Nearly twenty years ago our company upgraded from QuickBooks to Great Plains (now Microsoft Dynamics GP). Last year we made the bold decision to move from our beloved Microsoft Dynamics GP to Acumatica. We did not realize the transformation this would have on our business as we consolidated five separate systems into one. This is the true story of our journey to a single version of the truth.
The Start of Our Journey
When CAL Business Solutions signed up as a reselling partner for Great Plains (now Microsoft Dynamics GP) back in the late 1990s, we decided to use it to run our own business, so that we could be sure we really knew the system we were asking our customers to trust their business to.
System 1: Microsoft Dynamics GP (ERP)
As a small company with just a few employees, all we needed was an accounting and billing system. We used Great Plains Financials which included Great Plains Project Accountant and Personal Data Keeper (PDK) for time entry. Things were simple then.
But like all businesses, our needs got more complex as our business started to grow. We kept our core system and started adding additional functionality. At the time we didn’t realize that we were starting down an increasingly complex and winding path.
System 2: Olympic Project Accounting
Eventually, it became apparent that there were a lot of shortcomings with Dynamics GP Project Accounting and PDK was difficult to maintain. So we replaced it with Olympic Project Accounting. This is a great system that has the same user interface as Dynamics GP and has its own time entry system.
That being said, although the systems were connected there was still a certain amount of back and forth because Olympic had its own tables that were outside of the Dynamics GP tables.
System 3: Dynamics CRM
Then we got to the point where we had so many customers we could no longer track all the important details just in Dynamics GP or spreadsheets. We needed a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. To stay within the Microsoft family, we implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Now we could track sales leads, pull marketing lists, and analyze customer data.
But honestly, to this day, there is still no true way to connect Microsoft Dynamics GP out of the box and Microsoft Dynamics CRM that is both affordable and reliable. So while our sales and marketing team used Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it was never connected to our financial system or used by the entire company. We had islands of disconnected information.
We knew this wasn’t the best way, but it worked, and we didn’t feel it made sense for us to invest in an interface tool just to synchronize two customer databases daily.
System 4: SalesPad
As time passed, we wanted a more efficient way to access the information we had inside Dynamics GP. In the mid-2000s we began selling an add-on to Dynamics GP called SalesPad, and our team loved it. This tool is really good at doing reports, specifically Quick Reports. So we started using SalesPad internally as our fourth system because it helped us to look at our information in Dynamics GP and Olympic in a much easier way.
System 5: Kayako
The next challenge we faced as our company grew was support case management. We tried using Microsoft Dynamics CRM but it felt too complex for our needs, and honestly, we didn’t want to invest the time it would take to customize and learn it. We tried a custom system in SharePoint but found it required constant tweaking. So instead we added our fifth major business system, Kayako, a cloud-based case management system. This was a great fit for our support team. It handled support call dispatching and service case management and required little maintenance.
We figured that eventually we would write a custom integration to Dynamics GP when we had time.
The Speedbumps in Our Journey
Now, all the separate teams at CAL had systems that worked for them and access to the information they needed. But we had some major challenges.
Islands of Information
Kayako didn’t connect with Dynamics GP, and we didn’t want to invest in writing a utility. Dynamics CRM was not connected to either system. So now we had the customer records in three locations. Three islands of information.
Duplicate Data Entry
Every time we added a new client we had to set up the customer account in Dynamics GP, in Dynamics CRM, and in Kayako. When we closed out a support ticket in Kayako, we wrote a description of the work done. Then that same information had to be put manually into Olympic, with the billable time. And the invoice was sent from Dynamics GP. And someone had to remember to update CRM when customer information changed. But we all know that people get busy, and the information was not always updated in every system.
Lack of Visibility
We wanted a way to make all this information visible to the entire team so they knew what work had been done for a client when a system upgrade was completed, what adjustments had been made to their system. And we wanted a way to track all the current version numbers, ISV add-on products, and renewals dates.
Believe it or not, there was nowhere we could put that crucial information that was easily visible to everyone. We were forced to log into multiple systems to find the information we needed to have a complete view of the customer.
Everything was working, but we were putting in a lot of extra effort and coming up with more and more workarounds.
Why Were We On This Road?
At this point in our story, you are probably thinking, “Hey, you guys are a technology consulting firm, didn’t you realize this was not an efficient way to run a business? Wouldn’t you advise your clients not to do it this way?”
My reply to that is that all companies are on a journey. Your business changes; how you interact with your customers changes. When you are going full speed ahead, you do what is right for the business at the time, so that you can keep moving.
Each of the systems we added filled a specific need and was the right option at that moment. We used the tools we had access to. Everyone has time constraints and budget constraints, including us. And you don’t always make the choice that is right for the big picture because you don’t know what that big picture is yet. It is only clear to see in hindsight.
The Fork in our Path
Starting in 2014 CAL began researching the new cloud ERP offerings on the market as more and more companies began to ask us about the cloud. In 2017 our journey as a company led us to sign up to be a reselling partner for Acumatica Cloud ERP. We knew the best way for us to truly know the system was to use it ourselves just as we had done with Dynamics GP.
This was a bit of a risky decision. Our business was already dealing with a lot of change. Most VARs would have waited a few years until they had more experience with the new product before they made a switch like this.
We decided that we needed to use this as an opportunity to learn, and at the same time, use it as an opportunity to fix all the things that we knew were inefficient and that we had just been putting off the pain of dealing with.
So we decided to bite the bullet and change the direction of our journey.
The Road to Acumatica and the Cloud
While we were doing our due diligence, one thing that impressed me the most about Acumatica was that it was designed as one complete core system from the very beginning. They didn’t start with one product and then add two or three other ones and try to make them work as one. Acumatica took a holistic, new approach to how they created the system so that they wouldn’t have to have some kind of synchronization running behind the scenes. In Acumatica, there is one centralized area that a customer record can reside in, one centralized database.
To me, that is very different from most of the accounting systems I ever worked with in my entire career.
When we took this new path, we did not realize at the beginning how big a transformation it would be for our company. It was a much more involved project than we had expected.
Cleaning the Data
First of all, we had to figure out where all our information was. We had three versions of the customer record. We needed to determine which one had the most complete, up to date information.
- Had an address been updated in the billing system but not in the support system?
- Had new contacts been added to CRM but nowhere else?
- What about the customers in CRM that had never been added to Kayako because we had been using CRM longer?
It was like dumping the contents of three large filing cabinets into piles, sorting through them piece by piece, throwing out all the duplicates and keeping one master copy of each. Then we had to do the same with our vendors.
And while we were up to our ears in data, this was the time to purge our records of old and unnecessary information. Like a long overdue spring cleaning.
I will admit that this was a huge, painful task. And it opened my eyes to the inefficiencies that we had been working around for a long time. It was hard, but it felt good. As they say, no pain no gain.
Now we were ready to bring the clean information into Acumatica.
Just as we recommend to our clients, we moved from our current systems to Acumatica in a phased approach. We put the cleaned list of all of our customers, partners, and vendor records into Acumatica as “Business Accounts.”
Phase 1: Dynamics CRM and Kayako to Acumatica
Once the new cleaned master files were in place, we decided it made the most sense to start using CRM and Support Cases first. Unlike Dynamics GP, Acumatica has its own CRM functionality that is part of the core system to handle sales, marketing, and case management. We loaded everything we were doing in Dynamics CRM and Kayako into the CRM side of Acumatica. Because we already had all the customers and the vendors in the system we could quickly go live, because, again, they use the same database.
Phase 2: Dynamics GP Finances, Salespad, and Olympic to Acumatica
The second phase was moving our core accounting. The core accounting functionally of Acumatica is equivalent to the core accounting in Dynamics GP.
At the same time, we started using the integrated Acumatica Project Accounting module. Now the project database was intricately interfaced with the accounting database.
A lot of the SalesPad reports we used were just generic reports and grids, very similar to Dynamics GP SmartLists. But now in Acumatica, we had dashboards throughout the entire system. Dashboards are much better than reports. Of course, we could have used PowerBI with Dynamics GP to create dashboards, but we just never did.
We started using the default dashboards in Acumatica and were able to build some of our own. In a few hours, these dashboards lit up the information that we had moved into the system.
Understandably, it was hard for our people to make the change. Change is hard for everyone. Our team had used Dynamics GP for a long time, and we loved it. So the team was dragging their heels in some cases.
As the business owner, as the person who was leading the charge, I felt that the only way for us to get to a point of acceleration with this new product was to force every single employee in the company to use it every day.
We gave them a small taste of it early on with CRM and Cases. When they got used to it, we started building on that. Our team became more and more surrounded by the information they needed to do a better job every day.
The day came when we flipped the switch, and our entire business was being run in Acumatica.
What We Learned Along the Way
Now that the painful part was over, we could start to focus on the benefits of our new Acumatica system. These are just a few of our favorite milestones:
Benefit: Enter it Once
Now that case management, project accounting, and financials are in one place, our team is so happy that they no longer have to do duplicate entry when they close a service case. And it makes time entry a much easier process.
With the new dashboards, we have a visual view of the business that we never had with any of the other systems that we’ve had to date. As a business owner, I can look at everything that’s going on, and I absolutely love it.
And being able to have those dashboards in the fabric of the application without having to buy or learn additional tools is great.
Benefit: Real Time Updates
In the old days, we used to have a lot of spreadsheets. For example, when we had our upgrade meetings, the support team would run a report; we would review each entry, someone would make notes, and then we’d have to go back into Kayako to update the records.
Now our meetings are not based paper. We just go down the list in the Acumatica dashboard and make the updates in real time.
Benefit: Complete Visibility
Each team at CAL, sales, operations, and support, is viewing the same information. We can finally give everyone a complete view of our data, in one location.
Benefit: One Master Record
Dynamics GP has a customer master. Dynamics GP has a vendor master. Dynamics GP has a prospect master, but they’re all separate file databases. In Acumatica, there is only one “business account.” Employees, Vendor, and Customers are in the same database, you set them up once and can access them everywhere. And around all those business accounts you can attach contact files. We no longer had to set up an employee in the employee file and then again in the vendor file to pay their expenses. And we didn’t have duplicate files for customers who were also vendors. This is behind the scenes, something most people would not notice, but it’s huge.
The Road Ahead
There are so many things that I can do now that I could never even think about doing without writing interfaces and researching and buying additional products. For example:
- We can use the eCommerce functionality inside Acumatica instead of accepting credit card payments via Paypal.
- We can open up a customer portal to our customers to views their open cases and invoices.
- We can now automate the renewal process for the support plans for our 300+ customers instead of doing this manually.
Yes, I know we could have used add-on tools for Dynamics GP for all of this, but we never did. Now that it is included in our Acumatica system, we use it.
I’m happy now, but I can’t imagine how happy I’m going to be as I go even further down this road. Every day I see something in Acumatica that’s going to allow us to do things I never even thought about before.
This was a nearly 20-year journey. We didn’t have five systems in year one, year two, or year three. But slowly we had two, then we had four, then we had five.
This was our journey to the single version of the truth. When we took this turn in the road, we truly did not realize how transformational it would be for our company.
We have learned so much along the way.
And now we can use our experience to build a better roadmap for our clients when they come to a fork in the road.
by George Mackiewicz, President, CAL Business Solutions, www.calszone.com