Our Story: From Dynamics GP to Acumatica and One Version of the Truth

Decades ago our small company took what then seemed a giant step:  from QuickBooks to Great Plains (now Microsoft Dynamics GP). A year ago we took another big step: we moved from Microsoft Dynamics GP to Acumatica. We didn’t realize where this path would take us, but the results have been transformational.

What happened over the intervening years to bring us to where we are today? This is the true story of our journey to one version of the truth.

Our Journey Begins

When CAL Business Solutions signed on as a reselling partner for Great Plains (now Microsoft Dynamics GP) back in the late 1990s, we knew it would be wise to run the solution for our own company. That way we’d be sure to learn all the ins and outs necessary to advise our customers and troubleshoot any problems they might be having.

System 1: Microsoft Dynamics GP (ERP)

When we started with only a few employees, we really only needed an accounting and billing system.  We got along quite well with Great Plains Financials which included Great Plains Project Accounting and Personal Data Keeper (PDK) for time entry. Our needs were basic, and we kept it simple.

As our business started to grow, our needs became more complex. Our core system was fine, so we just started adding functionality. We didn’t realize at the time how growth and change, each step accompanied by expanded functionality, could result in increasing complexity of our once simple solution.

System 2: Olympic Project Accounting

To fill in some gaps we discovered, we replaced Dynamics GP Project Accounting and Personal Data Keeper with Olympic Project Accounting which had the same user interface as Dynamics GP and also had its own time-entry system. The two systems were similar but not completely integrated, so there was still some back and forth and reentry of data.

System 3: Dynamics CRM

As we acquired more customers, we found that we could no longer keep on top of all their data just using Dynamics GP or spreadsheets. We knew we could use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system and figured that staying within the Microsoft family made sense. We implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM and rejoiced at now being able to track our sales leads, compile our marketing lists and analyze our customer data all within our Microsoft CRM solution. Still, we found that we were unable to fully integrate our Microsoft Dynamics CRM with our Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Our sales and marketing team loved using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and our Accounting team loved Microsoft Dynamics GP, but there was a certain amount of disconnect between the systems and hence between the teams. All the pertinent data was not readily available as needed.

We realized this wasn’t ideal, but it worked pretty well, and we didn’t see the necessity to invest in an interface tool.

System 4: SalesPad

More time passed, and we needed a better way to access the data housed inside Dynamics GP. In the mid-2000s we began using and selling SalesPad, an add-on tool for Dynamics GP. SalesPad is excellent at generating reports, specifically Quick Reports. So SalesPad became our fourth system because it provided an easier way for us to view the information in our Dynamics GP and Olympic systems.

System 5: Kayako

More growth, more challenges. And now we found we needed support case management. We tried to handle this in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, but it seemed too complex for our needs; we didn’t want to spend the time and money necessary to customize it and retrain our team.

We then considered a custom system in SharePoint but were constantly having to tweak it to get our desired results. So, here comes system number 5: Kayako, a cloud-based case management system. Our support team loved this one.  It was great at support call dispatching and service case management and didn’t require much maintenance. We knew that when we got time, we could write a custom integration to Dynamics GP, but we never did.

The Speedbumps on Our Journey

You’d think that with each of our teams working on a system that met its needs, we ’d have smooth sailing. Still, there were big challenges moving forward.

Islands of Information

Dynamics GP and Kayako didn’t speak to each other, and we never found the time to write a custom integration; Dynamics CRM wasn’t connected to either GP or Kayako. The result: we had customer data in three different locations, isolated from each other and a headache for anyone who needed a comprehensive view.

Duplicate Data Entry

As we set up customer accounts for each added client, we had to do it in triplicate – once in each system. When a support case was closed in Kayako, we still had to write an account of the work done so it could be entered manually into Olympic to keep account of the billable hours. The invoice had to be sent from Dynamics GP, and someone had to remember to update CRM each time customer information changed.  You can well imagine that the appropriate information was not always kept up to date in all systems. Not the best way to run a business.

Lack of Visibility

We needed a way to make all of our information visible to all of our teams.  They needed to know what contact had been made with clients, what work had been done for them, when system upgrades were completed, what adjustments had been made to their system, etc.  Additionally, we needed a way to track all the current version numbers, ISV add-on products, and renewals dates associated with each customer. Even with our five great systems, there was no way to have that crucial information easily visible to everyone who needed it.

Our systems were all functioning properly, but we needed more.

Why Were We on This Road?

You’re probably wondering how a successful technology consulting firm found itself in this dilemma. Well, that’s the point of this story. Every growing business is on a journey. As you grow, you change; and as you change your needs may or may not be met by decisions you made at the start or along the milestones of the journey. Add to that time and budget constraints on a growing business and continuous technology advances.

At the time, we used the best tools we had access to. Each one was the right option when we chose it.

But now, further along on our journey, other options are presenting themselves, and our business continues to evolve.

The Fork in Our Path

In 2014 CAL began researching the new cloud ERP offerings on the market as more and more of our clients expressed interest in the cloud. In 2017 our journey as a company led us to sign on as a reselling partner with Acumatica Cloud ERP. Just as we had done with Dynamics GP years ago, we decided that the best way for us to truly understand the Acumatica system was to use it in our own business.

This was a bit of a risky decision for an established Microsoft Dynamics GP partner, but we had done our research and were convinced that implementing Acumatica presented us with an opportunity to learn their system for the sake of our clients and also to fix the inefficiencies in our own system

So, we changed direction, took the fork in the road, and continued our journey.

The Road to Acumatica and the Cloud

One thing that impressed us the most about Acumatica during our research into cloud computing was that it was designed as one complete core system from the start.  They didn't begin with one product and then add two or three others and try to make them work as one. Acumatica took a holistic, new approach to creating the system so that they wouldn't have to worry about synchronization of diverse systems. In Acumatica, customer data resides in one centralized database. This was a whole new concept in accounting/customer management systems, and it would be transformative for our business.

Cleaning the Data

Before we could make use of the data we had in disparate systems, we first had to gather it and consolidate it for a comprehensive, up-to-date record.

  • Were there addresses in the billing system that were not in the support system?
  • Had new contacts been added to CRM but not added to the other databases?
  • Were there customers in CRM that had been added before we started using Kayako?

Imagine spilling the contents of several large filing cabinets onto the floor, sorting through them piece by piece, discarding the duplicates, and compiling one master copy from the remains. Then we had to do the same with our vendors.

And while we were drowning in all this data, this was the time to purge our records of outdated, unnecessary information. It was a huge task, and it opened our eyes to the inefficiencies that we had been working around for years. It was a long overdue spring cleaning.

Now we were ready to bring the clean information into Acumatica.

The Implementation

Just as we recommend to our clients, we moved from our current systems to Acumatica in a phased approach. We put the clean records of all of our customers, partners, and vendor into Acumatica as “Business Accounts.”

Phase 1: Dynamics CRM and Kayako to Acumatica

Once our clean master files were in place, we chose to start by using CRM and Support Cases. Unlike Dynamics GP, Acumatica has its own CRM functionality for handling sales, marketing, and case management, that is part of the core system. We loaded everything we were doing in Dynamics CRM and Kayako into the CRM side of Acumatica. Because we already had all the customers and the vendors in the master files, we were up and running quickly because of the shared database.

Phase 2: Dynamics GP Finances, Salespad, and Olympic to Acumatica

The next step involved moving our core accounting (the core accounting functionally of Acumatica is equivalent to the core accounting in Dynamics GP), and using the integrated Acumatica Project Accounting module, so our project database was intricately interfaced with our accounting database.

The reports we had been using were SalesPad’s generic reports and grids, and Dynamics GP’s SmartLists.  Now in Acumatica, we had dashboards throughout the entire system.  We could use the default dashboards in Acumatica or could build our own. Immediately these dashboards showed the information that we had moved into the system.

User Adoption

Many are reluctant to make changes. Our team had used Dynamics GP for a long time and knew it inside out. So as the business owner leading the charge, I felt that the only way for us to get to a point of acceleration with this new product was to force every employee in the company to use it every day.

Team members were eased in slowly with CRM and Cases. After they were used to how the new system functioned, we introduced other aspects.  We all became more and more familiar with the solution and were spurred on by having all the information we needed to do a better job every day.

We flipped the switch, and our entire business was being run in Acumatica.

What We Learned Along the Way

The switchover is behind us; now we can focus on the benefits of our new Acumatica system. Here are just a few of our favorites:

Benefit: Enter it Once

Now that case management, project accounting, and financials are in one place our team has to enter information only one time. No more duplication, no more input errors. And it makes it easier for our billable consultants to enter their project time, which was always a challenge.

Benefit: Dashboards

Acumatica’s dashboards give us a view of our business that we never had before.  As a business owner, I find it much easier to keep on top of things. And having the dashboards built into the system rather than being add-on tools, means there is less to buy and learn.

Benefit: Real Time Updates

In the old days, we would work off of spreadsheets. For example, when we had our upgrade meetings, the support team would run a report; we would review each entry, someone would make notes, and then we’d have to go back into Kayako to update the records.

Now our meetings are not paper-based. Everything is done in the Acumatica dashboards and updated in real time.

Benefit: Complete Visibility

Our sales, operations, and support teams at CAL all have access to the same updated information. We finally have a complete view in one location.

Benefit: One Master Record

Dynamics GP has separate databases for customers, vendors, and prospects.  In Acumatica, there is only one business account. Employees, vendors, and customers are in the same database. Enter them once and access them from everywhere.

The Road Ahead

With Acumatica, there are so many things that can be done without writing interfaces and buying additional products.

  • We can use the eCommerce functionality inside Acumatica to accepting credit card payments.
  • We can open customer portals, so they can view their open cases and invoices.
  • We can automate the renewal processes for the support plans for our 300+ customers instead of doing this manually.

While it’s true that we could have used add-on tools for Dynamics GP to do all of this; we never did. Now that it is included in our Acumatica system, we use it.

I'm happy now, but I can't imagine how happy I'm going to be as I go even further down this road. Every day I see something in Acumatica that's going to allow us to do things I never even thought about before.

Our Journey

We’ve been on a nearly 20-year journey. We didn't have five systems in the beginning. But slowly we had two; then we had four, then we had five; now we have one.

It’s been an incredible and enlightening journey.  When we took this latest turn in the road, we truly did not realize how transformational it would be for our company.  

We have learned so much along the way, and now we can use our experience to build a better roadmap for our clients when they come to a fork in their road.

If you would like to discuss your journey, contact us at [email protected] or 860-485-0910 x4.

By George Mackiewicz, Microsoft Dynamics GP and Acumatica Partner, CAL Business Solutions, www.calszone.com

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