July 26, 2009
July 20, 2009
Imagine a car where the only thing on the dashboard is an on/off switch. No speedometer, no tach, not even a gas gauge. Oh sure, it has a radio and a/c. It has navigation. It can do all sorts of things above and beyond just taking you places. But there's nothing on the dash to tell you anything about how it's running. It works. It does exactly what it was intended to do and it actually does it pretty well. And everyone has one. And, everyone can (more or less) fix them well enough to keep them running (most of the time). Sound familiar?
Now imagine this car is responsible for generating your income. Imagine you own a fleet of these cars and your business depends on them. Sometimes you take them in for servicing, but most of the time you'd really rather not have to. And with the economy the way it is, you only want to take them in when something's not working - like it won't go fast enough to get on the freeway or it doesn’t turn right anymore (making 3 lefts does the same thing so you put up with it for a while). To cut costs, you'd do anything other than spend money on them. You basically drive them till they stop working (they're running, so shouldn't they just keep running?).
This scenario seems a little far fetched, right? Now replace the word "car" with "computer" and maybe you can see where I’m going. Driving a car without a dash is like running a network without a monitoring system. Literally. It's scary to say but probably 99% of businesses out there do this! They think that because this is the way it's always been, this is the way it should always be. When it breaks, call the computer guy. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's "fine".
Well, it's not fine. It's just an accident waiting to happen. The best computer guys in the world are still at the mercy of the laws of probability reacting to things over and over again till something major happens. And the reality is, something major will happen. Machines last between 3 and 4 years. Sure you can push them longer, but why do you think all major manufacturers (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) limit their warranties to 36 months? Because their actuarial tables tell them their machines won't last longer than this! Statistically speaking, this means pushing machines past this point will almost always ensure some system failure. Now, if you have 3 servers on your network, you could be looking at a crash, on average, of one per year! Still want to drive without a dashboard?
When clients ask me what's the one thing that they could do that would be the most impactful way to use their IT dollars, without a doubt the answer is - implement a network monitoring system and start proactively managing your network. But you have to notice how this question is phrased. It's not, "how can we save money?" It's, "how can we better use our money?" Because, the reality is, you have to spend a little to save a lot. The ROI is there. But, it's all in how you view IT. You can't just think "save" (as in "not spend"). Because it will backfire on you.
So, the next time you're thinking of ways to cut costs, don't drive blind - add a monitoring system to your network.
July 14, 2009
Six Clues that You’ve Outgrown Your Accounting Software
Accounting & ERP Software Packages are constantly being enhanced with better functionality. Efficiency and flexibility are generally improved with each new product version, and many accounting software developers integrate user-requested changes into later version releases.
We consistently see clients suffering financially and/or operationally, because they are not aware of the fact that their current accounting package may no longer be a fit and should be replaced or enhanced. The replacement doesn’t necessarily mean a change in packages. It could be an upgrade or an enhancement or an update to the existing package.
Here are few signs that suggest it’s time to consider a move:
1. Slow Performance for reports, updates, and/or data entry
The amount of data amassed and stored in your accounting system is causing the software you’ve come to rely on to function slowly. A slow performing accounting system is a business hindrance, and a more powerful solution may not be difficult to find. Naturally, one alternative could be to simply remove much of the history currently being stored in the system. However, if this option doesn’t exist, a change may be appropriate.
2. Heavy Dependence on External Tools like Excel
How many reports are you creating with Excel because your accounting software can’t generate them the way you want? The time involved in this can be staggering, and it can creep up on you. It starts with one report, then another, then another…. A couple years later, if you take a step back, you can see that practically all of your reporting is being generated by Excel. This is a problem. The Accounting & ERP Software itself should generate 90% of the report requirements with the push of a button.
3. Extensive Manual Entry & Compilation of Data
Is your website getting orders that then need to be re-keyed into your Accounting Software? Are you taking orders by hand and then manually entering them into the system? Are you keeping a set of customers in your database and also in your accounting software? Have you added multiple warehouses that your software can’t support? These are common occurrences encountered as businesses grow and eventually outgrow their accounting software’s capabilities. If you are creating little tricks and codes to accommodate shortcomings like this, it may be time to look into something new.
4. Excessive Requirements for Customization
Your complex accounting needs call for customization of a system that it would be more effective to simply replace. If the cost of accounting software customization approaches the cost of the problem which needs to be resolved, a different package may be something to consider as part of your long-term strategy.
5. Multiple Databases & Multiple Systems Required for Managing the Business
Your vital business data is scattered across different systems and databases instead of being integrated into one functional program. If you have various technologies and software elements in place to perform the job of one more powerful accounting package, it’s time to let go.
6. Lack of Real-Time or Timely Access to Information
If you lack real-time access to your vital business data, across locations or in just one location, a new accounting package can help you gain visibility. Or, if you have to wait until the end of the day or the end of the month before being able to review key financial reports, something may be amiss in your system.
These factors are not all compassing nor are they comprehensive in determining that an organization definitely needs a new package. However, they are clues and should not be ignored. An organization’s information systems provide the key data that helps management make critical decisions that impact the future of the business. A system that runs slowly, doesn’t produce timely information, requires a lot of manual manipulation, needs “outside the system” analysis and reporting, and has consistent requirements for enhancement may not be the best fit. Many business owners and financial people have been living with shortcomings like these for so long, they think it’s “business as usual”. It’s not, and it doesn’t have to be that way :)
July 10, 2009
Earlier this week, Google announced that their new operating system, Google "Chrome", which will be competing with Windows, will be released early next year. Should Windows users be concerned? Should Windows users start thinking about switching?
The main consideration in any discussion about operating systems is "what applications are you running?" I know a lot of business owners who chose Macs as their technology platform, and then a year later wonder why they can't get comprehensive financial information out of their systems. It's because high end accounting & ERP software doesn't really exist for Macs. So...the same thing is true when considering Google Chrome. What applications will be available for Chrome? Are they consistent with what you currently need to run your business?
If so, and if the other benefits of Chrome outweigh the benefits of Windows, and if the drawbacks of Chrome are not overwhelming, then there should be consideration of a switch. However, the key is to be "application driven". Business Managers run businesses with applications, not operating systems.
July 9, 2009
On Monday this week, the MIS Group in Dallas,, one of the leading Sage resellers in the country, abruptly announced they were closing their doors and out of business. Their website read "As a result of the current economic crisis, the lack of available credit, and market circumstances beyond our control, we unfortunately are not able to be viable as a business and continue to service our customers.".
Many of Sage's competitors are trying to make hay out of this event by claiming that it points to an underlying weakness with Sage Software itself as well as Sage's flagship products like MAS90 and MAS200. While this is an interesting perspective, it certainly misses the mark. The main reason why the MIS Group likely went out of business is a common reason that many companies in many industries fail, they were mismanaged and took on too much debt. In addition, there are reports that a huge portion of their business was focused on the construction industry which has been hit as hard as any industry over the last year. The combination of having significant debt aligned with a considerable investment in a quickly declining market space would tax any business.
What can we take away from this? Certainly not that there is anything wrong with Sage or their products. Rather, it's a cautionary tale that prudent business practices win out, and that a bigger company in the accounting & ERP software consulting space isn't necessarily the best option. Bigger isn't necessarily worse, but it also isn't necessarily better. The key is to find a consulting partner who can understand your business, has the resources to add value and support your business, and is focused on taking care of their clients first and growing second. You don't necessarily want to be with a one man shop, but you also don't want to be overly concerned with going with the "biggest company" around either. Since 1991, FPA has consistently grown year over year and has also taken care of their clients with this as a mantra -- "do more work for less clients". This doesn't mean we don't want to continue to grow, but it does mean our first priority is to provide value-added, incredibly responsive and timely consulting and support to all of our existing clients. We know if we "take care of our clients", success follows.