Profile: Alan Tudo, Financial Controller, Westgate Community Initiatives Group
Alan Tudo knew that his team was spending too many hours creating reports for not-for-profit Westgate Community Initiatives Group. The organisation provides a mix of services including employment, social enterprise and education, through 14 hubs in Victoria, Australia.
Unfortunately, Tudo’s team didn’t have the technical skills to customise the reports in their desktop accounting software, Sage 300.
“For any changes, you have to hire an external consultant to make adjustments for you,” Tudo, Westgate’s financial controller, says. Instead, the finance team used several workarounds with Excel to massage reports into a meaningful format for managers. Even then, exporting the data could sometimes be difficult.
Reporting is a critical function in any business and especially so for not-for-profit organisations. The finance team need to acquit expenses required to provide a service against the relevant grants. The complexity of reporting increases with the number of grants, services and locations.
Tudo was also frustrated by the office-based limitations of desktop software. He was keen to replace it with a cloud-based platform that managers could log into from any hub, not just in head office.
“We needed to be on premises in order to access the system, or access it via remote desktop. There’s obviously internet issues where it may lag because you’re accessing a server remotely, or the shortcut keys don’t work because of the way that it’s set up,” Tudo says.
Tudo worked with Nunzio Giunta, Westgate’s external CFO and owner of consultancy GiuntaBell, to create a business case for an ERP platform. This involved assessing the time cost for producing reports to managers each month, and responding to inquiries from executives. Giunta also estimated the cost of external consultants for producing different reports.
The low availability of information is an opportunity cost, Tudo says. “If a report doesn’t provide the information we need to make the best decisions for our business, what is that cost? Are we going to lose tenders because of this?”
The business case showed that a modern ERP would give the NGO a cloud based system, the ability to link to external systems via API, and better reporting.
NFP in Transition
Westgate evaluated several other ERP systems before selecting Sage Intacct, a strong favourite in the not-for-profit sector.
The migration took about four months. GiuntaBell managed the transition and made sure Sage Intacct had the functions required. It showed where the team could improve processes limited by the previous system. Westgate added the purchasing and asset management modules to the core financial module in Sage Intacct. It marked out the revenue recognition and spend management modules for future expansion.
The move to a cloud-native ERP was timely; it occurred just before the organisation entered months of extended COVID-19 lockdowns. Tudo, the rest of the finance team and business managers could continue their daily work from home without disruption.
The greatest impact was the dramatic upgrade to the reporting process. The report writer in Sage Intacct uses a drag-and-drop interface. It is much easier to add and remove fields and view data in multiple dimensions, Tudo says.
“There’s more ease of use and flexibility in terms of how we want our reports to look. If managers want something else down the track, then we can actually go in and make those changes ourselves,” Tudo says.
The finance team can respond much faster to internal requests now it no longer needs to engage an external consultant to adjust reports.
Instead of manually downloading data and uploading Excel spreadsheets to folders for each manager, the team sends one email to all managers when the reports are ready for review. The managers then log into Sage Intacct and refresh their dashboards to see the latest data. If a manager wants to investigate the numbers behind a statistic, they can click on the section to see the raw data instead of firing off a request to finance.
This has saved the finance team several hours a month, Tudo says.
Building a Better Finance Team
The new ERP platform has had a major impact on efficiency. The end of month close previously took two weeks. Now the finance team finalises it by the fifth business day.
Another productivity improvement was a shift to paperless workflows. The team now scan and attach all paper receipts and invoices to the electronic transaction in Sage Intacct.
“Previously, there was a lot of paperwork that needed to be filed away. Now we have moved away from paper. There’s pretty much no one printing anything at the moment, everything is stored in the system,” Tudo says.
This has saved a lot of time in investigating transactions. Instead of first searching for the date of the transaction and then looking for a physical document in the filing system, “we can find it at the click of a button”, Tudo says.
This has made everyone’s lives easier, especially the auditors’. Tudo estimates that requests by the auditors for paperwork have halved.
“We give the auditors a licence to log in themselves. They can click through the journal entries and see an attachment for the supporting documents. Everyone’s really happy with that,” Tudo says.
The next streamlining opportunity is to connect Sage Intacct with the employment-based skills assessment program, Job Ready.
Currently, Westgate’s employment consultants enter purchases into the Job Ready website for internal approval before linking to the government portal. They then enter the same information into Sage Intacct and go through the internal approval process again to get paid by Westgate’s accounts payable clerk.
“Once we link Job Ready to Sage Intacct via API, the data entry and approval process will be transferred across so we don’t have to double handle,” Tudo says.
Backing Up the Business
Perhaps the biggest change is in how the finance team sees its role within the broader business. The finance team previously focused on processing transactions, and relied on the managers to acquit programs correctly. Now the finance team ensures that expenditure is eligible based on the conditions of each contract. They then make adjustments to balance spend against revenue.
“We’re more hands on with our program managers,” Tudo says.
Sage Intacct has helped accelerate a key process, applying for the tenders which generate the organisation’s revenue. A tender application is usually quite stressful; managers and the finance team race to assemble the required information before the tender deadline.
This process sometimes requires adjustments which effectively means starting over again. Each time this occurred, the finance team had to recollect data from supporting systems such as payroll.
“Now it’s pretty easy. We can report by this department and by this month, and send it across to the managers. If you want to start from scratch again it doesn’t take long at all because we know exactly where to go,” Tudo says. “There’s less stress on everyone working towards the tender.”