Monday, 13 August 2007

Who Owns Your Bank Transaction Data?

Rowan Simpson has an engaging discussion about a better way to get at your banking data in his blog. Certainly I would be the first to agree that banking information is at best awkward to import into accounting systems if there isn't a link specifically designed for your software.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Project Management

The July edition of PM Network, the monthly magazine from the Project Management Institute, ran a feature on the importance of project management on small projects. When you are building an airport, putting a man on the moon or constructing a nuclear reactor the need for planning and organization are clear. What this article points out is that the consequences of not properly managing a three month project can be just as disastrous for the organization.

What is Project Management? It is the distillation of the scars and bruises from thousands of endeavors into a model of good planning and follow up. The principles are self-evident. The discipline of applying the principles consistently is priceless. Here's a quick summary:

  • Schedule Management - putting everything on a calendar
  • Team Management - marshaling your human resources
  • Communications Management - keeping everyone informed
  • Quality Management - assessing the output
  • Risk Management - planning for what could go wrong
  • Change Management - not letting the size of the project get out of control
A good summary of Project Management principals is on the Human Resources and Social Development Canada website.

In my field of accounting software implementation, there is a tendency to describe experienced implementers as project managers, whether they have project management training or not. I will be forever grateful to the former IBM consultant who took me aside on a project and said, “If you want to be a real project manager, take the courses from the Project Management Institute.”

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Competitive Edge: Your Accounting System

The Toronto Globe and Mail ran a story about Analytics, saying that a company's statistics can be a powerful tool in the right hands. Harvey Schachter, the Globe's "Monday Manager" quoted from Competing On Analytics, a Harvard Business School book by Davenport and Harris, which highlights the need to have the right data and the right management support in order to reap the rewards of good analysis.

How well I know that story. Every time I implement Microsoft Dynamics (Great Plains or Navision), I offer the client the ability to integrate operational data in the accounting system, but I am rarely taken up on the offer. One glowing exception was a felt manufacturer where the President had a one page report of key performance indicators that he used to run his business. It was quite a challenge to make the new system fit the summary cash, balance sheet, income statement and statistics (with a separate column for each subsidiary) onto one page, but it was worth it!

Try this: picture your company as a sports franchise competing in the major leagues. What statistics would help you manage the team? Think in terms of:

  • Output: How much do you really earn per unit, after all discounts?
  • Input: How much waste is there, and at what stage does it occur?
  • Human Resources: How many hours go into your product or service? How high or low is your utilization?
  • Equipment: How long do your machines sit idle?
Often managers feel they know the answers to this type of question already. As the Production Manager of a tool and die shop said to me, "You're not going to replace me with a computer!" when I implemented a job tracking program for the General Manager. But that same manager was really surprised at how busy his plant turned out to be. He had been considering whether to replace his older drill presses with computer aided equipment, but he ended up keeping both the old and the new equipment when he saw the report of his order backlog.

Even if you have an older accounting system, you would be amazed at the quality of report that can be obtained from standard microcomputer software such as Crystal Reports or even Excel, when they have detailed financial and operational data to work with.