Hotel owners spend an average of seven percent of gross revenues on CapEx, every year; a very significant reinvestment of scarce owners' capital.
Most management contracts require the hotel operator to deliver a CapEx plan to the owner sometime between August and the end of the year. The description of this “CapEx plan” is usually vague; anything will do to meet the requirement. These CapEx plans are often prepared and delivered in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.
If your properties are still using spreadsheets to manage CapEx planning and administration for a single property, or thousands of projects for a large portfolio, you have needlessly set yourself up for a trip to CapEx spreadsheet hell!
Using spreadsheets to manage CapEx will eventually lead owners and operators into each of the following Nine Circles of CapEx Spreadsheet Hell:
Regenerating CapEx plans every year as a standalone process requires hours of dedicated time.  Management at the property, regional and corporate level must identify, describe, scope, price and prioritize each project at each property. Hotel owners are faced with individual spreadsheets from each property and/or multiple management companies which must all be compiled into a common format for portfolio level review and analysis.
Inconsistency in project titles, scopes and budget estimates make it extremely difficult to estimate CapEx costs across the portfolio, compare costs between similar properties, and aggregate purchasing and contracting across the portfolio to drive the lowest pricing from suppliers and contractors.
In a recent CapEx submission for a portfolio of 180 hotels, “PTAC” replacement projects were listed (and “speled”) in 26 different ways. Some of the PTAC projects included tax, freight, installation and disposal; some only the purchase price of the PTAC unit. Some project costs were based on national account pricing; some on last year’s purchase costs; some on local supplier estimates.
Spreadsheet numbers entered as text, formulas overwritten or corrupted, and errors in column ranges can cause errors in individual projects, as well as property and portfolio totals. Checking thousands of projects for spelling, math and spreadsheet entry errors is both mind-numbing and time consuming.
CapEx planning often conflicts with the preparation of annual operating budgets, and is usually considered a lower priority for management time. CapEx plans are often hastily assembled at the last possible moment. This time conflict is exacerbated by the standalone nature of spreadsheet based CapEx planning.
Spreadsheets typically can’t be integrated with other systems that are used to purchase, administer, manage and maintain capital assets.
• Asset age and condition data from the maintenance management system (computerized or manual), must be transcribed into the CapEx planning spreadsheets.
• Fixed asset accounting system records are typically not available at the property level where CapEx planning is taking place.
• Reflecting CapEx approvals, funding and procurement processes in hotel accounting systems becomes a manual transcription process.
• Project management systems typically can’t be simply updated from approved CapEx plan spreadsheets.
• Updating fixed asset and maintenance records when assets are replaced does not flow smoothly from a spreadsheet based CapEx planning process.
Capital equipment data (age, useful life, maintenance history, cost, etc.) must be transcribed from equipment records into the CapEx planning spreadsheet. It is nearly impossible to maintain this integrity as it is transcribed from each individual equipment record to each individual CapEx project. Often, properties resort to guessing or making up this data rather than finding and re-typing multiple data points for each project.
Data Entry and Reporting
CapEx planning data and reports need to be formatted differently at each stage of the process. Property level planning requires input fields that control consistency and automatically correct errors. Portfolio level review requires less individual project detail, but accuracy and consistency on project names, scope, costs and timing.
Collaboration and Coordination
Good CapEx planning requires an iterative process that fosters collaboration between management staff at the property, regional and corporate levels, subject matter experts, and ownership. It is very difficult to keep track of the status of review, requests for information, plan revisions, approval and execution when the plan is on a spreadsheet that must be edited and redistributed with each change, and at each step of the process.
Spreadsheet based CapEx planning makes it difficult to confidently estimate CapEx expense, cash flow and project timing. This lack of confidence leads directly to indecision at the ownership level, delayed approvals and difficulties executing CapEx in a timely and efficient manner.
Check back next Watercooler for Part 2 - Finding CapEx Paradise.