Felter: A Customized Approach

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Technical challenges are the heart of James Felter's business. A CPA and Certified Information Technology Professional, Felter builds custom applications for companies that have no clear answer to their particular software problems.

The managing partner of Panlilo, Felter & Associates in Hudson, Ohio, Felter's three-person firm has provided specialized software programming since 1994.

About 100 customers utilize the IRIS Multiple Data Set technology for medical records that Felter created when he was running a nursing home company and Medicare regulations required electronic copies of those forms. The program needed approval by individual states and technical review, but a medical background was not necessary for creating it.

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Sold to freestanding facilities, it features dietary management reports for tracking quality indicators for RUG scores, a system for facilities that indicates the level of care each patient requires, and the ability to show historical RUG scores for a facility. It also helps with preadmission screening so the homes can determine caseloads and costs. Queries on any key field help users analyze individual patients' situations.

"They can get an idea of whether this person is progressing or heading downhill, because often the changes are so minute you can't see them," Felter says. "It's a very complex environment."

Simplicity is not what Felter is after. He describes his company as a problem-solver.

One client, Meritech, a copier dealer, needed a billing software package to charge Case Western University for a high volume of copies each month. The university became a client as well when it started using SAP for accounts payable and wanted to modify the software to import the billing information.

"It was important for them for the front-end data to be based on Excel input because their people were Excel-familiar," Felter explains. The system took two months to develop, and over time, he added procedures such as charging for special functions like stapling, and getting credit for service copies. He estimates that each year Meritech and the university save 21.76 times the initial cost of the software.

While his projects may be complex, Felter wants his applications to appear simple. "Intuitiveness has always been important and making sure people are comfortable in their environment," he says.

When taking on a new project, the first thing he determines is the people involved and their qualications. He also believes consultants should focus on as much automation as possible. "If you can pay attention to the mundane tasks and solve them quickly, that's the big money-maker," he says.

During the summer, the Ohio Society of CPAs honored Felter when it gave him the Technology Advocacy Award, for outstanding commitment and leadership in advancing technology for the CPA profession. Felter, chairman of the society's technology committee for the last three years, also leads its special interest technology section.

He also maintains an accounting practice, James M. Felter CPA, which he started in 1992, and specializes in controllership consulting and other management accounting services for corporate clients. He handles roughly 60 to 100 returns a year, is QuickBooks Pro certified and is a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Felter, who earned a BS in accounting from the University of Akron in 1979, is finishing his MBA online.

"I want to go after more aggressive projects," Felter says. "It's a credential issue more than anything else. That the lead guy on the project has an MBA makes a lot of difference in a lot of people's minds."

Currently, he is devising a software package for Sarbanes-Oxley 404 compliance. Instead of downloading Excel worksheets for analysis, Felter's software would integrate a front-end application to help in the audit process.

"It's going to create a linear approach to the step-by-step audit process they can customize for each client, assist in documentation, and calculate the statistical analysis requirements to create the understanding of the risk factors," he says.

Alexandra DeFelice is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at alexandra.defelice@sourcemedia.com.

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