Saturday, 29 March 2008

Signs You Need a New Accounting System

The top 10 signs you need a new accounting system are:

10. The service technician keeps threatening to retire
9. “Reconciliation” is your middle name
8. You ask for “proficiency in DOS” when hiring staff
7. When calling Support you hear laughter in the background
6. Salesmen no longer call you about upgrades
5. You have to go for coffee whenever you click on “Post”
4. Your system came on diskettes
3. The last person to know the setup password retired to Florida
2. Nobody understands the reports

and the top sign you need a new accounting system is . . .

1. Your subledgers need counseling for “irreconcilable differences”

Quickbooks is one of the most popular starting systems in North America. In fact, a March 23, 2008 PC Magazine article shows Quickbooks having over 4,000,000 users.

As a Quickbooks user, you won't have any of the signs mentioned above, but you still might have outgrown your system (which is a wonderful thing, when you think about it). Here's what to look for:

1. Performance - The number one reason why Quickbooks users switch is that Quickbooks slows down. Data entry windows, menus and reports take too long to run.

2. Features - As you add such things as warehouse locations or complex customer specific pricing you reach the limits of an entry level system. A sure sign you need to upgrade is the number of spreadsheets you need to maintain because the information is not available directly from the accounting system.

As one of 4,000,000 users you have a lot of clout. Look for a system that not only has the features you need, but also has a way to upload all the Quickbooks history you have worked so hard to build up. That way you can continue to spot trends in your reports. You don't have to start over or compare reports from different systems. One example is Microsoft Dynamics.

Now, let's talk about those irreconcilable differences, shall we?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

FRx Buzz

OK, so you're implementing something you've never done before. You have the installation instructions and user guide open on your laptop. Things aren't making sense, so you log into the support web site and find that your question has not been addressed. As a last resort you google your question and lo and behold, not only has someone answered your question, but they have devoted a whole web site to exploring that software.

A big shout of thanks to Jan Harrigan at FRx Buzz. Your web site made me feel like you were in the chair next to me with step by step instructions.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

World's Worst Networker . . .

Some people just have that knack. You ask them about anything from ball tickets to hotels in New York and they have someone they can put you in touch with.

Not me.

I mean I just don't have time for the whole "let's grab a bite" scene or "let's talk over a round of golf". Please! There are clients to serve and deadlines to meet, not to mention my commitments to my family. I really don't have time. And I'm not alone. Most of my accounting clients don't go out for lunch either. It's just a solitary sandwich at your desk as you review the financial statements.

I know, I know. It's something you just have to do.

Problem is, I didn't know how. I've been to those seminars about marketing yourself etc. etc. My Outlook Contacts List has a couple of hundred names (although not all the addresses are current). I just didn't know what to do with them.

Something changed this week.

I got an email from a friend looking to hire an accounting software implementation consultant. It turns out that they are quite rare these days. He asked me if I knew anyone. My first response was to say no, but then I thought -- it wouldn't do any harm to send out a few emails and see if anyone knows someone. It really only took a few minutes (since I sent the same email to everyone). The funny thing is that it benefited me as much as my friend. None of my contacts knew anyone immediately either, but several said they'd send out a few emails as well. But in the process, I found out that a friend had had a baby, that someone else had changed jobs and one even said, "Let's get together for lunch."

All of a sudden, networking sounds like fun.

If staying in touch with old friends sounds like fun to you too, I have just one suggestion: join a web site like LinkedIn or Plaxo. Find your contacts there. My Outlook contact list really is ancient. A lot of the email addresses are dead, but my friends on LinkedIn keep their information up to date as their circumstances change. That way I never lose touch.

Oh, if you do decide to join LinkedIn, look me up. I may not have time for lunch, but I'm always happy to email!


Monday, 17 March 2008

Accountants Can Be People People

In the March 14th edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Wallace Immen wrote the following under the title “Gaffes: Boneheaded ways to blow a job interview”:

Other interview-snuffing gaffes included: . . . An accountant who insisted she was a "people person" and not a "numbers person."

To that unfortunate fellow accountant held up to public ridicule, I can only say: take heart, you are not alone. Yes, I understand the problem. The interview was for a technical position and the candidate was apparently denying that she could do the job. But looked at from a broader perspective, the accounting profession needs more people people, i.e. accountants who focus on getting the message across to other people. I agree that getting the numbers right is our first priority, but what good are accurate financial statements if their message is not understood by the organization’s stakeholders?

People people make good educators and communicators and we need more of them. We need people who can report bad news in such a way that it is believed and acted upon. We need people who can decipher complicated or fraudulent transactions so that a jury can understand them. We need financial planners to help people cope with the regulations surrounding retirement savings. In my field of accounting systems, we need good trainers, planners, implementers and project managers, all of which require excellent communications skills.

Finally, we need people who can put a human face on our profession so that the public can understand and trust us. The stereotype of the green eye shade wearing accountant working in isolation, creating statements that nobody understands, has just got to go.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

One Page Memos

When he was Prime Minister of England during the Second World War, Churchill was famous for demanding that all memos be only one page long. I always understood the need for clear writing and brevity. I just never appreciated how difficult one pagers are to write.

Earlier this year I started a night course on dramatic writing. (No jokes about being a creative accountant, OK? This is serious.) The instructor, Greg Nelson (of Afghanada fame), asked us to submit a one page outline of our plays. Mine turned out to be two pages, in my usual point form. He gave it back to me and said, no it had to be one page long and in full sentences.

That's when the real writing began. How do you condense two hours of presentation down to one page? This process forces you to be ruthless about cutting away the unimportant material and getting to the point quickly. Then, when the instructor handed it back he commented on a couple of key points that I had missed. Geez! Now I had to cut even further to find room. But that's the whole idea. If you are going to ask people to spend two hours of their life with you, you'd better be spinning a lot of gold, not just the usual cotton.

The accounting systems business is full of RFI's (Requests for Information) and RFP's (Requests for Proposals). These documents often run 100 pages or more. They are typically 85% boilerplate and 15% fill-in-the-blank. Try this: when you are requesting suppliers to submit proposals, tell them you need a one page document detailing why you should go with them. If you like the one pager, you'll read the entire proposal. Then, when you get it, if there is any hint of boilerplate or jargon (e.g. "enterprise focused solution" instead of "software"), send it back saying it's not detailed enough and doesn't address your needs adequately. Offer to set up an appointment with your assistant if the supplier wants more information about your needs. Most of them won't take you seriously, but the ones who do really want your business and are willing to listen to you. In a world where there are all kinds of software packages that will do the job, isn't finding someone who will listen to you what the whole selection process is really about?

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Microsoft is Ready, Are You?

Microsoft held an Executive Briefing about Dynamics GP (Great Plains) in Toronto this week. The first speaker talked about the research Microsoft is doing and how they have shadowed actual people at their jobs to see how best to design their software tools. The second speaker presented a day-in-the-life of an executive using Dynamics. This wasn't a gee-whiz session talking breezily about a rosy future. All of the features are available today.

My question is: how many people are in a position to take advantage of the software?

Your accounting system can now identify unusual transactions (the example was a particularly large sale), shoot you off an email, let you see a report with more detail, then create a letter or email to customize before sending it to the customer. Cool, eh?

How do we get there from here?

"Hands off my data!" - Accounting departments need to be open about allowing staff from other departments access to the financial database (with all of the appropriate controls and security in place, of course).

"What's a Pivot Table?" - Accounting staff need more than just a nodding acquaintance with Excel. They need to be able to:

  • Sort, filter and lookup data so they can zero in on specific transactions
  • Summarize data (pivot table) by any field (e.g. date, item, vendor, territory, etc.)
  • Present data with readable charts, tables or graphs
"How many widgets did we sell in Ohio?" - Accounting staff need to be able to create ad hoc reports or download blocks of data quickly and easily. They need a good understanding about how information is organized in the database so they can find requested data.

Even if you have no plans to change your accounting system, the next time you see someone entering whole columns of data into a spreadsheet, challenge them to find a way to do it faster. When someone says that the system can't produce the information you're looking for, ask why not. The accounting system is a diamond mine of information. Let's give the miners the right tools and training!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Passionate Accountant

On Sunday I attended the annual meeting of a church in a well to do part of Toronto where I am not a member. The person in charge of fundraising got up and said that the central church had not reached its fundraising goal last year and was asking for a 3% increase in givings. A motion was immediately passed to increase the donations to the central church. Only two people voted against the motion, both (as I learned later) accountants.

The Treasurer then made a presentation about the financial statements and the budget for next year. He pointed to the large amounts transfered from the reserve fund into the operating fund. He said the church would not be receiving the investment income it was used to because the investments had been sold. He talked about the serious deficit and how the finance committee had a three year plan, which involved cutting some popular church events, to eliminate it. Suddenly I realized why the accountants voted against the increase to the central church: the local church couldn't afford it. They see this as a major issue. The church is living beyond its means. It was a call to action.

Unfortunately, as I surveyed the faces of the audience, I don't think the message got across. People are very good at tuning out the drone of accountants who talk about replacing the roof or repairs to the boiler. Accountants pride themselves on their objectivity and their lack of emotion.

This was the time to be passionate.

This was the time to say to the members that $800 per family average giving is just not good enough. The people in the room would think nothing of paying $200 per month for a family membership in a fitness centre, yet they do not give nearly that much money to the church that does so much for them. Accountants are not bible thumpers or sermonizers by nature, but the times have changed.

The church cannot cost-cut its way to prosperity.

People must be made to understand the seriousness of the situation and put all their weight behind the solution. We are like a people losing our culture and heritage in a new world. We must take extraordinary steps to maintain our way of life. The accountants in the room know the reality. They need to learn how to communicate their message effectively. They need passion.