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How to integrate software without a hitch.

HOW TO INTEGRATE SOFTWARE WITHOUT A HITCH

In today's complex business world, accountants increasingly are called on to help plan and install computerized business systems. In this article, Ira R. Weiss, CPA, PhD, dean of the Madrid Business School, Madrid, Spain, and Durairaj Asaithambi, CPA, an accounting systems project supervisor at Houston Lighting & Power Co., Houston, out-line guidelines for a successful installation. The authors acknowledge the contribution of Thomas J. Farfell, manager, Houston Lighting & Power Co., to this article.

Most businesses rely heavily on computer software to handle accounting, purchasing, inventory and other operations. But often they are not satisfied with stand-alone software because they want to integrate it with other, complementary programs to do more complex jobs.

For example, if the accounting department's software could "talk" to purchasing's and the sales department's software, much data-entry duplication could be eliminated. In addition, with such a link, data on materials ordered by purchasing instantly could be incorporated into accounting's computer to produce up-to-the-minute information on cash flow and other financial and inventory information.

Linking discrete and diverse programs so they work seamlessly--that is, as if there is no apparent separation between them--takes considerable planning. But once the integration is accomplished, the resuiting software system is cost-effective and should pay for itself within one to six years.

GUIDELINES FOR SUCCESS

Following are practical guidelines for senior management, project teams and accountants involved in the design and implementation of integrated systems:

1. Management commitment. An organizational change as major as this one requires the full support of senior management. If management fails to communicate the importance of the project to the staff, chances are it will fail no matter how well it is planned.

2. Project team. Many integrated software projects fail, or are only no better than marginally successful, because key people are left out of the development loop and the responsibility for designing the system is given exclusively to management information systems professionals. These technical experts may know software integration and management techniques, but probably not the detailed needs of the users and the environment in which the system will operate. As a result, the project team should include representatives of the user groups.

In addition, a steering committee comprising the managers of each user department and chaired by the highest-ranking manager should oversee the project. It should consider cost-benefit priorities, staffing, changes the system will require in the work environment, as well as changes in the business environment affected by the system. It also should be able to resolve interdepartmental problems that cannot be solved by the project team.

3. Evaluation of platforms, tools and methods. A complex project requires careful evaluation of more than just the specific software under consideration. The team also must look at the choice of computers, the operating system and the network to be sure they can accommodate the jobs envisioned for them.

4. Outside consultants. Often a business lacks people with the technical knowledge to master software integration and so must engage consultants. While outside contractors can be helpful, they also can cause delays and run up huge bills. For these reasons, consultants always should be under the guidance and supervision of an in-house MIS manager.

5. Project phases. Because of the project's complexity, it's best not to design and implement the system in one step. Instead, it's better to first complete the modules that are simpler and have the highest priority. Early success at the initial stages will breed enthusiasm for the project. The rule of thumb should be: "Win early and win often."

6. Monitor the project closely. To avoid surprises, the project team and steering committee should meet frequently and regularly, reporting problems, specifying deadlines and clarifying tasks.

7 Compensate for success. MIS and user teams often work overtime to meet project deadlines. It's a good practice to reward the team members after completion of a successful project with recognition awards, pay. raises, bonuses and even promotions. This will encourage project teams working on future system development projects.

8. Postimplementation review. Even the best installation experiences bugs. If they are not addressed immediately, ill will may develop among users, dooming the system. The best way to avoid these problems is to thoroughly review the project soon after implementation to make sure the integrated system has achieved its intended goals and to determine whether additional work is required.

Integrated software systems are becoming an essential in many organizations. As staff costs increase and hardware costs decline, more and more businesses will opt for them. Therefore, it's imperative for accountants to become familiar with their design and implementation.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* THE SUCCESS of an integrated computerized system heavily depends on senior management's commitment to the project.

* MANY INTEGRATED systems fail because software users are left out of the development loop and the full responsibility for the design is given to management information systems professionals who do not know users' detailed needs and the environment in which the system will operate.

* A STEERING committee, comprising the managers of each user department and chaired by the highest-ranking manager, should oversee the project and consider cost-benefit priorities, staffing and changes that the system will require in the work environment.

* A PROJECT OF THIS complexity requires careful evaluation of more than just the specific software under consideration. The project team also must look at the choice of computers, the operating systems and the network to ensure they can do the job.

* BECAUSE OF THE complexity of the project, it's best to design and implement the system in phases.

* TO AVOID surprises, the project team and steering committee should meet frequently and regularly, reporting problems, specifying deadlines and clarifying tasks.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Institute of CPA's
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:accounting business systems
Author:Farrell, Thomas J.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:942
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