Explore the cloud: A guide to SaaS financial management applications
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The five locations of Jordan's Furniture, spread throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, are more than typical showrooms of dining sets and bunk beds -- each branch has a unique "shopper-tainment" element, like free cookies, laser shows and even an in-store IMAX theater. Behind the scenes, Jordan's legacy financial management software was also unique, but in a less positive way.
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The company used ERP software from GERS Retail Systems for more than 20 years. After several upgrades the IT staff performed, that software had become highly specialized.
"It wasn't broken so we didn't try to fix it too much," Steve Wholley, Jordan's vice president of finance, explained. "Through the years we were able to keep it moving along, but over time it was starting to fail. We had migrated away from it in other areas, and the accounting pack was the last to move."
Extracting information from the ERP system involved copying and pasting from three separate applications, a time-consuming process, Wholley said. The need for faster financial information was the impetus for him to start investigating other financial management software options. "We needed a system that allowed us easy access, transparency and the ability to drill down from the highest to the lowest level of detail."
Like many companies that are replacing legacy ERP systems after several years, Wholley welcomed the opportunity to learn about the benefits of a hosted, cloud-based system. After a four-month research period, Wholley and employees from the IT and finance departments selected Coda Financials, SaaS financial management software produced by Unit4 Coda, based in Manchester, N.H.
During the decision process, Wholley compared cloud-based software to on-premises systems, and in the end decided that Coda’s Software as a Service (SaaS) financial management software offered equal functionality at a lower price. "We did evaluate in-house, but it seemed like we could outsource to the vendor for the same or better value," he said.
Team effort drives financial management software decision
With the help of a consultant, Wholley drew up a request for proposal (RFP), which was sent to the handful of vendors the consultant recommended. After analyzing the responses, the pool was narrowed to two choices: Lawson Software and Unit4 Coda.
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Since financial management software affects several departments within a business, analyst Paul Hamerman of Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., has said that having a diverse team involved with the integration is a key to success. Jordan's used this best practice in its decision process.
"I, several people in IT and several managers in the accounting department were involved," Wholley said. "We had someone representing each area. I thought the process went very smoothly."
Lawson and Coda presented demos tailored to Jordan's specific needs after an initial Q&A round. Team members rated both systems on several factors, including ease of use, functionality of the general ledger and the ability to pull in external files from third parties.
In the end, cost was the determining factor. "Lawson had a very good product, but when we came down to cost there was such a substantial difference. When you stacked everything up it seemed that Coda gave us what we wanted more," Wholley said.
Another persuasive feature was the ease of upgrading that SaaS typically offers. "The ability to stay current with the most recent version and have the provider do upgrades for us -- it seemed like a very seamless process," he said. "Plus, we don't have to tie up any of our resources in our data center."
Transitioning to SaaS financial management software
While Coda Financials is still being tested at Jordan's and hasn’t yet been rolled out to all 25 users, Wholley said he is confident the new software will have a positive impact, due to its ease of use, flexibility and time-saving features. Currently, many of Jordan's financial procedures rely on manually entering information. Wholley said that he expects Coda will increase automation, cutting back on keying errors.
Rather than completely transitioning over to Coda right away, Wholley said that Jordan's will take a stepped approach. "By January, we'll move fixed assets, accounts payable and general ledger over to Coda, and within the six-month period after that we hope to complete the purchasing element. That'll be big for us," he said. For the time being, Coda is being used to augment the legacy ERP system, but Wholley said it will eventually be phased out entirely.
Coda's compatibility with Microsoft Excel means not all of the processes will change drastically. "We live in Excel," Wholley said. "Now we'll have the ability to work in spreadsheets and have that information passed directly into Coda."
The vendor claims the Coda financial management applications can be precisely tailored to fit specific business needs. Wholley recounted an exchange with the company's consultants that illustrated the point. "They told us it's like a blank sheet -- the way you set it up is the way you'll get back your information."
Given this customizability, Wholley stressed that it's important to focus on the end goals and think about the potential for growth when implementing new financial management software. "The biggest thing is you have to really know what you want your system to do on the other side. It's too easy to get stuck in the system limitations that you currently operate under. Look beyond what you do currently do to what you can do."
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