Counting on the bottom line

24 Jun 2004

There are very few greenfield sites left for the installation of financial software. Bar start-ups the majority of companies of any size will already have some form of financial package up and running. According to Michael Alken, sales and marketing manager with Quantum Business Solutions (QBS), which distributes Opera II financial software in Ireland: “Ten years ago companies were happy to focus on solutions that would cater for 60-70pc of their requirements. Nowadays companies want to get closer to the 100pc mark.”

Looking at some of the major installations that have happened recently, it’s getting that final 30pc right and implementing features such as direct debit payments, credit control software, point of sale, electronic data interchange invoicing or industry-specific modules that are driving sales.

The exclusive requirements of Tricastle, one of the leading ‘form work’ companies in the construction sector, were met by a specialised subcontractor ledger that QBS developed as a bolt on to Opera II. It controls both the statutory and non-statutory aspects of managing subcontractors and is linked to other modules including the purchases and debtors ledger and job costing.

Tricastle provides form work for many major contractors such as Cramptons, John Paul and John Sisk & Sons — in essence it provides the walls and floors in new buildings.

“Anyone working in the financial side of construction will be familiar with the complexity of accounting for applications and certifications on long-term contracts,” says Adrian Davis, financial controller with Tricastle. “One of the most complex areas is tying up the costing area, allowing for the revision of applications for work undertaken, and then inserting the correct deductions for Vat, retentions, builder discounts and withholding tax.”

Davis estimates that the amount of time required to track costings within this department has shrunk by 40pc. “Prior to the development of QBS’s sub-contractor ledger system, most financial officers such as myself would have relied on a number of disperate systems to produce the final required accounting. There would have been instances of multiple data entry with the associated risk of errors.”

Thorntons Recycling, a waste processing and recycling company, also chose Opera from QBS to provide an integrated system to replace the separate accounts, payroll and management information systems it had built up. Having three separate silos of information meant Thorntons had limited management data, historic rather than current data and an inability to determine what areas of the business were running at a cost or a profit.

“When information was required to provide key performance indicators or management insights, it typically took too long to gather the data and when it was presented, the data was too old to affect current business decisions,” says Gary Brady, financial controller of Thorntons. “We installed Opera at the end of last year in Thorntons. On 1 January, we were able to produce figures in time and with relevance to the overall business.”

The waste collection and recycling business has changed dramatically over the past 10 years with landfill costs rising dramatically and recycling considered not only a moral but a financial imperative. Thorntons operates three recycling lines at its Ballyfermot depot, which requires intensive capital and labour investment.

“Each time the final load to the landfill is reduced, the costs are lowered and the damage to the environment reduced,” says Brady. “However, we needed to ensure that the cost of recycling was not exceeding the cost of service. Effective management information systems are a must if the company is to assess the benefit of each of its recycling processes. Now, we have data when and where we need it, allowing us to make informed commercial decisions.”

Modular accounting systems mean that rather than ripping and replacing, it is possible to add new functionality to the core system. That’s what IDA Ireland did recently when it added an invoice approval system (IAS) to its Integra Financials system from IB Solutions (formerly Torex).

“One of the main drivers for us was the requirement to provide a professional and efficient service whereby invoices are paid in the shortest possible time frame,” explains Derek Fahy, senior accountant at IDA Ireland. “We had a paper-based process for approving invoices prior to the implementation of the IAS. A substantial number of invoices required confirmation in one of our regional offices and until they were returned to the accounts department for payment, they flowed through the approval system by hand.”

IDA Ireland has been using the core Integra Financials solution from Torex to run its business and Integra is the foundation platform for the application to manage the invoicing process. All invoices are now digitally scanned upon receipt with the accounts department holding onto the originals and digital images circulated through the approval system. Once scanned the invoices are attached to an email template, which is populated automatically with details from the invoice register and sent to the approver/authoriser through Microsoft Outlook. The IAS also enables the use of automatic triggers and notifications.

The fact that more than 75pc of IDA invoices are property requiring architect’s certificates and back-up documentation adds another challenge to the mix. “This project was quite challenging as most of our invoices can’t be approved without reference to the back-up documentation and with our organisational structure the invoices and the back-up documentation could require approval by different people from geographically dispersed locations,” says Fahy.

Independent Irish oil company Maxol recently invested €500k in an accounting and distribution system from IB Solutions.

“We wanted the most reliable, reputable technology on which to build a future-proofed accounting and distribution system for the group,” explains Garry Boggan, IT manager business solutions at Maxol. “The complicated process of our business and distribution generates innumerable issues for executives and IT staff.”

Featuring a familiar Windows interface, the system eliminates the duplication of financial data, reduces reliance on paper-based records and encourages direct data input, work flow and online authorisation.

“We installed a Sun Microsystems box on which the Unix operating system is loaded. Layered on top of that is the IB Solutions’ Integra e-Financials software with all of the individual records being held in an Oracle database,” says Fearghal Kearney, account development consultant at IB Solutions. “The business solution also comprises a server farm running Citrix MetaFrame.”

“The solution provides our geographically dispersed distribution centres with reliable, cost-effective access to corporate applications over a bandwidth-constrained wide area network,” says Boggan. As a result Maxol has a solid system on which it can implement its future plans such as a bespoke tanker stock reconciliation module, bulk stock reconciliation, a statistics system and a deferred rebates system.

By John Collins