Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Microsoft Dynamics NAV vs GP

Houston Neal, at Software Advice, asked me to blog about the differences between Navision and Great Plains accounting software, or, as they are currently known, Microsoft Dynamics NAV and GP.  Houston has done a great job of describing the different Microsoft ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning - an accounting system on steroids - i.e. including purchasing, manufacturing and distribution etc.) packages, so I will just give you my rule of thumb.

When I was with a company selling Great Plains, we talked about it being cheaper because the functionality came out of the box.  You didn't have to pay for a lot of customization, either during the initial implementation or later, during upgrades.  When I was with a company selling Navision, we talked about flexibility, how easy and cheaply the software could be customized to the individual needs of the customer

My take on this issue is that if Great Plains fits you out of the box, it's a better package.  If customization is needed, then Navision is the better pick.

Having said that, I think that both packages would work well for a wide variety of companies.  If that is the situation with you, then I recommend taking a close look at the consulting firms selling you the package.  A skilled, experienced consultant can make even a limited software package look good, while a bad one can ruin good software.

If you have looked at both packages are still unsure, try what we used to call a Boardroom Pilot.  Get a sample batch of different transactions and invite the vendors in to enter those transactions into their systems.  That will give you a side by side comparison of the software.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Landing That First Job

Question from the editors of Forbes:

Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a jump in the unemployment rate to 10.2%.Some economists think we could be looking at 10.5% by early next year. 

Given these grim forecasts, how do you counsel recent college graduates and others entering the job market for the first time in this employment climate? Is there any advice or strategies you find particularly useful?


My advice is to be enthusiastic.  You have youth on your side, so use it.  An interviewer early in my career said to me that I lacked experience, but if he decided that he wanted an accountant full of piss and vinegar, he'd call me.  I wrote off the interview and actually took another job.  I was kicking myself two weeks later when he called back.

My second piece of advice is to figure out what you're good at and keep improving.  Take courses, read books and magazines, follow bogs and webcasts, meet others in your field, go to conferences -- whatever it takes to stay current and build your skill.  If you are enthusiastic and skilled, people will want you on their team even if you have little experience.

Thirdly, give it away.  Volunteer your expertise, share your ideas.  Don't hoard your human capital.  Show them what you've got and they'll want to work with you.  Ideas are cheap.  The more you give away, the more you will get.

Finally, surround yourself with intelligent, focused people.  Some of it will rub off on you.  You can only get better.  But these days, watch out for naked ambition.  Watch out for people with get rich quick schemes.  Look for success in the long run and you'll be better able to balance your life.

You're probably thinking that this advice would be the same even if unemployment were going down.  You're right.  Use that kind of statistic as intelligence, not an excuse for inactivity.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

What Accountants Know

What do accountants bring to the table for charitable donations? I would like to make the case for a special kind of support, something that will help EVERY charity and something that comes naturally with accounting training and experience.

The difficult fact that each charity faces is that nobody wants to support administrative costs. Governments don't fund this area, nor do foundations or private individuals as a rule. Yet every charity spends a significant amount of time and money on administration: paying the rent, keying in the payroll, buying insurance, etc.

As accountants, we are arguably experts on administration. We track it. We analyze it. We minimize it. We research it. And we appreciate it when it's done well.

So many not-for-profit organizations I've worked with actually underspend on administration. They use obsolete computers and inadequate software, forcing them to spend too much staff and volunteer time on admin. Often staff are not sufficiently trained in standard packages like word processors and spreadsheets, so too much time gets spent on the otherwise normal processing of transactions and reports. Others are lucky enough to have an endowment cover at least part of the administrative costs, but they are a small minority.

Sometimes this skimping on administration leads to self-defeating results. It takes resources to write grant proposals, report to donors, mount events or create fundraising campaigns. As any salesperson will tell you, you have to spend money to make money.

Administration is not exciting. Most people would rather see their money go towards a scholarship, a key piece of equipment or research into curing a disease, but with our specialized training and experience, accountants are different. We know how important effective administration is, how the very success of the charity may depend on it.

So, please consider marking your next donation to your favorite charity, "For ongoing administration". Your donation will get the attention it deserves!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Don't Manage Me!

The nice young man across the table was trying to help my wife and I renew our mortgage.  He had access to all of the transactions we had done at the bank, whether online, through the call center or through the branch.  It was clear that he was using a well designed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) package.   He had everything at his fingertips.  The problem is that CRM is no substitute for an actual relationship.

CRM started life as a Rolodex, a listing of the names and addresses of a salesperson's contacts.  Good salespeople knew they needed more than "tombstone" information about their customers, so they started taking notes on their customers.  When computers systems to replace Rolodex cards were created, they were called Contact Management systems.  Later on, it became clear that the sales team could benefit from knowing all of the ways customers interact with the company and Contact Management software morphed into CRM.  The problem is, CRM was built to support existing relationships, not replace them.

The nice young man we were talking about our mortgage a few years ago to was not actually a banker.  He was actually a high school teacher by day, working at the bank in the evenings.  His advice to us was to lock in the mortgage because, after all, how could rates go any lower?  (If you're smiling right now, you know where I'm headed.)  Well, rates did go lower.

Now, as my wife and I are planning our financial future, one source of information we will no longer use is our bank.  I have no relationship with anyone at the bank that I can trust.  I have nobody that I can go to who knows me well enough to advise me.  Each bank looks pretty much the same to me right now.  I feel no loyalty to the one I'm using.  This means it would be pretty easy for another bank to take my business by offering me a better rate.

But hey, my bank still has a good CRM system.