Changing Systems? Don’t leave your historic data behind

Changing systems is never easy and one of the biggest challenges to overcome is how much historic data to bring across or perhaps reluctantly, leave behind.

The standard approach to financial data is that open items – the line detail on outstanding debtors and creditors, are migrated together with balances for most of the rest of the general ledger.

Excel downloads or paid-for-access to the old system for a year – a cost not always considered in investment proposals - allows users to retain views of the historic transaction detail. 

Where there is job, project or other data types, such as outstanding purchase orders (PO’s) and time, the ideal is to bring over the detail which applies to current live projects, although on occasion and depending on the complexity of mapping old system data, sometimes it is only possible to bring in line summaries of these projects into the new, viz totals for billings on account, revenue recognised, job costs and time.  

Not anymore.

 
 

Agency DNA now has a solution[1] to extract and hold as much historic date as you want, in a usable Excel-like format which allows it to be stored alongside new system data, thereby creating a seamless trail from the beginning of time (pun) to your eternity.

This is immensely powerful, for several reasons:

  • There are no gaps in your data - your audit trail is complete and historic data secured.
  • You can report with data straddling inputs from old and new systems – especially important if you are phasing your implementation and have to run two or more systems for a period of time.
  • You can build data profiles, the trends derived from merging old data sets with new actuals and forecasts – critical if you are overseeing long term revenue contracts, but essential if you are looking to create business plans, eg for a sale, where having your historical data sitting alongside actuals and forecasts and immediately to hand, will be of real value for you.

These are example of how our solution helps you after you’ve made your new system decision.

Our solution can also be used to help you test the data structures you want to implement in a new system before you decide and hard-code them in – potentially saving you loads of time and money if you get the setup wrong – or realise your proposed solution can’t produce the outputs you need.

For a discussion on how Agency DNA’s remarkably cost effective solution can be relevant and of value to you, call us on telephone: +44 (0) 20 3394 0046 or to request a demonstration (Click here).


[1] Built using BizView™ (see https://www.agencydna.com/cpm) By mimicking Excel in BizView, users can create everything from simple to highly advanced web-based forms and reports based on many different data sources and the BizView Data store.

10 reasons why your Board argues over the numbers

With your ERP firmly in place the misconception often follows that your data is fully integrated and all that’s needed for reporting is a simple download to Excel!  What starts as a simple proposition however can quickly become unruly or worse, untrustworthy.

To gain full Board confidence in the reports you are delivering, it’s time to look at the effort it takes your teams to create them and the amount of Excel that’s used to bind the data held in your CRM and ERP. Corporate Performance Management (CPM) reporting should be the glue that brings it all together.

Discover how are organisations CPM’s failing them, and 10 reasons that can spark arguments.

1.  Lack of accuracy

Your finance team spends time busily collating and cleaning data from across the organisation.  Once cleaned and uploaded the data sits in a spreadsheet.  As stand-alone and open silos of data, it is prone to the invisible hand of rogue links and formulas which, if wrong, could have a major impact on business decisions. Boards need certainty on the source of their numbers.

2.  Time consuming

You have spent effort and a lot of money on your ERP, so it’s disappointing your team spends even more time in collating the data.  Let down with the reporting, the man hours you and your team spend preparing management packs is a cost to your business you would hope to overcome. Worse for Board confidence are reports that are served “just in time”.

3.  Lack of pipeline/demand planning

Some cloud ERP’s nicely combine resourcing within their core job management functionality, but there are still lots of Excel charts and "hand balling" of date data as project managers attempt to match resource need to supply, and execute decisions such as whether or not to bring on a freelancer. All Boards will argue about headcount costs, but are you proving that capacity and utilisation are maximised.

4.  Out of date budgets

Budgeting never stops. Most budgets are out of date by the time they reach sign off.  As soon as your data is downloaded into a spreadsheet it is dated, and budgets are signed off against static rather than fluid data. Rapidly delivered rolling forecasts can compensate and impress the Board.

5.  Lack of agility

With spreadsheets and hours of manual labour to maintain them, businesses are simply not getting the right data at the right time.  Agility within the business is lost and important decisions are deferred. Boards are demanding ever more detail, and FD’s constantly challenged to produce, analyse, make sense of and deliver it.

6.  Disparate global offices/multiple business units

Often these offices are on different accounting / ERP systems.  Even if all the offices are using the same system, the data may not be on the same database. Downloading data into spreadsheets to join it up at group level immediately renders the data unreliable and untrustworthy. Board’s need certainty that exchange risk is adequately reflected and correct accounting adjustments made – typically beyond even the most sophisticated spreadsheets.

7.  Uninformed estimating

Profit on client projects may not be as big as it used to be, and you need to access the data from across the business, such as costs and resourcing, to understand what leverage you still have over your margins.  However teams still using Excel templates to calculate new job pricing, potentially containing old rates or omitting important lines can mean the difference between job profitability and loss. Spreadsheets provide no control over what goes out to the client. Boards are aware and perpetually frustrated by this.

8.  Unable to support growth

For any business with growth at the top of the agenda, getting the right data to the right people at the right time is imperative.  Without a business system connected or integrated with your CPM, all forward planning assumptions are based on sand. Boards want to endorse strategy through an integrated modelling of the impact of acquiring to expand and looking to absorb new businesses.

9.  No common language

With data coming in from a number of sources, it’s important that data is reflected in a common “language” relative to the company’s financial standards regime for open discussions to take place and decisions to be made.  Present the Board with a seamlessly translated view, or risk letting them interpret it as they think best.

10.  Absence of accountability

Depending on spreadsheets can create an environment of unaccountability.  Changes made in spreadsheets aren’t traceable back to the originator. Data becomes untrustworthy, and an all-round loss of confidence is the result. A lot of Board arguments can be avoided through the “one source of the truth” not being interfered with as it progresses to the top table.

A CPM system can be the catalyst for a truly agile business.  They can deliver seamless management reporting, scenario planning and analysis, workforce planning, budgeting and much more.

Supporting the management processes that enables your Board to discuss, debate and decide what they want to do and how they will do it, should be at the heart of what you do.

Empowering Boards to anticipate change, plan with impact, execute with full confidence in the numbers, and without argument, is an essential responsibility of all business systems owners and administrators.

Agency DNA are CPM system specialists. Partnered with BizView we are creating stronger foundations for businesses to collate, analyse and report numbers across an increasingly wide range of industries and disciplines.

To find out more or how Agency DNA can help you, call us on 020 3394 0046 or email us info@agencydna.com.  

The Benefits of Project Management Software

By Lauren Grabiak, Workbook

 

What Can Project Management Software Do For You?
They key to success and organization within a company is the ease of finding the tools you need in a single area. Project Management Software does just this for you. Regardless of the size of your company, this software type can be molded to fit you in order to ensure the highest productivity of your business. Here are just a few examples of what Project Management software can do:

Communication
Project Management Software allows you to comment on tasks, jobs or messages on a tab in order to keep all of your messages in one, singular place. Files can be sent and replies can be made in a timely manner. In addition, communication can occur with clients over this channel in order to track the progress of projects and implementations. You will no longer have to flip between messages, emails, etc. to communicate with people.

Scheduling
Not sure of a deadline? Managers of certain projects and jobs are able to add deadline dates to ensure work is completed before an allotted date. All deadlines can be seen in lists for regarding jobs to keep you organized and working efficiently. You can even view your tasks in terms of time schedules to help better allot your agenda.

Collaboration
Different tasks require different people working on them, but Project Management Software allows the bigger picture to be seen as well. Employees with different tasks can see how other tasks are being handled in order to work together for the job as a whole and see the status of how far it’s coming along. Tasks may simply be redelegated to other employees as well to make the transfer of work even easier!

Time Entries
This type of software makes it possible for you to log hours for each job after each section is finished. Furthermore, it allows you, as well as managers, to see how much time you’ve spent on each task, so you can keep up work with other tasks as well. Every task or job requires different time allotments, and this feature makes it easy to see that visually.

There is so much more that Project Management Software can do for you than these 4 components can say in words. See for yourself today.

 
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Why nasty surprises shouldn’t be part of your agency life

By Michael Collinson, AccountAbility

It’s that time of the month again when you get to review the numbers on all your projects. As the most financially astute Account Director in your agency, I bet you just jumped out of bed ready to meet the day right?

Well most likely not, because ensuring projects are delivered on time and on budget can be an elaborative and exhausting process. Chances are you’ve experienced a conversation similar to this:

Finance person: ‘These jobs are running way, way over estimate on time and it’s impossible now to bill the client for it. Why has this happened?

You: ‘There was serious scope creep on all the jobs. The briefs kept changing, so we were forced to make many changes at the client’s request’

Finance person: ‘We need to know in advance before these cost blowouts happen. If we did, we may have been able to increase the estimate – it’s too late now!’

You: ‘OK, I’ll keep track of resources and costs more closely. (Finance person starts walking away) By the way, the client loved the campaign!’

You could probably hit repeat on this exchange for next month and the month after that. However, creatives shouldn’t have to wear the label of being floozies with time management and budgeting.

Many of you have a great head for numbers, you’re just spending a lot of hours hoping by chance your projects are on track. But not all projects go perfectly to plan – that’s what make agencies such a hive of activity – but if you don’t have a business system that manages jobs end-to-end, then you have zero visibility and control.

creative agency

So what might an Everyone Wins solution look like?

You need real time, on demand reporting tools that make it easy to track costs and available resources, and identify when your projects are at capacity. A smart project workflow will also have alerts set-up to mitigate those cost blowouts.

On top of this, visual tools to easily monitor tasks across multiple jobs can be a huge benefit. Drag-and-drop task allocation, assigning colours to different jobs, team member photos – all these features can help make your life easier.

If you can see exactly what’s happening right now and communicate changes as they emerge, then you can better manage your team, your clients and your own sanity. It also means you can dedicate more time to assessing the quality of the work being produced. Imagine that huh?

There’s a long tradition of tension between the numbers people and the ideas people within agencies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if your business system can talk across roles.

It provides valuable business information that can actually generate revenue, it can look forward as opposed to backwards, avoiding those nasty surprises and ensuring there’s more all round smiles every month.

20 Years. An agency systems perspective.

Chris Lever, Founder, Agency DNA

My first UK marcoms role was in 1995 as agency FD of Bernard Hodes, an Omnicom/DAS group company. Obliged to conform to the rigour by which DAS managed its portfolio and deliver rapid improvement in their two key pertinent drivers, profit margin and the working capital ratio, I was aghast at the way DDS, the group imposed agency media booking/billing, job management and accounting system, made getting these metrics a major exercise. A single minded Kiwi Financial Controller who I’d hired to assist me had words I couldn’t even begin to pronounce for a system which offered not only opportunity for one-sided entry, but produced a balance sheet by downloading disparate ledgers and combining them in Excel.

chris.jpg

Fast forward 20 years, DDS rebranded as Media Ocean, rebuilt its database, and yet seems it still can’t handle supplier invoices with more than six characters, or allow a major network create a new field to hold the PO references of Google and Facebook, who quite rightly have their own booking systems. If a network with two billion pounds passing through its pay-as-you-go ledgers doesn’t get what it wants, what hope might a smaller agency have? Excel is a strong supplement.

Step back fifteen years and I’m on a team with other senior players from BMB&B, Leo Burnett and  BBH collectively giving up weeks of our lives to work with Maconomy, guiding them on the development of their agency solution on top of what was admittedly a complex, yet robust financial system.

Youthful and optimistic this was heralding a golden age where a Scandinavian vendor understood that agency complexity is a state of mind, we then waited for the release of a system that would look as good as the Power-Point slides suggested, give clear and instant visibility over the inner workings of our agencies, enhance our staff’s lives and make the coffee. Strange I have since felt a strong compulsion to apologise to the many Maconomy users who in those early days found themselves short of utopia. More like Valhalla.

Talking it through afterwards with Morton, the Danish Senior Developer, trying to understand what happened between stating our reasonable requirements and the end product, it seems back in Copenhagen they re-thought our needs, and built as only they knew how. Something got lost in translation.

Undaunted, this was the start of the new millennium and things would only get better.

The thing with Maconomy is you’re buying a big box of tricks, and you need to know what you’re doing, have a very detailed spec, patience and a frothy budget.

A range of separate and colourful workflow systems have been invented to fill the many gaps left by Maconomy, Deltek even brought one themselves, but the reality is Maconomy for many ends up an expensive and under-utilised general ledger and accounting system.  Excel reigns supreme.

In all this time, like a long-life battery powered toy soldier, Rebus, now Paprika has quietly and defiantly marched on to a steady beat. A Cobol-based solution developed almost 30 years ago, it was the go to system for smaller agencies and despite attempts by SAGE, QuickBooks and latterly, Xero, the NZ originated cloud system, in many ways it still is.

Paprika has never made a big show of itself, yet through the passage of time and the reluctance of agencies to change systems, it has built a tidy market share of around 1000 agencies, a handful who are global. Despite being clunky and not so easy to use, it’s seen as a safe bet.   

A major drawback though is it is a one currency database system. What this means is as soon as you open your first offshore office, you need two databases. Imagine you have 20 offices in 14 countries. That’s a lot of databases, and even more Excel.  

Today the large networks still angst over systems, systems like Maconomy were seen as a great leveller. Mid-tier platforms for standardising multiple agencies, before moving upwards onto something that allowed greater flexibility in global client billing and reporting hierarchies, and migration to some form of shared service. Indeed this was my own strategy in deploying it into WCRS, now The Engine Group, following our MBO in 2004.

The problem is upwards moves to say Microsoft Dynamics AX or SAP come with their own monumental challenges, and matching price tags. A litany of issues prevail in the network attempts with these systems.

For SME’s, the great hope is the cloud.  

New agile systems, built from the ground up overcome many of the limitations sitting in systems made in the past. Agencies can implement without major cash outlay, retain flexibility and enjoy inbuilt scalability. Cloud usually means seamless and automatic upgrades, allowing users to benefit from continuous system improvements. Never again be threatened with an unsupported version.  

The better cloud solutions have open API’s, allowing true connectivity with other business tools, CRM, CPM, and BI, fully embracing the notion that whilst they may do more, they also do it better. The really good ones integrate all the features of job management, accounting and resourcing – the benefits of which are staggering.

There is still no single panacea for the world of marcoms business management and reporting intelligence, and in a tight margin and competitive digital world, agencies need to find their own differentiators.

Assessing what is important to agencies, the information needs at all levels, the degree of flexibility and autonomy management wants to allow, requires a matching to increased number of suitable systems of today which can offer exactly that. Even Excel now competes with Google Docs.

Which all means it is a really interesting time for agencies.

Overall in the past 20 years agencies have not demanded more, and have been fearful of change, even at risk of continuously adding overhead to get basic information circulated. Accepting compromise has unfortunately ingrained vendor complacency.

Yet for many of the new breed of agency, client demands, the general increase in the variety, scope and speed required of work, and the associated massive increase in the volume of data, compromise and complacency can no longer be tolerated.

The good news is there is now choice. The cloud has brought options that are fully featured, continuously improving, intuitive, easy to use, cost effective and quick to implement.

Agencies fear making decisions on systems, but change should be embraced. As a famous person once said, “Not to change, is to die.”  

So the future for agency systems is indeed bright and can be whatever colour you choose for your management dashboard.

 

How Fit Is Your Agency Solution?

Assess Your Current Performance And Discover How To Transform Your Agency by AccountAbility

THE STATE OF PLAY:  AGENCY LIFE

Today’s agencies are experiencing a very real threat: the increased pressure from clients to do more for less. Add to this the emerging trend of some marketers to bypass agencies and go straight to the source of production and media, or bring the process in-house,  and you have genuine conflict in agency life.  These pressures have a number of consequences. 
It’s natural to respond by working faster, harder and  longer - which more often than not won’t deliver increased profitability or productivity (though it’ll probably get a client off your back for a week or so).

We work with dozens of agencies who are trying to keep pace with rapid changes in the value chain on top of new technology, while still delivering outstanding work for their clients. It’s far from easy and no agency is perfect. 

Click here to download the full ebook

The importance of selecting the right cloud ERP service package

by Rick Carlton

Today’s cloud ERP providers offer a range of service levels in order to ensure the launch, operation and maintenance of their system performs at the highest level. However, in the same way that issues of scale can play against difficulties associated with ERP implementations, problems based on cloud ERP service level can occur leading to lost revenue or unexpected costs of operation.

To help you understand today’s typical cloud service level, here is a short primer on what is generally accepted in today’s market.

Cloud ERP service package options

‘Knowledge-only’ agreements typically offer the following elements; business analysis, operational assessment, systems purchase research and evaluation, and end-to-end roadmap development. The next rung up on the ladder includes ‘core integration’ packages. Packages of this type include more technical, development-oriented or operational tasking such as end-to-end data mapping, enterprise platform identification, analysis and migration, operational implementation, enterprise rollout, module and affiliate systems integration, pre-launch testing and QA, defined support and maintenance and periodic upgrades.

if you have not considered these service packages in a linear fashion, all bets will be off, and significantly more money will be required to effect positive change than perhaps you might expect.

Finally, once your cloud ERP implementation is up and running, enhanced service packages are typically offered. This group of tasks typically include elements such as provider hosting, tailored development, BPO analysis, big data/analytics, and mobility-derived integration.

In each case cloud ERP scale and complexity plays a major part in a company’s cost management and operational decision-making. If you get it wrong, well, you need to be prepared to get your checkbook out.

The implications of your service package decision

In the launch phase, if you have purchased a ‘knowledge-only’ cloud ERP service package, you must accept that the entire responsibility for an ERP system’s viability will rest with your enterprise’s IT cadre. So, if one is running a small shop with limited technical resources, the cost of trying to avoid going beyond the paper analysis stage can demand more money downstream, rather than simply accepting the additional cost of a middle level operational package at the outset.

Recommended reading: ERP software in the cloud - your introduction to cloud ERP projects

In these middle level cloud ERP service packages, the majority of all operational pre-launch and post-launch testing, and initiation elements are included. However, package costs will be relative to the depth of service. Once a system has matured and developed both its own dense data mass and operational character derived by daily use, the scalability of the system and service package will be critical.

If scalability becomes an issue, it may be useful, as well as cost-effective, to purchase an enhanced service package. These can cover the movement of an operational system from one hosted platform to another, the application of additional analysis, or enhancing a baseline system by developing custom code specific to one process or another.

A well understood plan of action

In all cases, these opportunities begin with a well understood plan of action typically based on a multi-year operational schedule, lest the enterprise lose overall technical momentum. The final stage of this planning should involve all that the enterprise and its cloud ERP provider have learned about how and why the company operates effectively, and, in this case, can quickly close the loop on a service decision.

At the end of the day, if you have have selected the correct cloud ERP service package, the expansion of your ERP system ‘should’ be reasonably straightforward. However, if you have not considered these service packages in a linear fashion, all bets will be off, and significantly more money will be required to effect positive change than perhaps you might expect.

How Long Should Your ERP Implementation Take

By Chris Lever

I've been advising agencies on their system selection for many years now, and have led a number of full cycle implementations - that is the design, development, testing and training, go-live and support.

By default, an Enterprise Resource Planning ("ERP") system is for managing agencies, or any people-based enterprise, quintessentially to capture and track time against quoted fees to ensure against over-delivery, hold brought-in third party costs against specific job (or project) records for visibility over what cash has come in from clients, to what's going out to suppliers, and be the secure store of all accounting transactions associated with this and the other activities of the business.  

For many agencies the prospect of upgrading or changing from an existing set-up is fraught with challenges from the cultural resistance to change, to the unknown quantity of what will the vendor actually deliver, in what time frame and at what eventual cost.

It's probably accurate to say a majority of agencies are happy to live with compromise (and spreadsheets) until some driving factor such as the arrival of an enlightened FD with a mandate for change, a vendor contract expiring, or the system version in place is no longer supported, that the difficult questions of a new ERP implementation or upgrade have to be answered. 

So how long should it take?

Well, that does depend on many factors, but here are a couple of examples I can attest to:

UK creative agency, 25 people, new company, so minimal data migration.Duration: 6 hours (4 on-site); System: AccountAbility, a cloud ERP; 1 external consultant.

UK digital agency, 90 people, full data migration, including 1,000 live-jobs.Duration: 3 weeks; System: AccountAbility; 1 external consultant.

UK independent group, 120 people, partial data migration. Duration: 3 months; System: Deltek/Maconomy, a server based system; 2 external consultants.

UK independent group, 650 people (14 offices globally), full development & data migration. Duration: 2 years (and ongoing); System: Deltek/Maconomy; 3-4 external consultants.

UK mid-cap plc, 700 people (20 offices globally), full development & data migration.Duration: 15 months; System: AccountAbility; 1 external consultant.

Of course every agency is governed by their specific sets of circumstances which contribute to making each implementation unique, but at the end of the day the"processes" agencies follow are fundamentally the same.

The dependencies too are all pretty generic, and there's plenty of better documentation than I can provide on the core principles of good ERP project management, but here's a couple of practical tips:

1 System-owner engagement. A strong internal driving force who remains involved and interested is a big factor in helping meet objectives on implementation timing. Someone who understands the system's inner workings, can lead, communicate, gain buy-in and mentor the business all come within this mandate.

2 Experienced project team & competent vendor (or partner) consultants. It helps greatly if the people who work together on the detail and the day-to-day driving forward of the project, know what they're doing and are able to operate within clear guidelines set by the system-owner. 

3 Keeping it simple. Agencies may try and ensure every instance they can think of is covered by the new system, and vendors and consultants will not deter them for complex projects turn into long running projects, with associated fees generated. With few caveats though, I've always endorsed a view of not embarking on substantial customisation, to go simple and "vanilla" first, as any good system will lend itself to modification when it's identified as needed through use.

4 Data in good shape. ERP systems are structured depositories for your business data, and so migrating from a spreadsheet heavy environment will require collating and reformatting of data to fit in these new structures. Agreeing what these structures are can be fraught, and is one of the biggest areas where vendors must be prepared to guide project teams adequately. Most vendors will provide templates for easy upload of data into their system, although likely a bigger challenge may actually be extracting data from your existing system. Tip: Validate the import/export capabilities of your new system. 

Of course if all these remain equal, straight run comparisons on implementation time will inevitably come down to the system itself. 

Server-based systems, like Maconomy, will always take longer. If I can offer an analogy - it's like a large kit (house, car, etc) that comes in a box for which it then has to be put together, piece by piece, each time from scratch. These also need the involvement of IT to agree the hardware & networking specification on which Maconomy will be housed (excuse the pun) and accessed. 

Cloud ERP systems, like AccountAbility, however come pre-defined with best-practice structures, workflows and reporting as determined from experience, which immediately lends itself to rapid implementation. A couple of focused workshops quickly realises a workspace build that meets the agencies need. With browser access, the only involvement of IT is for them to satisfy themselves on the security aspect, then make sure a good broadband connection is available. 

Managing a systems implementation consultancy may suggest we'd prefer long running and complex projects. Well, we're very good at doing them, and like them, sure - to a point.

Our real motivation however comes from getting agencies onto better platforms for growth in much faster time frames, to get their data joined up and them benefiting from the visibility on how their business is performing, and able to make the adjustments they need to be more profitable. This for us means happy clients, and stronger, longer term relationships. 

Final point then, balls on the line - how long should an ERP implementation take?

My rule of thumb. A 100-person agency, going AccountAbility, will be live within one month. If you're going Maconomy, I'd have to have a look and give you a quote. 

 

Putting the colour back into Agency Finance

For all the creativity and expertise in executing costly and memorable advertising, the slick, cutting-edge, technology-savvy image that defines the client view of agencies is often a thin veneer.

For many agencies, whilst their front-of-house seeks to project laser-beams of product consciousness directly into their client's consumer brains, their back office is often a dark place. The back office is more often a Dickensian workhouse where off-the-shelf general ledger systems, separate workflow and timesheet systems, and a plethora of spreadsheets are operated by grey prickly men and women. These individuals are (not) living the dream of working in the fast moving and exciting world of advertising and communications.

A new client for them is a nightmare of even more spreadsheets linked to the ones they have so carefully nurtured to produce a version of "the truth" for management. The ever-present risk of these falling over with the catastrophic consequence of them having no idea of where they are financially speaking, just got worse.

That these businesses make any money is typically assumed to be testament to management's orchestration of the talent and output to deliver on the clients promise. This is twinned with a commercial robustness that has allowed them some slack, and this is probably right. Up to a point.

What this view overlooks is the underlying (sometimes undying) loyalty of the grey finance people, who are daily tested to the extreme in bringing the commercial picture of the agency's creative effort into management's view.
However, given the web tangle of data being reported in yet another smart looking spreadsheet, can agency managers be confident the view they are receiving is derived from "one source of the truth"?

In many cases they're not. Some typical quotes I've heard from agency CFO's go along the lines of:
"Our systems are not integrated, we've got plenty of data it's just not all in the one place", to "I know our figures are not 100% right."
How did it get like this?
Perhaps it has always been this way.

Many agencies set-up in business with the talent to conceive and execute outstanding creative work, yet leave their financial systems to be upgraded at later stage. This is typically when their first major client starts demanding greater analysis and evidence they can control and manage their multi-million-dollar/pound account.

Some agencies upgrade even later when they're looking to step up a gear, move into new territories, raise capital or they cannot continue without fully knowing the facts that only a real-time and integrated system can bring.

It is not untypical that up to this point, most (if not all) client budgeting, reporting and analysis is done in spreadsheets. With these financial data views not coming directly from a transaction system, there is no one source of the truth, and this disconnect carries risk.
Client job budgets can be thousands of dollars/pounds, sometimes millions. This is split between the value of the agency time determined to deliver the job, the third party costs and a fee comprising most of the profit element.

Without integration between the spreadsheet budget and general ledger, the time spent on the job may not be known, the agency can lose sight of third party costs and, very soon, the expected profit and working capital positions are exposed.

Integrated systems provide visibility over client jobs at any stage and so help ensure agency's management stay in control of their jobs. It also ensures they can earn the profit needed to continue employing the creative talent which has set them apart in the first place.

One big reason why agencies delay going with an integrated system from the outset is cost, with legacy systems requiring an intensive capital investment in licensing, hardware, and implementation consultancy.

The current compromise is for start up agencies to go with an off-the-shelf product, such as SAGE, Quickbooks, and supplemented by spreadsheets until the need to upgrade arises. They hope to manage the disconnection.
As these start-ups grow, the choice of integrated systems opens up for agencies in the 25 to 100 headcount (user) range. Although these carry their own restrictions on functionality and scalability, meaning they are still likely to be faced with another upgrade, at say more than 100 users. Here the cost becomes truly significant.

Another typical factor for delay is the disruption associated with a systems upgrade, and a "leap of faith" that management needs to go with one vendor or another.

Early on and the disruption can be contained to a small number of people, although even here there will still be a step change when the need for a "grown up" finance system becomes an urgent imperative.
It has been my long held objective to redefine the systems landscape for creative agencies and make the decision on which system to choose a "no-brainer".

Enter AccountAbility 
With AccountAbility, this "holy grail" is close to becoming a reality.

Peer-group functionality 
Agency management can now take-on a very grown-up, fully integrated system with the functionality and real time reporting built into the core architecture of AccountAbility. This gives the agency visibility and control over their business from day one.

Variable-cost model 
An agency's subscription to AccountAbility is based on the numbers of users in any given month. This is ideal where freelancers make up a high proportion of the headcount at various times. With the exception of a few days consulting and training, there is no upfront capital outlay. Total cost of system ownership is low.

Scalability 
No-one is saying agencies will never have to contemplate a systems upgrade, but with a current client rolling out the system globally for all of its 1,000 users, this will satisfy the life-time needs of most agencies.

User-ability 
The system was purpose built for agencies and every part of the workflow has been developed carefully with agency people in mind. With an intuitive system comes an encouragement to use, and this improves the chance for timely and accurate information.
Agency management can achieve greater control over job profitability, because they can now know where they are on a job at any stage, without having to call in the grey men.

Cloud solution
The system comes with all the benefits of a cloud solution, providing instant access 24/7, seamless version upgrades and automatic functionality improvements. This is delivered with no reliance on IT support for updating hardware, maintaining servers and managing the back-up processes.
These benefits and a future savings pot growing as the money that would have to have been set aside for a finance systems upgrade can now be provisioned to invest in creative or other productive staff.
This can also translate to turning the grey men and women in Finance into valuable business analysts, removing them from repetitive data entry and spreadsheet hell. Instead, rewarding them with the fulfilled roles they have so long desired in the fast and colourful world of advertising that they chose to join.

By Chris Lever

Systems Are Go

The management of corporate workflow is increasingly becoming a concern.
Molly Pierce investigates the solutions

Systems pursue us throughout our lives. They can be productive or restrictive: but for corporate agencies and their clients, they're very necessary. The management of corporate workflow is highly important, as both a preventative measure and a solution to tangled situations.

It's tempting, particularly early on in an agency's life, to believe that corporate workflow management is better left up to the big guys. "Many agencies with the talent to conceive and execute outstanding creative work leave their financial systems upgrade to a later stage – typically when their first major clients start demanding greater analysis on the management of their accounts" says Chris Lever, MD of AgencyDNA.

However, this approach of waiting to react to demand for management software is misguided, Lever believes. "No matter what stage of a project, or how big or small, agencies should not compromise on their information systems. It's fundamental to being in control. It's not untypical that until this point [of upgrading] all client budgeting, report and analysis is done in Excel and, with financial data views not coming directly from the system, it is this disconnect which carries risk."

AgencyDNA is a consultancy which specialises in systems that improve planning and management at creative communications agencies. It recently announced an exclusive partnership in the UK and Europe to distribute AccountAbility, a new cloudbased management solution, which can integrate all of an agency's financial and management information – meaning fantastic accessibility and no need for costly, space-filling servers.

However, it isn't just in account management or budgeting where systems for managing projects are essential. Leif Skogstad, commercial director at the corporate communications agency Addison, told me that Addison has been offering remote access systems to its clients for 14 or 15 years.

Addison produces annual reports for many of its public company clients - a labour-intensive and timeconsuming process. It will never be an easy task: annual reports go to investors and analysts, and are full of crucial detail. Errors or even mis-steps can severely damage a company's reputation and therefore its bottom line.

"These reports are 250 pages, and they take three or four months to produce, with as many as 15 people needing to edit the document," says Skogstad.

"In fact, it's going up to 19 users with a client in the next few months. But we're working with people whose main occupation is not the efficient production of a document - nor should it be."

Recently, Addison has switched over to a new system for managing the editing process of its reports, a Swedish service called CtrlPrint. Addison assumes the cost of installing CtrlPrint and its InDesign and InCopy plug-ins on its clients' systems, because the benefits to the overall management of workflow far outweigh the expenditure.

"The main point for us is to be flexible," says Skogstad. "We would never tell clients how they ought to work, but using this system definitely makes the client's life easier." Of all the clients that have made the transition with Addison to using remote editing on their annual reports, not a single business has then reverted to tradtional methods. CtrlPrint has had some customers shy away from the system, but its feedback is for the most part extremely positive.

"It used to be the case that you would agree on a number of proof cycles, which was labour intensive. I've seen account managers on the phone to clients for four hours at a time going through a document section." Previously, reports were marked up, often by hand, then scanned or delivered back to Addison. Now, CtrlPrint allows team members access to edit the specific sections relatable to their function, then upload the edited versions back up to the system.

"The first benefit is that you're not tied to a cycle of proofs, so certain sections can go through 15 or 16 rounds of amendments if needed. The amendments can be made and approved within an hour, rather than waiting for the next proof cycle – so it consolidates the process." The second benefit, according to Leif, is in the time saved; the new system also allows for greater accountability.

"It's improved control over the document itself, because all changes are tracked and the version history shows who's made which changes when. This in itself helps to apply internal rigour," he says. "And you can control whose changes are accepted, and who has read-only access, and who has editing access for each section, as well as switch these security levels during the editing timeline."

Lever also brings up increased levels of control as a reason why such software is crucial for a business. "Without integration... the time spent on the job may not be known, the agency can lose sight of the third party cost spend, and very soon the expected profit and capital working positions are exposed. Integrated systems provide visibility over client jobs at any stage." The new control levels are also a tangible benefit to clients, as well as the contribution to a job's overall profitability.

A major plus with AccountAbility is its mobile capability. Lever says this is crucial: "Like most industries, agency people increasingly expect to be able to access their tools on their phone or tablet, to view or update details such as doing a timesheet, wherever they are. Accountability has iPad/ iPhone capability and is developing an HTML5 interface to be used across any browser." And the straightforward web delivery system of CtrlPrint is attractive to Addison.

Although these systems do two very different tasks – and in fact, there are probably as many systems for managing corporate workflow as there are processes which need managing – the benefits to companies are transparent: they provide ease of use, increased visibility and accountability, straightforward interfaces, and flexibility. It seems likely that before long, comms agencies won't know where they were without them.


Article Source:
Communications Magazine
Wednesday, 02 January 2013