Monday, 24 September 2012

The Cost of Data Entry

 Ah, I remember those days well.  As a young auditor, looking a little uncomfortable wearing a suit every day, I was asked to audit the Accounts Payable department of a national retail chain.  The office was in a low rise building in the suburbs and the Accounts Payable department took up a whole floor.  That’s right, row after row of middle-aged women with comptometers, which were large, manual calculators.

Their job was to check all of the calculations on the invoices received from vendors and then batch the invoices for data entry.  The women (and they were all women in those days) down in data entry were not supposed to even think while they entered the invoices.  They were supposed to be like human computers and just key in the data, only looking at it if it didn’t agree to the comptometer total that came with the batch.

Funny story:  one of the older women in Accounts Payable liked me because I was careful about putting all of the invoices I selected for audit testing back into the right files.  She invited me out to lunch one Friday with “some friends from other departments.”  At the restaurant, she introduced me to the new credit manager, a woman about my age.  Then she looked at her watch and said that she had forgotten to do something important, and that we should go on without her.  Lunch turned out to be just the two of us.  The credit manager was deeply embarrassed and told me how the ladies in Accounts Payable thought she was much too pretty to be single, so they kept setting her up with eligible young men.  I’d love to be able to say that we were married the following year, but such was not to be.  The lunch ended quickly and we went our separate ways.

Data entry has changed a lot since those days too.  We expect the people who enter information to understand and correct the transactions, as well as flagging any that need further follow up.  Data entry is a more responsible position than it used to be.  Personally, I think that’s a good thing.  It’s a more rewarding experience to be involved in the business than to just sit there doing mindlessly repetitive tasks.
Data entry is also disappearing.  When we receive cheques, for example, they are entered via a scanner, which reads the bank’s magnetic encoding, as well as attempting to read the sender’s address information.  The data entry clerk reviews and corrects the information before posting the cash receipts, a much faster process.  Other companies, more advanced than ours, get rid of paper altogether by using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) where all of the payment information is received from the vendor and the payment is wired into the bank account, freeing up staff to do more value added work, such as following up on outstanding payments.  So, instead of having a room full of data entry clerks, you have none.

Friday, 21 September 2012

It's Nice to be Recognized

Today's email contained a nice surprise:  a message from Bisk Education, a CPA preparation school in Florida.  Grant Webb, one of Bisk's learning facilitators, had this to say:

Our accounting students as well as myself have been following your Energized Accounting blog and have used your content in our classroom discussions. Most recently, we discussed your post on “Habits of Successful Accountants”. This post was highly relevant to our topic of the day.  Thank you.

As we train our accounting students to become CPAs, we often search for scenarios online to supplement our classroom discussion. Your post was exactly the type of information our CPAs in training use to build a more well-rounded knowledge base and understanding as well as preparing to be successful as an accountant CPA.

 I don't get much fan mail, nor do I get a lot of commentary on my posts (a subtle hint to Bisk students!), so it was nice to get this recognition.

 Thank you, Bisk Education!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Habits of Successful Accountants #5 – Upgrading

Personal professional development is very important for accountants, but have you noticed how often the accounting system languishes, still at the version that was installed years ago?  As an implementation consultant, I would talk to clients about features they were missing because they were on an old version of the software.  The answer was often that they didn’t have the budget for an upgrade.

Budgeting For Success

Finding the money to invest in your system can be problematic, particularly in these days of economic uncertainty.  At the same time, it is often an excuse.  There’s no money in the budget for system upgrades because nobody budgeted for a system upgrade.  It can turn into a vicious circle!

Yes, a complete system upgrade can be expensive, but who says you have to take on everything at once?

Making a List

Remember back to when you installed your current accounting system.  What features made you decide on the one you chose?  What cool stuff were you looking forward to?  Chances are, the cool stuff never got fully implemented.  Why?  Because of the time and expense involved in just getting the basic system going.  Accounting systems are complex and the process of converting the data from an old system to a new one often takes a lot longer than expected.  As the deadline to go live approaches, optional features are deferred so that the team can focus on the basics.  And the cool stuff is often optional.  The sad thing is that the deferred features are often never implemented.

So, make yourself a little list of what you want in your system.  It doesn’t have to be all accounting software.  If your accounting department is like many of the ones I see, it can get pretty cramped.  Imagine how spacious it would be if half of the filing cabinets were removed and the paper scanned instead of filed.

New Year’s Resolution

What about adding this to your new year’s resolutions?  “I will improve my system every year.”  Accounting software packages tend to have at least one major upgrade per year, and they encourage their customers to stay on the current version.  What we used to advise clients was to upgrade every other year, unless there was a feature in the new version that they particularly liked.  This kept them reasonably up to date at a reasonable cost.  What I would add to that advice is to do the next item on your list in the years that you don’t do a software upgrade.  That way, you are always getting better!

Reprinted with the kind permission of Idatix Inc:

Monday, 10 September 2012

Swimming With Sharks 1

As a small manufacturer, getting your first order from a giant company like Walmart or Sears can be a dream come true.  But that dream can turn into a nightmare if you don’t have the right systems in place.

I worked with a company that landed a contract with an international department store chain.  One month’s order from them involved more of my client’s product than they had sold in the whole previous year.  It was a cause for celebration and the sales team threw a party.

Then the realities of all the logistical requirements hit home.  All of the skids had to include an RFID tag (radio frequency identification) to identify the contents of the skid to the department store’s computer system.  The truck had to show up at the receiving dock at exactly the right time.  All of the shipping documentation had to be sent electronically (by EDI – Electronic Data Interchange).  If anything went wrong, the department store would reduce its payment to my client by a pre-set penalty.

That may not sound like much.  Just a few extra steps with each shipment, right?  Wrong.  Another part of the agreement had the six different ways the company forecasts demand and replenishes stock.  They want to keep the minimum quantity on hand and avoid out of stock situations, meaning that suppliers have to be on their toes and respond immediately to new orders.

If my client had had a full featured ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system like Oracle or SAP, all of this would have been routine, but they were just a small operation.  So we modified Microsoft Dynamics GP to create special reports that could be downloaded from the accounting system and made a big list in Excel for the staff to follow.  But it would have been so much better, if the client could have had a workflow system that would have sent email reminders to all of the staff about what steps they had to follow for each shipment.

So, let’s stand back a little and look at the best strategy for your systems if you are a medium sized company swimming with sharks.  You have your toe in the door, but have no way of knowing whether this is a one-shot deal or the start of something big.  In the long run, you would like to be able to ramp up your sales, production and systems so that you move up, but in the short run, that strategy is time consuming and expensive.  A good starting point is to upgrade one piece at a time, making sure that anything new you add will work to meet the current demand AND grow with you as you upgrade.  In this case, a work flow system would keep the staff on top of the vendor requirements, as well as supporting the company’s operations regardless of what the future holds.

Reposted with the kind permission of iDatix:

Friday, 7 September 2012

At Long Last, A Sexy Accountant!

Accountants have not been treated well by Hollywood.  (I don't need to perpetuate the stereotype here.  Even non-accountants know what I'm talking about.)  So, it was good to see that the Toronto International Film Festival has a film about an accountant on a sexual adventure.  Here's the summary (with thanks to the Globe and Mail):

Jonas Chernick plays Jordan Abrams, a sexually inept accountant/dweeb from Winnipeg who, after getting the heave-ho from his long-time girlfriend (Sarah Manninen), flies to Toronto where he eventually meets Julia (Emily Hampshire), a stripper/lap dancer with a heart of gold, a mountain of debt and culinary ambitions.

Er . . . never mind.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Budgeting Blues

The Division Manager looked at me.  “Don’t ask me why we didn’t meet budget.  Those budget numbers aren’t mine.  They’re way too high.  I never agreed to that.”  If you are a financial analyst, that quote might be very familiar to you.  It should be so simple, right?  The division budgeted $X million in sales.  The year is half over, so they should have reached 50% of $X million, but they’re actually less than that.  All you want is a reasonable explanation.  Instead, you get an argument about the budget.

Sometimes, it’s a stalling tactic, but sometimes the person really doesn’t remember or doesn’t know where the budget numbers came from.  Budgeting is more of an art than a science.  In theory it’s easy.  Every division does some crystal ball gazing and submits their best forecast for the coming year.  The numbers are assembled for the whole company and after a negotiation about who gets what share of the available resources, the budget is set.

In reality, it can get a lot more complicated.  The negotiations can go back and forth.  Numbers get adjusted.  To understand the final number, you have to understand the history.  The problem with spreadsheets is that when you change a cell, whatever was there before is lost.  So there may be nothing to tell you that the final sales number was increased due to a sales promotion that actually never happened.

Some budgeting systems solve this by allowing you to enter a series of budget adjustments instead of changing the cells directly, but if you’re like most of us, still using spreadsheets, having a system that locks in previous versions of a spreadsheet can save you a lot of hassle later on.  If you have locked in versions of the budget, not only will you understand what’s in the numbers, you’ll be able to prove it.