Information technology: beware the infoholic syndrome.
Are you upgrading your accounting system? If so, you are not alone.
Many organisations are currently changing their accounting systems, a coincidence partly driven by the need for year 2000-and EMU-compliance but probably more by demands for better information from managers coping with ever tougher competition.
Many of you are probably on your third or fourth system renewal. But do not make assumptions and bypass the need to define the objectives of your project or the benefits you want. New accounting software is remarkably sophisticated and you need to know what you want to get out of it.
These requirements need to be expressed in business terms. For example, do you invoice your customers regularly? If so, you need a package whose database integrates well with a mail-merging word processor or contact management system. Do your customers or suppliers want to deal with you electronically? Then ensure that EDI or internet links are built-in or at least offered as an add-on. With information systems increasingly extending beyond your company, you need to define information flows in and out of the company. Ask your professional consultants what they use or are familiar with.
Equally, ensure that the package has options to integrate and share data with others through technical database information exchange standards such as ODBC and OLE. Even if you can't afford to upgrade all your systems immediately, you will probably want to integrate in the future.
Beware the desire to customise if the package doesn't do all you want.
The cost can be high, and the consequent delays and increased risks may be too much to stomach.
Think about your reporting needs. Using a spreadsheet might suffice but it may make sense to use a specialist forecasting and data visualisation tool. The timeliness of reporting may be the difference between success and failure.
Get references from companies similar to your own. Most accounting software is sold through third-party dealers or resellers who may specialise in your particular vertical market. They can use their hands-on knowledge to cut the cost of implementing a system. Most software companies also provide excellent high-availability telephone helplines and support services, for which you must budget. As a rule of thumb, whatever the cost of hardware and software, budget for spending at least three times that amount in the first year on consultancy, training, support and inevitable extras.
A final warning. Your new accounting system may provide you with better quality and quantity of information but keep an eye out for unhealthy obsessions. It has been said that information is to managers what booze is to alcoholics - they want lots of it and after a while don't care much about the quality. Don't become an 'infoholic'.
Rob Wirszcyz is director of communications and alliances at EDS UK.