The solution should allow users to do most of their own implementation and setup with minimal outside help
Two of our larger clients went through system conversions in the last five years in the hope of implementing an all-encompassing enterprise ERP solution. What was supposed to be a straight forward project with well-defined deliverables and a reasonable timeline turned out to be the exact opposite for both companies: Major budget overruns, long delays in achieving practically every project milestone and seemingly endless amount of customization and software code modification in order to accommodate everyone’s needs.
One thing in common to both implementations was the fact that all planned integration of the new software with existing pieces of software and sub-systems still had issues after the implementation was complete and some still don’t work as expected to this date.
What was evident was the large number of outside consultants and the extra stress on company employees having to interact with the consultants and participate in testing and other project activities.
Even though our firm was not directly engaged in these implementations, our work in helping with consolidated financial statements and disclosures was greatly impacted as the data available to us to do our work was at times unreliable and insufficient due to poor integration and questionable report writer scripting.
I imagine many readers of this blog don’t find this experience particularly unusual. Most people with enough experience in accounting or finance, working for even mid-sized organizations experience this from time to time, especially with company acquisitions, mergers and other drastic changes to their business organizations, where existing systems are determined to be insufficient or lacking in certain areas, or perhaps not able to deliver on the reporting requirements of management.
Unfortunately, such projects are not limited to only very large companies where there usually is a legitimate need to implement a better solution or perhaps more efficiently integrate existing systems with a centralized accounting and finance package. It is also not surprising that in smaller organizations this can be very taxing on the company and its employees (and indirectly customers and vendors) and will pose a long term financial burden at best.
Often, smaller companies get caught between legitimate needs to improve their information systems, streamline operations and improve reporting capabilities and delivery, and IT and software solution vendors and their partners / consultants who manage to give these prospective buyers bad advice. It usually ends up with the customer making purchase agreements and engaging the vendors in projects that at times seem will never end, all to the detriment of the customer. Once the software is implemented the customer is usually committed to it for a length of time (SaaS solutions) or is so involved in the new implementation and conversion of the old data that no reasonable changes are possible for a long time.
The costs sunk into such projects can be significant, even for a smaller company. In the case of ERP software implementations, I’ve seen consulting costs to fully implement a system exceed the initial perpetual license fee by 400%-500%. In the case of SaaS delivery, although there is no large up front licensing expense, consulting expenses can still be sizable and often exceed the original budget.
Planning, budgeting and analysis software is sometimes as difficult to implement as ERP solutions and the integration to the ERP software accounting GL can be difficult and almost always requires outside consulting.
SMBs should choose to go with a more reasonable approach and maximize the out-of-the-box installation experience, with minimal customization. When it comes to CPM class software for SMBs I really like Centage Corporation’s approach with its Budget Maestro suite. The entire package can be installed by the customer (on premise version) or is ready to implement and use immediately for the Cloud version. With a solid GL link like Link Maestro, many of the more popular actual accounting GLs are available to automatically link to the Budget Maestro built-in GL. The overall implementation time and expense are minimal and you can be up and running and productive within days or weeks and not months or years.
The best part is that users don’t have to give up functionality with this approach because the system was designed to be adapted to almost any business type. With its built-in business rules available to users in every budget area, and built-in, GAAP compliant accounting rules, you get a system that uses the budget to drive all required financial statements in perfect synchronization with one another.
To me this is the best of both worlds: Quick and inexpensive out of the box functionality and immediate integration with the actual accounting system (automatic for several popular GLs, or through an export-import step for all others). This quick, predictable and inexpensive implementation is something I think SMBs cannot afford to not consider.