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Software solutions for greater efficiency

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The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory operation which includes Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT, has more than 4,500 staff and some 650 Salvation Army corps and social centres.

As the organisation grows in both size and revenue, an ongoing challenge is to find ways to centralise, improve and streamline processes wherever possible to save time and reduce costs in order to meet financial reporting and government funding requirements.

Since 1998, the organisation has had TechnologyOne Financials at the heart of its system and over time it has added to the mix a number of other TechnologyOne software solutions. The most recent additions are TechnologyOne’s Works & Assets solution – a project management, work order, asset maintenance, asset capitalisation, billing, timesheet and reporting solution – and

Property & Rating – a solution to manage property, land, people and addresses in one central and easily accessible location. The organisation has adopted the regulatory and property elements of this solution but not the rating component.

“The Works & Assets solution will help us manage the leasing, warranties and maintenance of our IT equipment,” says Systems Accountant for the Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory Robert Brooks.

Brooks also says that the organisation also have a number of owned and leased properties so the new Property & Rating modules supplied by TechnologyOne were expected to satisfy all of their property management requirements.

“These solutions will also have a role to play in ensuring that, in the event of an audit of all of our assets, be it cars, computers or properties, we will pass with flying colours,” Brooks says. “With these two new solutions from TechnologyOne our aim is to further centralise information, which is currently somewhat fragmented, and link information coming in via either Works & Assets or Property & Rating back to our Financials solution,” he says.

Before the partnership between TechnologyOne, Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory had more than 2,700 bank accounts. With the Financials solution, the Salvos have also been able to aggregate these accounts, reduce bank fees and charges, get a better rate of interest on its cash, plus avoid costs that it used to incur when any one individual account might be overdrawn.

Little wonder then that the TechnologyOne Financials solution is considered the heart of the Salvation Army’s financial reporting system.

“The key to this system’s flexibility is its multi-ledger design which provides users with the ability to track, monitor, control, analyse and report on any information within the database,” says Systems Accounting Program Analyst for the Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory Walter Pratt.

“For us this is a key benefit as we are able to build functions and ledgers according to our unique requirements. The TechnologyOne Financials solution enables us not only to report information but also to ‘slice and dice’ the information so as to present it in different ways according to the varying needs of users,” he says.

The second benefit says Pratt, is that by centralising the collection of data and the accounting function, the Salvos have been able to improve the quality of the data and dramatically reduce the time taken to produce various financials such as month-end and year-end reports.

“With TechnologyOne Financials we have been able to reduce the time it takes to collate and produce month-end reports from between 12 and 14 days to less than eight days,” he says. “I can still remember the days when it took us about ten months to produce a set of accounts. In those days we used a small IBM mainframe at headquarters and everyone else had a PC with Dataflex.

“It was our auditors who led the push to improve our financial reporting by recommending we centralise the accounting function and improve the quality of the data so as to reduce the time taken to produce reports such as the annual accounts. We were also motivated, like many people at the time, by the Y2K or millennium bug as it was known, in the knowledge that our mainframe software would not be useable after June 1999.”

The Salvation Army invited six companies to tender. As one of the members of the selection panel, Robert Brooks recalls the TechnologyOne product was an obvious standout and this ultimately led to what has become a decade long partnership. “It came down to two solutions but TechnologyOne Financials, or Finance One as it was back then, was a clear winner on the basis of its functionality, flexibility and configurability. Perhaps, surprisingly then, it was also very competitive in terms of price,” Brooks says.

The improved efficiency in financial reporting has occurred at a time when the Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory has experienced growth in the number of users of its financial system to more than 800 people. At the same time, the organisation’s costs continue to grow.

Like all charities, the raising and distribution of funds necessary to meet these costs is subject to both government and public scrutiny – so there is a need for the Salvation Army to meet accounting standards and produce financial information of the highest quality.

“In the 2007 financial year, this government funding represented almost 40 per cent of our budget – so one can see how important it is to us to have a financial system that provides the tools we need to properly acquit this money. If we did not meet these requirements and if we did not have the necessary information, we would not be able to receive such funding.”

According to Pratt, there are two main reasons why the organisation continues to add new modules to its TechnologyOne Financials.

“The first is that we believe TechnologyOne is at the forefront of software development, knowledge and processes. They give us powerful and advanced technology solutions for our business. This applies not only to current versions of our financial software but also to earlier versions. For example, before the introduction of GST, TechnologyOne was on a working party with the ATO to determine how the software would account for GST. Because TechnologyOne had this knowledge, it made our GST transition very easy.

“The second is that TechnologyOne takes responsibility for both the sale and implementation of its solutions. For example, we have been through several upgrades of the software and while at times there has had to be some level of pain, we have always found TechnologyOne to be supportive and helpful. As an example of the committed after sales support we get, when we originally had issues with generating and processing budgets into our Financials database, we didn’t get some third party re-seller or some third party system integrator trying to sort this. Instead we got the TechnologyOne developer himself. He spent about 20 hours over a two-day period working to resolve all the issues until it was perfect for our needs.

“A multinational provider just wouldn’t have the local focus to quickly address an Australian compliance requirement like the introduction of GST, for example, and there is no way a German based or American based vendor could provide us with 20 hours access with a developer on site,” says Pratt.

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