Financial software eases AA's accounting pain

The AA went from DOS-based to highly integrated system

The New Zealand Automobile Association took the plunge in late 2005 when it upgraded from a MS-DOS-based financial system to an enterprise-wide, integrated system. Now, the organisation is in the middle of upgrading again, this time to the .Net platform.

The AA includes around a dozen wholly owned subsidiary trading companies, in addition to a number of joint ventures and partnerships. The 900 employee organisation has about 1.2 million members, 64 branch offices and over 100 AA centres, AA vehicle inspection centres, warrant of fitness vehicle testing stations and agents.

“It is a complex organisation,” says Megan Horton, group financial accountant and project manager for the financial software implementation.

At the time of the upgrade, back in 2005, the AA “may have been one of the last in New Zealand” to leave the old financial system — which was no longer supported — behind, says Horton. She says reporting was cumbersome and not flexible at all, and consolidation was performed manually.

“Invoices were hand-stamped, coded, and signed, and like many other organisations we had boxes and boxes of storage,” she says.

In addition, exporting to Microsoft Excel was far from seamless. Drilling-down was limited and manual, and enquiry across modules was difficult, she says.

The AA went out to find a flexible, efficient and robust provider, which could provide a platform for process improvement, says Horton. The organisation undertook a comprehensive tender process, which began with a consultation with all members of the accounts team and other stakeholders to find out what features they required and what weaknesses the old system had.

“We selected TechnologyOne because they scored highest during the selection process. Their product met our needs for both functionality and price,” she says.

The whole process, from scoping the requirements for the RFP, to selecting the vendor, through to go-live, took 18 months, says Horton.

Some of the main benefits of TechnologyOne Financials is that it handles inter-company transactions and consolidated reporting easily, she says.

“We have a number of custom-built legacy systems which TechnologyOne Financials integrates with easily. We have a combination of online validation integration, and batched transactional data,” Horton says.

Workflow is achieved by scanning accounts payable invoices, which can then be sent electronically for authorisations around the country, she says. Invoice documents are authorised in the system according to security restrictions, both limiting access and money spent. This has given Horton’s team more control over spending in the organisation, she says.

Another benefit is the XL One Reporting tool, which integrates with Excel. “We use it to report on both financial and statistical data, and because of our chart structure and selection codes we have a great deal of reporting flexibility,” she says.

Another feature which was “a real selling point” for the AA is the ability to drill down to source documents, says Horton. With the previous system, consolidation of figures from the different parts of the business was only performed at year-end, when it was absolutely necessary, she says.

“Not only do we scan invoices for viewing via drill-down, we can also attach emails, or any document to a data entry format.” This means a significant reduction of time spent digging through boxes and files looking for supporting documentation, she says.

The system allows the AA to email reports, invoices, statements and remittances to suppliers and customers, which is labour saving, but also saves money on postage and printing.

But the strength that Horton and her team have noticed the most is the ability of the Financial software to handle growth, especially when adding new companies to the system, she says. “We are able to provide management with better reports, which allows them to make more informed decisions.” Since implementing the system, Horton does not spend as much time on day-to-day manual processing and maintenance tasks; she has been able to focus on more analytical and strategic work. Her team now spends less time processing data and facilitating internal inquiries, and more time on activities which have a positive impact on the business, she says.

The implementation phase brought many challenges, as the organisation is complex, has multiple system interfaces, as well as many users with different expectations and requirements, she says. However, Technology One consultants started working with the AA seven months before go-live and worked closely with the organisation to get through the challenges, she says.

The upgrade to the .Net platform is planned to go live in the middle of May. The challenge now is going to be getting used to the new look and feel, and keeping up with the software revisions, says Horton.

She expects reporting will be even more flexible on the new platform. There will be some new features, but the main change will be the look and feel, she says. The upgraded system is definitely “easier on the eye” for the end-users, she says.

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