Our interview blog series discussing current trends and challenges in ERP and CRM.
We’re interviewing Doug Roberts, one of the Partners with Altruas. Doug, would you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
I would be happy to – my name is Doug Roberts. I’ve been in the ERP consulting world for a long time, started back in the nineties working for Epicor software and prior to that I actually was in accounting. I left there and went to the consulting world and joined a couple of different firms and a couple of startups as well before leaving and partnering with the founder of Altruas and building out the practice that we have today. We’re now over 20 people and having a lot of fun helping clients implement, support, maintain, customize, integrate, and otherwise modify and use their ERP systems.
We’re calling our discussion today “Life After GP.” Could you explain the differences between an on-premise and a cloud-based system?
That’s a great question and a lot of people don’t necessarily understand or even think about the differences between those systems and there are some pretty significant ones out there, for sure. One big difference is in the area of security.
Security. A lot of people have initial apprehension, but the concept of your system sitting in your data closet or in your own data center are not necessarily a good practice anymore when you can have a company like Microsoft, or Oracle or Sage or any of these large companies handle it because it’s behind the best firewalls in the world. And they have huge amounts of money relative to a single company to put into use and continuous upgrading of those applications and the security of them as well. Small to Mid-size businesses can’t afford that. So, it creates a different environment in terms of how you interact with your system. In on-prem systems there is an application typically installed on your computer; on these cloud systems you’re just using a browser. It’s so much easier and faster to utilize on basically any device that you want and that makes them more user-friendly. Also, with 2 factor authentication built in, security is very good and users don’t have to fight with VPN’s for access to the system.
Customization and integration. There’s a lot of differences between the old architecture and the new cloud systems. Sometimes integration is different where in a lot of the older on-prem applications you use custom code and write integrations. Even using new integration tools with on-premise applications can take months of development and testing. With cloud applications, integration is done with tools that are designed for cloud. Integrations can be done with drag and drop screens very easily which cuts time and saves a lot of money for clients. The same goes for customizations for cloud applications. Many of the customizations needed can be done with configuration and no coding is needed.
Time Savings. And another important difference is that the time to implement is significantly less than the last generation of applications of ERP products. There’s some significant capabilities in cloud solutions which affect a lot of things during an implementation and ultimately decrease cost. So I would say another big piece of it is the companies themselves – the software vendors – are maintaining those applications, and so instead of upgrades having to be done on-premise, the upgrades are just pushed out by the vendors and that eliminates all costs as well, because it’s just part of the subscription model and there’s no effort required of the clients that are using those applications. The overall cost for our clients to support cloud ERP systems is substantially less than older systems. We still support our clients who are on-premise but we’re also helping many who are ready to make the move to the cloud.
IT costs or savings going to the Cloud looks like what for leaders? If you’re on GP, you’re dealing with a higher level of fixed IT costs. Now, there is definitely a trade-off with a cloud system. You’re paying for it as an Expense instead of a Capitalized asset, so it is a little bit of a swap. However, the reality is that you’ll get more out of it and that you’ll be able to stop spending time maintaining the server, patching windows, having VPNs so you can connect remotely to the system. In addition, you won’t have to worry about your hardware getting outdated, which means you’re also not worrying about your hardware getting hacked.
Less time fixing issues, more time to improve the business. One of the things I don’t hear many people talk about but we certainly experience is the fact that processing errors in the applications that exist in the cloud compared to on-prem are significantly lower. It’s a huge difference! And clients almost don’t believe you when you tell them what to expect once they are live on the new system. Without these issues, the time we spend consulting with our clients is much more valuable to then. Clients get value out of what we are doing as opposed to just “fix my bug.” We get to spend our time aligning or configuring a system to meet a new business process or
implementing a new feature or module that you decided would fit your business. Instead of just
fixing the application or maintaining / upgrading, it makes your business work better. You get to
focus on improving the processes, using the tools to grow and support your customers – it really is a big difference.
Does Reporting and Visibility improve when you move to the cloud?
It is significantly different. It’s one of the things I really love about these new generation tools. Reporting and dashboards and ease-of-use are all at the forefront of the platforms that exist. As an end user, you can actually learn how to use these data mining tools, whether it’s custom report builders or just learning how to create system view with lists and some of the other query tools – there’s actually a lot of third-party reporting applications out there that can grab data from your cloud system and let you manipulate it really, really fast and easily without writing any code. Users can create their own reports through a drag and drop front end without having a technology team involved for the most part, and all of it exports out to excel with formatting which is completely different than reporting from GP.
When we can teach the power users how to use these dashboards and reports in a matter of hours, then they can run with it and do it all. It’s one of those things that really affects how you run your business again, because now you get visibility to all the information you need in real time or close to it. And if you need different information, you can change it without having this huge process of programming and testing – it’s really rapid.
Have you had any recent successes you can share with us?
We had a restaurant franchise client that was running in a GP environment and had been on it for years. They were battling reporting and had consolidation issues every month. They were managing more than 40 restaurants and the effort involved in just maintaining all those different companies and having to spend time switching back and forth was considerable. Anybody who has worked in the GP world knows that it takes time just logging in and logging out, not to mention the fact that they had to maintain their server and needed to do upgrades every couple of years. Ultimately, they changed over to the Sage Intacct Cloud platform and they just absolutely love it. It really made their lives better. It cut their workload substantially.
They’re not working the first weekend of every single month trying to get their close process done anymore. Everything is integrated from their point of sales systems. They have automated bank feeds coming in, they can reconcile and close the books and import their allocation entries across to all of their stores, and they can get a financial close and view of their past month very quickly. It gives the ownership, the management team, capabilities to react to store performance more quickly. It was really a big improvement for them.
When a company moves out of GP to a cloud-based solution, how important is it to have the right partner to help with that transition?
It’s extremely important! It’s the first thing to think about after you make the decision to implement a new ERP. I think there’s a lot of information out there around picking the right platform. Most CFOs know which products they want to go look at. The next thing is you really need to think about who’s going to do your implementation and who’s going to support you long-term. I also tell anyone that will listen that you do not want to pick a software vendor, Microsoft, Oracle or any other, to do your implementation. They want to sell you software and move on. You will never get a long-term partner that knows your business with an implementation from an ERP software vendor. You want a good team who’s going to lead the delivery on it. Good partners understand not just the software applications but the business side of it, and they can communicate well with the business process leaders and implement the best processes and align that to the configuration of the system. When you pick the right partner for that, it makes everyone’s life so much better! I tell people all the time that what we do is pretty hard, but we like challenges and helping people and that makes it fun. We like solving hard problems and have a good time doing it. It’s good for everyone when experienced people lead projects.
Two things clients say they really appreciate about us is that we’re tool agnostic and have Accounting + Business knowledge, not just Technologists. And when you’re working with ERP, this makes a difference.
Sounds like Life After GP can be pretty sweet!
That is definitely a true statement. There is a bright light and it’s not a train! I appreciate the time you’ve spent with me and I would love to talk with anyone who’s interested in Life After GP!
Additional Resources –
Simplify your life by streamlining your financial reporting process – If you’re not quite ready to make the move, check out a recent post to learn about a tool called ActivReporter that allows you to build financial reports directly in Excel with the ability to drilldown into your GP data.
Making Sure Your ERP Implementation Goes Smoothly Before it Starts – Considering an ERP Implementation? Hear from Jeff Atkins, as he shares some of his “lessons learned” as a former CFO and Controller who’s been on both sides of the table.