The management team at STS International doesn't spend much time pondering the workings behind the global consolidated financials report they access through Intacct, the company's cloud-based financial management system. But Controller Mike Munson sees it differently.
"To them, it's kind of invisible. It's just another report they look at," Munson said. "For me, it's a massive time saver. I couldn't imagine running a global consolidated company without a system like Intacct."
Before adopting Intacct four years ago, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based IT services company relied on Sage Peachtree accounting software, but the system started to strain as the company expanded globally. Because the on-premises software couldn't adequately convert and consolidate different currencies, Munson was forced to do it manually in Microsoft Excel.
"We had no visibility, no efficiencies, no timely reporting, no remote access," Munson said. "It was hard."
The company started evaluating new systems in late 2009. But even before considering feature requirements, the team tackled a fundamental question: cloud or on-premises? While many finance departments are still struggling to accept the cloud, Munson said opting for cloud software was a simple decision, even though he admitted it wasn't the norm in 2010.
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Besides cloud delivery, other capabilities STS sought in a new system included smoother consolidation, better scalability and minimal IT support. Despite its being an IT services company, Munson said STS doesn't have a full-time employee for IT support.
Lessening the company's reliance on Excel was also a primary consideration. "We all liked Excel, and the project managers and executives still play with Excel, but we couldn't be wholly dependent on [it for] any one process -- it's just prone to mistakes," Munson said.
With global business booming, off-site access was another must-have feature. Munson said this was a strong argument in favor of a cloud system, in addition to preventing data losses. "We lost some accounting data a couple times and had to recreate it," he explained. "That was the final straw. We needed some kind of a hosted or cloud-based system."
STS briefly considered financial management systems from Oracle and SAP, but backed away due to the high cost. The slate was eventually narrowed to cloud-based offerings from Sage, Microsoft and Intacct.
Each vendor presented a virtual or in-person demo to Munson and STS' CEO, CFO and COO. In Munson's opinion, Intacct stood out.
"It was certainly a more developed product at the time. The reporting capabilities were pretty incredible [and] they had the drill down on the data," he said. "Microsoft and Sage's products were clunkier, the drill down didn't really exist to the same extent, [the] reporting capabilities were not as good, and consolidating was not as impressive."
STS also requested sandbox versions of each platform, but not all three vendors could deliver. While Intacct provided a test version, Munson said one of the other two "wasn't able to get it together." After playing around with the software for a couple weeks, STS officially signed on with Intacct in January 2010.
While Munson said the implementation was a lot of work, he gave a nod to the fact that most are tricky. He led the approximately three-month-long process, which involved structuring entities and reports, setting up the general ledger, and performing parallel testing.
In the end, the system was rolled out to five accounting and approximately 30 business users. Non-finance employees primarily use the system to view reports, and some also track their hours in it. Munson said there was only minimal training, primarily consisting of online videos and hands-on experience. "I think like most software these days, you get in there and start playing around with it and you learn it," he said.
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Today, STS' financial consolidation effort is a far cry from what it was in the past, much to Munson's relief. The visibility Intacct provides has paved the way for faster business decisions, and despite the company doubling in revenue over the past four years, the finance team has had to add only one employee.
"The reporting tool is really exceptional," Munson said. "You can basically make any reports you want to." He added that dashboards for executives provide beneficial high-level information, but users can also dive into the details if they desire.
The software also has semi-automated integrations set up with several other systems at STS, including ADP, Kronos and credit card processors. According to Munson, these connections, which entail downloading data from one system and uploading it into another, have saved the company a significant amount of time. "The ADP-to-Intacct process was taking two to four days, and now it takes two to four hours a month," Munson said. STS is now planning to adopt a new customer relationship management system, and he said a fully automated integration will be engineered between Intacct and the CRM software.
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However, Munson did have one wish-list item: better value-added tax (VAT) capabilities, a particularly important feature for a global company. He said reporting on VAT in Intacct has been a struggle of workarounds.
"If you were to report on a European-designed accounting system, it's complexly different because VAT is their world over there in accounting," Munson said. "A truly global financial accounting system has to be able to handle [other tax] rules besides the U.S., and that's been a sore point."
But the vendor is aware of this weakness and working on a solution. In fact, Munson commended Intacct on its responsiveness to customer issues. "They pour resources into their items that aren't quite up to speed," he said.
Overall, STS is happy with Intacct. But given the chance to go back and do the implementation over, he said he would set up the system differently.
"I wish I could undo and reconfigure some things, so my regret would be that I didn't know enough at the time to set it up correctly," he said. "Unfortunately, you can't undo past mistakes."
To help others avoid this problem, Munson recommends conferring with the vendor about system configuration and taking your time in implementation. "Spend a lot of time thinking through the implementation [and] setting it up correctly."
Emma Snider asks:
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