N’compass Solutions is a professional services firm that also sells products. They are one of only 13 firms in the United States and 25 in the world to achive Cisco’s coveted Advanced Data Center Architecture Specialization. They are a team of hands-on people that take on serious challenges-like implementing Order Management with only limited guidance from Boyer.
Below, I interview Brian Bagley, CFO of N’Compass Solutions on how and why they made this important decision.
Jack Boyer: Brian, you may not know this, but there are very few users that I’ve seen in my 17 years of working with the Solomon/Dynamics SL software that have even attempted to implement a module as complex as Dynamics SL’s Order Management module by themselves. How and why did you do it?
Brian Bagley: First of all Jack, we did not do it by ourselves. A very capable Jill Furneisen on our side had some time available and the right background to do this. However, while your person, Bud Brenneman, did not bill many hours, he certainly was a big part of keeping us on the right track and working hard on the right things.
Jack Boyer: Thank you Brian. So you knew Jill could take on this challenge because she had done it before with other distribution packages, but why else did you take on this challenge? This can be very intense and frustrating work to implement a software package this complex without a consultant.
Brian Bagley: Jack we did it for two reasons. Yes, we saved some money. Mostly however we did this because we knew that if we did it ourselves, it would push us into understanding and improving our own processes better. We had just acquired a reseller of best-of breed IT solutions and we needed to focus on combining their processes with those of our traditional data center, communications consulting, and managed services company. We did not want to be paying a consultant to listen to us debate the best way to integrate processes of two disparate companies into one.
We knew that tackling both the task of joining together the two firms’ processes into one set of processes and learning the software ourselves through implementing it-we would be way ahead of the game. We would need less support and we would be able to make more changes more quickly should those be needed in the future.
Here is a sample screen in Dynamics SL that shows both the flexibility and the complexity to implementing the Order Management module.
Jack Boyer: Thank you Brian. As you might expect, for us it’s a dual edged sword. While we love seeing our clients be as successful as you’ve been implementing complex modules, obviously we miss the revenue. I believe our biggest win in this is having a client that is truly happy with the software because they “own it” and have implemented it in a way that makes key employees even more valuable. Generally speaking the more clients take responsibility for the implementation of software, the more satisfied they are with the software in the end. So people like you have made great references.
Jack Boyer: What are some specific things that have gotten easier for you as you brought both of these firms into Dynamics SL?
Brian Bagley: We now do all quoting in Dynamics SL. Moving a quote to an order to a shipper to an invoice is quite simple with the way the software allows us to keep the quote moving along. We also like the way that the sales tax is handled. We considered doing some of this in Dynamics CRM, but the functionality was already there with Dynamics SL and the sales tax piece would have required a lot of coding.
Jack Boyer: Thanks Brian. So the quoting, “shipping” (you do mostly drop ships) and invoicing has gotten easier-what else?
Brian Bagley: Jack this is the part where I have to ask Jill to speak up. As CFO, I have mostly handled articulating what reporting needs I have and the accounting aspects, Jill has done the operations implementation.
Jill Furneisen-N’compass Solutions: Jack, a few improvements we made here using Dynamics SL were….Consolidated reporting. Prior to implementing the Order Management Module we were quoting in one tool, processing orders & invoicing in another and using SL as the General Ledger. As a provider of various IT software and hardware solutions, being able to fully operate in one software program will allow quick and simple reporting so we can better manage our business. In addition, we have also been able to manage all aspects of our business – consulting, managed services and integration/hardware sales in one accounting software program.
We have been able to reduce operator error and improve accuracy. In Order Management, you enter the order one time and then it can be duplicated and processed through the system. So we start by entering a quote. Once the quote is accepted it is simply duplicated into a sales order. The system will then automatically create a purchase order. Once the items are received the order is processed into an invoice. We never have to enter the information twice.
Jack Boyer: Brian reminded me about your need to track all business by manufacturer so that as resellers of multiple manufacturer’s equipment, you could better gage your purchasing leverage and profitability across manufacturers. How did you and Bud, in the end, decide to tackle that beast? Was it inventory classes or did you find a better way?
Jill Furneisen: We set up our manufacturers for the Product Line field. Each product is assigned to a Product Line. We will need to set up some custom reports but it will be fairly straight forward.
Jack Boyer: Brian mentioned that taking on more of this work yourself both forced a higher level of engagement making you more valuable to the firm, but he also mentioned that bringing the two systems together helped to bring the cultures together. Is this something you agree with or do you think that most of the benefits were more operational?
Jill Furneisen: It definitely helps bring the two cultures together. Operating on separate systems made us continue to feel separated. It was a struggle every month to manually reconcile the two systems. I feel we are now “officially” merged… or at least making a huge step in that direction.
Jack Boyer: Brian you mentioned that you had a cross training benefit at N’compass. Can you explain?
Brian Bagley: By moving to one system it is much easier to cross train employees because they only have to learn one user interface and work with one package. If I have two sales order screens in two different packages, two purchasing receipts screens, etc. it’s much more difficult to create that redundancy we all need when people get sick or go on vacation.
Jack Boyer: You mentioned that you moved all services billings over to Flexible Billings. Can you explain to us why you made that process change? You mentioned something about having poor time tracking capabilities on the Applied business that you acquired. Was there more to it? Did that free up some of Jill’s time as well since she mostly focuses on product invoicing?
Jill Furneisen: We did move Applied technicians over to Flexible Billings. It allowed our techs to not only easily enter time for their current projects, but as they integrated with traditional N’compass projects it was seamless and efficient. In addition to that, it did free up Jill to focus entirely on order management as the Applied services billings were integrated into N’compass processes.
Brian and Jill, thank you for agreeing to share your time with our readers in the Microsoft Dynamics SL blog world. We appreciate your time and I appreciate your business and enthusiasm for the software as well.