 to 58 people in the Red Sox’ case—to enter their own numbers, which then automatically roll up to a single data repository.

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The EPM software was integrated with the Red Sox’ accounting software: Microsoft Dynamics GP. So if a manager sees a cost that looks odd, he or she can click on an embedded link in Host to get a PDF view of the invoice in the accounting system, Scafidi explained.

The team looked at several options, but Scafidi said the team chose Host based partially on price but also because the interface makes it easy for people with varying computer skills to use.

A potential benefit here is that managers across different departments can access and see how their actual budgets compare to projections every month, and they can track their progress year to date and for the full year. The idea of having a single, central view of the truth is hugely appealing. No more random columns or rows can be inserted, which means less time spent tracking down such errors to their sources.

The Sox are not alone in this push. American League East rival Tampa Bay Rays use cloud-based EPM software from Adaptive Insights for the same sorts of tasks, says Rob Gagliardi, chief financial officer for the team.

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Gagliardi says he had similar horror stories about having to wrangle multiple spreadsheets: “In the Excel world, God forbid that someone change the file name by accident, which happens.”

“My pet peeve was department heads would ask me to send their budget and a week later you’d have new numbers and you never knew what version they had. Now it’s all self-service and you know everyone is working from the latest numbers, ” he tells Fortune.

The benefit of the cloud-based EPM over what was almost a manual process in the past, Gagliardi says, is speed.

“I get things done faster and in the office instead of doing them at 8 p.m. at home,” Gagliardi explains. “And we can now run more scenarios.”

In the EPM field, Host Analytics and Adaptive Insights compete with products from enterprise software giants Oracle (ORCL) and SAP (SAP)

For example, when the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball and the players union was about to expire late last year, the teams had to run worst-case scenarios in case of a work stoppage. Gagliardi says with the new system, he could “create a couple of models at the click of a button while in Excel I would have had to figure out what linked to what.” That sort of detective work burns a lot of hours that could otherwise be spent productively, he notes.

In baseball, a new generation of team owners have made it easier to modernize financial systems and information tech in general. “The days of having printed-out documents in a big thick book are gone,” Gagliardi says. “Now they want the most recent numbers immediately.”