There are so many different financial systems around, it is difficult to know where to start. Choosing a new financial system requires a major commitment of time and resources. All vendors claim their products are easy to implement and economical to maintain.
The market offers dazzling presentations of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), access to information in Structured Query Language (SQL)-compliant formats and an increasing array of links to analytical tools on PCs.
According to consultants Price Waterhouse, there are eight important steps to follow before you buy:
Outline your business. The features of some financial systems are the same in all industries, such as budget development, payment processing and ageing receivables. But each industry dictates unique requirements - average balancing in banking, weekly accounting in the retail trade or an accounts-payable system to process foreign currency payments.
Evaluate how a solution will mesh with your company's business strategy.
Is your company downsizing, restructuring or protecting historical investments?
Is it willing to experiment with leading-edge technologies? Or does it prefer conservative, tested approaches?
Analyse functional requirements. Once you have identified your business requirements, focus on the core functions that a financial system should deliver. In addition to application-specific features such as accounts-payable or fixed assets, consider features that cut across applications, such as edits and validations or data exporting.
Define technology and architecture plans. Don't spend months analysing two-tiered versus three-tiered architectures, evolving GUIs, multimedia products, development tools and object data-bases. And remember that you are buying the software for its functionality, not its technology.
With this in mind, ask tough technical questions. Look at how well the software scales across the required number of users supported and the volume of data it processes. Does the product support multiple user interfaces, networks, back ends and other system components?
It is important to find out whether it integrates with home-grown or off-the-shelf applications. Is it easy to use the customisation tools provided by the vendor? Do the applications incorporate emerging technologies, such as objects and workflow? Is the system architecture flexible enough to survive technology and business changes?
Prepare a realistic budget. The cost of software is typically only a quarter of the cost of implementation. You must train users, migrate data and build interfaces to existing systems. You may also need to employ consultants and develop new procedures.
Narrow your search. In the past, companies sent suppliers requests for proposals with hundreds of functional and technical requirements. But keeping a shortlist of between four and six vendors can help streamline the process.
You should identify the key functions you expect from the software.
Avoid generic product demonstrations, and ask for presentations that are tailored to suit your business.
Carry out a thorough product check. It pays to be diligent. Talk to companies that are using financial software similar to the type you are considering. If possible, get a temporary licence and try out the package first. Develop benchmarks for customising software.
Obtain legal advice. This is important before signing a contract for software. Ensure that any agreement takes into account multi-site licensing, global implications, systems integration issues and technology changes.
Selection is only the start. Many companies mistakenly regard a carefully conducted selection as an end-point. A comprehensive implementation methodology is a useful guide, but set up the solution at a small pilot site, subsidiary or branch. You can then use lessons learned from the pilot.
Financial software suppliers
Benchmark Systems: 01458 443418
Computer Associates: 01753 577733
Dillon Technology: 01628 75751
Intuit: 0181 990 5500
Megatech Software: 0181 874 6511
Paxton Computers: 01234 761143
Pegasus Software: 01536 495195
Roderick Manhattan: 0181 875 4400
Sareen Software: 0181 423 9434
Systems Union : 0171 312 4545
Taxsoft: 0181 877 0900
The Sage Group: 0191 201 3000
Source: Price Waterhouse.
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