By Robert W. Scott
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When Rodger Stout moved into his job as a financial decision maker at FabTech Industries in December 2000, he found his work cut out for him in terms of trying to bring some order to the company’s financial systems.
FabTech, based in Columbia, S.C., sprang to life in November 2000, after the consolidation of nine steel fabricators in the Southeast into one company that has $250 million in annual revenue and about 900 employees. The rollup was orchestrated by Main Street Equity Ventures, where Stout worked before making the jump to FabTech.
The nine companies had at least nine different accounting software systems. "We had a myriad of accounting systems with no common chart of accounts," recalls Stout. Stout, who was controller and treasurer when the decision was made, moved into the position as vice president of finance this year.
One acquired company had Great Plains Dynamics; one Solomon; some used Peachtree; one was still using the IBM version of Platinum; and some had homegrown software. The goal was to bring order to the company.
"We wanted to be able to have a common accounting platform across all nine companies. We wanted to build a platform we could expand," says Stout.
Stout examined a variety of packages, including Oracle and Timberline Software "and almost any of the construction software packages that we felt might be able to support us."
Stout quickly ruled out the higher-end packages such as Oracle because of the cost. But his most compelling need was project accounting, a choice he said led the company quickly to Solomon IV, which it bought from national reseller ePartners.
"We were able to install it right out of the box. We did not have to do any code changes," says Stout. "It has given us the power of a Tier One package at a fraction of the cost. I could not see that I would get any additional features out of an Oracle or a J.D. Edwards that I was not getting out of Solomon."
The company has licenses for 20 concurrent users, with about 50 people using the system. FabTech also installed a wide-area network so that offices, which include Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Colorado, can access the system remotely. One decision that was brought about by the multiple offices was the decision to use Solomon in an ASP environment, hosted by IBM, even though an ASP setting was "a little more expensive." According to Stout, the total system and installation still came in at "less than $500,000."
The benefit of the ASP environment is that Stout can access each of the nine separate databases run by the different companies. Disaster recovery is also an important feature. "We actually had a CPU fail," he notes. But IBM had a new machine up and running in 30 minutes, less time than it took to reload the database.
Stout envisions "huge manpower savings in the reporting." As the system is implemented, he expects even more improvements in the reporting process.
"We are in the process of moving to automated reporting," he says. "Once the entities sign off, we can do automated reporting and pull the information straight out of databases and into the reporting package."
The company uses FRx as its reporting software, but also uses PowerOlap from Paris Technologies of Doylestown, Pa., for special budgeting reports. He expects to move heavily to Power Olap, although FRx, he notes, can pull reports directly from the Solomon database.
Stout’s experience is merely that of one financial decision maker, faced with the need to purchase new accounting software. Different companies have different needs and there are many criteria for what represents a successful accounting software installation.
In this story, Accounting Technology examines a range of installations in which different corporate users chose different packages to solve accounting software needs. The Decision Maker’s View is designed to share that range of experience with the professionals who sell and install accounting software.
Cross Match: Handling Growth
Cross Match Technologies, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sells fingerprinting equipment for use in a variety of operations that are concerned about security, such as airports, law enforcement personnel, and employers conducting background checks on prospective employees.
Since 9/11, it is a booming business, says Don DiFrisco, the company’s chief financial officer. But when he took over the job just over a year ago, he found Cross Match had financial systems that were not doing the job.
"We had disparate systems," recalls DiFrisco. "We had a very simplistic financial system. We had an alleged MRP system."
DiFrisco was not getting much of what he wanted out of those systems. Moreover, the company, which currently has 115 employees and sales he describes as in the $30 million range, has aspirations of someday going public. "One thing I was concerned about was my ability to do complex reporting as a public entity," he says.
Founded in 1996, Cross Match manufactures optical fingerprint imagers that capture fingerprints through the use of scanning technology. The average price of its flagship product is $25,000 to $35,000.
The company examined Oracle, Great Plains, and Syspro Impact on the way to choosing Accpac’s Pro Series. In some ways, Pro Series had an edge because in his previous jobs, DiFrisco had used the software, when the former SBT Accounting Systems owned it.
"It was a very powerful program that could do what I wanted it to do," says DiFrisco. One appeal was the availability of third-party programs, including MRP applications. But he notes, "there was no one single deciding factor."
The company made a few systems changes. DiFrisco insisted on using a dedicated server for the ERP system because he anticipated an increasing load. "I didn’t want the same server doing email and everything else to also drive ERP," he says.
DiFrisco bought the software from HAI Computing, a Fort Lauderdale-based Accpac reseller. Besides purchasing Accpac’s core financial modules, the company also bought applications from Lahey Software, a third party that provides manufacturing programs that work with Pro Series. The total project cost, including hardware and implementation services, was about $500,000.
A major need is to serve the roughly 20 field sales representatives around the country. Currently, the company "mimics a full CRM module" linking the sales reps to the customer service module in Accpac, using GoldMine via a dial-in system. DiFrisco hopes to move the company to a Web-based system in about 18 months.
Right now, DiFrisco anticipates a complete cut over to the Pro Series system by the beginning of the third-quarter. Despite his past exposure to the software, he felt it necessary to hire a dedicated project manager, who was scheduled to start work in mid-March.
EXIF: Tying Systems Together
When Transamerica Leasing decided to sell its operation that leases tank containers to EXIF Worldwide late in 2000, one of the processes it set into motion was the need for a new financial system for the newly formed EXIF.
Transamerica used PeopleSoft Financials, which was far too expensive for the 85-employee EXIF, says Steve Pelletier, controller of the Purchase, N.Y.-based company.
"We established a set of criteria for purchasing a new system," he says. "The most important thing was it needed to support foreign currency. We have operations all over the world."
Because EXIF is growing rapidly, Pelletier wanted a scalable system that can also be integrated with a variety of subsystems, including a home-grown billing and tracking system that tracks the units leased by the company.
The company looked at software from Best Software, Navision, and Accpac, but settled on Dynamics, purchasing the system from reseller DMS Technology Solutions, based in Cedar Knolls, N.J.
Among the factors pushing Pelletier to Dynamics was its Integration Manager module, which enabled him to integrate the financial application with the billing system. Ease of use and ease of learning were also important.
"The interface is very easy to understand," he said. With 15 users, including six professionals, EXIF found that two days training by DMS was sufficient, and that the system has been easy to maintain.
The company implemented the core financial modules and fixed asset and collection modules for a total of about $240,000. The system went live in February after a three-month installation that Pelletier admits was a bit cautious.
The migration from the PeopleSoft system was simple because EXIF primarily needed to convert its receivables. "We were able to get a data dump into an Excel spreadsheet and import that," says Pelletier.
Remote locations get access to Dynamics via Citrix. Dynamics is not being run in an ASP environment, although that might change because the company is contemplating building a new Web-based billing and tracking system.
"We are probably going to go ASP on that side so we might go ASP on the whole thing," says Pelletier.
Solving a Two-Company Problem
Peachtree Software may be a nice product, but it proved inadequate as two related companies based in St. Louis, Mo., made the jump to a more advanced financial system last year.