The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB), one of the nation’s largest providers of instruction for sensory-disabled individuals, needed to improve its accounting performance. An average of seven exceptions per audit cycle over a four-year period spurred AIDB leaders to search for a single, fully integrated enterprise resource planning system. To enhance accounting operations, the organization worked with Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner I.B.I.S., Inc., to implement Microsoft Dynamics® GP and Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007. The comprehensive solution enables employees and business leaders to access and examine business data in one system. After implementing Microsoft Dynamics GP together with Office SharePoint Server 2007, AIDB has tightened accounting controls, improved compliance, boosted efficiency, and saved an estimated U.S.$330,000 over six years.
||Because we’ve been able to quickly and easily extend the functionalities in Microsoft Dynamics GP to more people in the organization, we’re able to synchronize our efforts and get things done much faster.
||Henry Segalas, IT Director, AIDB
Founded in 1858, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) is one of the oldest and most prestigious schools of its kind in the United States. With 1,100 employees, the organization provides education, vocational instruction, and rehabilitative services to more than 11,000 individuals in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.
In addition to providing classroom-based instruction and skills training, AIDB maintains a 257,000-square-foot manufacturing facility organized under its Alabama Industries for the Blind (AIB) operating division. In accord with its parent organization’s mission of fostering independence among those it serves, AIB employs more than 250 individuals who are blind, deaf, or multidisabled.
AIDB has consistently expanded its operations in recent years to meet the needs of an increasing number of sensory-impaired Alabama residents. But, strong growth intensified the need for transparency and highlighted the importance of streamlining business processes, exposing a critical weakness in the organization’s IT infrastructure.
For more than a decade, AIDB relied on several nonintegrated systems to manage its various lines of business. Because employees could not easily exchange data between these systems, they had to manually reenter transactions in one system that had already been posted in another. “We were running all of these sophisticated systems, but none of them talked to each other, which created a number of serious challenges for us,” says Henry Segalas, IT Director at AIDB.
Difficulty Meeting Regulatory Compliance Standards
The lack of real-time integration among its various business management systems made it extremely difficult to implement internal financial controls required by federal accounting regulations. AIDB employees often relied on paper-based records to calculate inventory valuation. And, accounting staff occasionally made manual adjustments to the general ledger rather than waiting to batch process data in one system, reformat the data, and import it into another system. These practices occasionally led to data-entry errors, increasing the risk and incidence of reporting inaccuracies. Over a four-year period, AIDB incurred an average of seven audit exceptions per audit cycle.
“Because we couldn’t automate basic financial processes, our cash balances didn’t always reconcile and our inventory valuation was off. These were things that consistently got flagged in our audits,” says Segalas. “After repeated audit findings, we were getting the attention of some legislators at the state capital, but for all the wrong reasons.”
High Cost of Ownership
AIDB incurred substantial costs in maintaining, customizing, and upgrading its various business systems. In particular, the organization found that its Oracle-based accounting system was difficult to modify. “When applying patches to the Oracle system, fixing one problem invariably broke something else in the system,” says Segalas. “So, we ended up calling in a consultant at an average of $275 an hour every time we needed to make a change in the system or integrate it with another application that we were running.” Over time, the organization had become so accustomed to relying on outside IT services that the AIDB annual budget included a U.S.$80,000 line item for technology consultant fees.
Challenge of Information Silos
The lack of interoperability among its business systems also led to a number of process flow inefficiencies. For example, staff in the AIB purchasing department routinely tracked inventory on spreadsheets maintained outside of the SBT Accounting system. The purchasing staff would use these spreadsheets to manually create purchase orders, which would then be delivered by hand to accounting staff as needed. In addition, managers across the organization often experienced substantial delays in completing budget reports and performing daily business analysis tasks because they had difficulty accessing the most current data. And, employees in all departments found it practically impossible to quickly or easily share information that was stored in separate systems and maintained in different formats.
Leaders at AIDB, including Segalas, recognized the urgent need to consolidate the organization’s operations within a comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Segalas spearheaded the process of creating a detailed needs-assessment matrix, which the AIDB evaluation team used in considering several solutions, including ERP packages from Oracle, Microsoft, and SBT.
AIDB ultimately selected Microsoft Dynamics® GP to replace its collection of disparate systems. “Microsoft Dynamics GP met virtually all of our requirements for functionality out-of-the-box,” states Segalas. “And, we saw a number of other big advantages in Microsoft Dynamics GP over the other ERP systems we considered, including ease of use, integration with other Microsoft® products, and its inherent flexibility.” In particular, AIDB placed substantial value on the ability to easily link its business system with the 2007 Microsoft Office system that people across the organization already use every day.
The organization turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner I.B.I.S., Inc., to facilitate implementation of Microsoft Dynamics GP. The I.B.I.S., Inc., team subsequently helped AIDB implement Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 to enable streamlined process flow and improved cross-departmental collaboration, and extend the reach of business-critical information from Microsoft Dynamics GP across AIDB’s organization.
Single, Connected System
For AIDB, the essential requirement in a new ERP solution was a system that offered end-to-end functionality. I.B.I.S., Inc. initially helped AIDB deploy Microsoft Dynamics GP with the following modules:
- Inventory and Sales Order Processing
Because each of these functional modules relies on the same data store in Microsoft Dynamics GP, information entered in one module is automatically rendered in another module. This eliminates time-consuming, duplicate data entry and enables improved consistency and accuracy in recording and monitoring transactions across all functional areas.
With Microsoft Dynamics GP, AIDB employees no longer manually post inventory valuation data or use stand-alone spreadsheets to balance accounts outside of the system. Now, employees can manage purchase and sales order information, inventory activities, payment schedules, and other critical business data in Microsoft Dynamics GP, making this data instantly available to employees throughout the organization. “With Microsoft Dynamics GP, all of our employees are connected through one fully integrated system,” says Segalas. “This not only helps improve our efficiency, but it’s the key to our ability to comply with federal accounting standards because it lets us easily track and trace all of our transactions.”
Extending the System to More People
||For us, Office SharePoint Server 2007 is the perfect companion technology to Microsoft Dynamics GP because it makes the business system accessible to more people in the organization.
||Henry Segalas, IT Director, AIDB
By using Office SharePoint Server 2007 alongside Microsoft Dynamics GP, AIDB enhances efficiencies gained from managing all major business functions in a single system. Office SharePoint Server 2007 technology lets AIDB employees across the organization take advantage of Business Portal for Microsoft Dynamics GP, which enables quick Web portal access to consolidated budget information, business intelligence data, and key performance indicators. AIDB employees also create customized sites in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to serve as repositories for project data and as a means of sharing best-practice information. In addition, AIDB plans to use workflows in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to streamline and better track process flows. “For us, Office SharePoint Server 2007 is the perfect companion technology to Microsoft Dynamics GP because it makes the business system accessible to more people in the organization,” says Segalas. “In a very simple and cost-effective way, we’re able to take all of the insights, analysis, and reporting that we get from Microsoft Dynamics GP, filter it down, and distribute it across the organization. And with the workflow capabilities in Office SharePoint Server 2007, we’ll be able to move information between departments faster and increase accountability and accuracy at the same time.”
AIDB further extends Microsoft Dynamics GP by using Microsoft Dynamics GP Analysis Cubes for Microsoft Office Excel® 2007. Using Microsoft SQL Server® functionality, Analysis Cubes for Office Excel 2007 creates a data warehouse from Microsoft Dynamics GP that users can access and analyze on a variety of dimensions. This technology enables AIDB employees to view specific and highly relevant information obtained from Microsoft Dynamics GP through an Office Excel 2007 dashboard. By simplifying analysis and streamlining report building, it helps employees save time and make better-informed decisions.
Since initially implementing Microsoft Dynamics GP, AIDB has completed four version upgrades. In recently moving to the latest version of the software, the organization’s IT team handled the core upgrade project entirely on its own, turning to I.B.I.S. to help modify functionality in the General Ledger in Microsoft Dynamics GP. AIDB sought to upgrade to stay current on the latest technology and to take advantage of new product offerings, including enhanced search, security, and collaboration capabilities. “It didn’t take us long to figure out that we wanted to move to the latest version soon after it was released,” says Segalas. “Because Microsoft Dynamics GP has been so easy to work with over the years, and fits so well with our other systems, we were absolutely confident that we could handle the bulk of the project in-house.” AIDB was able to reallocate the money it saved by using internal resources to complete the upgrade project to enhance its budget for direct services.
By using Microsoft Dynamics GP with Office SharePoint Server 2007 and the 2007 Microsoft Office system, AIDB has increased efficiency across the organization, achieved zero-error audits for three consecutive years, and saved an estimated U.S.$330,000 over a six-year period. “Microsoft Dynamics GP has helped us become better stewards of the public trust in many different ways,” says Segalas.
By automating business processes, Microsoft Dynamics GP helps employees in several departments across AIDB save time. For example, because purchase orders are automatically generated in Microsoft Dynamics GP, accounting staff no longer have to wait for paperwork to be delivered by hand.
||With Microsoft Dynamics GP, all of our employees are connected through one fully integrated system.
||Henry Segalas, IT Director, AIDB
In addition, AIDB plans to take advantage of workflow capabilities in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to accelerate its purchase order approval process. With this functionality in place, Segalas estimates that AIDB will be able to cut purchase order approval times by several days in some cases. And, with Business Portal through Office SharePoint Server 2007, managers now access consolidated reports and business intelligence data in real time. “Because we’ve been able to quickly and easily extend the functionalities in Microsoft Dynamics GP to more people in the organization, we’re able to synchronize our efforts and get things done much faster,” says Segalas.
Furthermore, employees used to spend days producing sales reports, which they can now create in minutes from their desktop by using Microsoft Dynamics GP Analysis Cubes for Office Excel 2007. Currently, ADIB saves four hours each month by using Analysis Cubes to create two sales reports. The organization plans to use Analysis Cubes to generate numerous additional reports more quickly in the future.
“AIDB has really taken advantage of the overall value of Microsoft’s product integration to increase productivity, improve insight into their business information, and lower their total cost of ownership,” says Andy Vabulas, Chief Executive Officer at I.B.I.S., Inc. “What executive doesn’t want to hear those words?”
Stronger Regulatory Compliance
Tight system integration, process automation, and built-in financial controls in Microsoft Dynamics GP have eliminated the need for employees to calculate inventory valuation outside of the system or make manual adjustments to the general ledger to balance cash accounts. As a result, AIDB has achieved error-free audits for three consecutive years. Because Microsoft Dynamics GP has helped AIDB dramatically improve its accounting and financial management, auditors now spend about 75 percent less time completing each audit cycle. “We actually don’t mind the annual audits now because they’re relatively painless compared to what they used to be,” says Segalas. “The menus and screens in Microsoft Dynamics GP are so familiar and easy to use that our auditors hardly have to bother us at all to find what they need.”
Estimated Savings of $330,000
Compared to maintaining and upgrading its Oracle-based business system, AIDB estimates savings of U.S.$330,000 since implementing Microsoft Dynamics GP. This savings is attributed to greater IT self-sufficiency, including the ability to complete upgrades by relying largely on available staff resources. “Our return on investment in Microsoft Dynamics GP has been tremendous,” says Segalas. “We’re able to run a world-class system at a fraction of the cost that we used to spend, and we’ve been able to take the money we’ve saved over the years and apply it directly to improving the lives of the people we serve.”
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.
For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:
For more information about the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind products and services, call (256) 761-3311 or visit the Web site at:
For more information about I.B.I.S., Inc., products and services, call (770) 368-4000, or visit the Web site at:
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