Information in the joined-up enterprise

6 Sep 2005

Changes are afoot in the world of financial software. Instead of choosing a backwards-looking accounts package that shows what has been historically happening in a business, many Irish organisations are now opting for a positive, forward-looking type of solution, according to David Beausang, financial management software sales manager with Mentec (pictured).

“People rarely buy a general ledger or ‘closed’ financial system any more. They’ve very interested in the information value of what’s going on in their enterprise. With it, they can get a picture of where their organisation is headed … moving from a ‘collect’ to a ‘use’ model.”

Mentec has seen a lot of these changes at first hand: the Dublin-based company is the exclusive distributor and professional services consulting partner for Agresso Business World, which is installed in more than 100 sites in Ireland. Mentec is also the No 2 reseller in Europe for Microsoft Great Plains and has installed this package in more than 200 companies North and South.

Beausang has noticed a definite trend that places financial software not just within a company’s IT framework, but at the heart of an organisation’s activities and resources, aligning them to the business plan and corporate strategy.

Improvements in financial software have helped this transformation. Previously, businesses had to buy so-called vertical computer systems that did certain functions very well. “Now broader, functional capabilities — things that would have been very difficult to do — are coming into the more general [financial] software market, such as risk management,” Beausang relates. “You’re moving towards an information environment where people are looking at a scorecard or performance dashboard as opposed to just a traditional set of accounts.”

Beausang talks of the concept of joined-up enterprise, based on having financial systems and information systems that are integrated with other functions in the business. He cites two recent additions to the Agresso customer list as examples: the Irish Courts Service and Northern Ireland-based Hendersons Group. “Both need one integrated view to make decisions,” explains Beausang.

“The financial system has evolved into a management tool, managing what’s happening and what’s about to happen,” says Beausang. “Modern systems such as Agresso and Microsoft Great Plains allow you to join strategic and tactical elements together. People can have a joined-up view of their business without spending lots of time to put in place a large enterprise resource planning system. Now, people are linking their customer relationship management system to their debt management and miscellaneous income and seeing a full picture of their relationship with other businesses.”

This speaks directly to the concerns of many mid-sized Irish organisations, which on the one hand need to get their money’s worth from any investment in IT, while making their own companies as efficient as possible. “This makes them faster, leaner and more competitive than their rivals. The key will be to plug them into the greater information architecture.”

As an additional and very welcome benefit, joined-up financial manage-ment systems can also help with regulatory compliance, which is a subject exercising the minds of many at board level recently. “If you know what’s going on in your organisation, compliance becomes an intrinsic part of that picture and can be reported on,” Beausang points out. By having a clear focus and plan for where the organisation is going and how it plans to get there — supported by a financial management solution — any organisation can become compliant, he says. “You’re proving that you did what you said you were going to do,” he sums up.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about investing in a knowledge infrastructure to boost the country’s competitiveness; Beausang argues this mindset applies just as much to businesses here, which is where a good financial package can help. “Businesses in Ireland are in exactly the same position — they can’t afford to be inefficient, they need to be very clever about where they put their resources and how they fit the business objectives.”
For that reason and more, Beausang is bullish about the prospects for growth in the financial software market. “There will always be growth where there’s accountability and the need to measure risk,” he says.

“A lot of companies combine the finance and IT functions, because when you think about it, they’re both about information. We’re trying to reflect that important role and expand the value everyone gets from the collective information in the organisation. It’s an information revolution from that point of view.”

By Gordon Smith