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Chris Firra

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Tools for an Effective Financial Period Closing Process

Posted by Chris Firra on Mon, Feb 09, 2015

In many ways, performing an effective monthly financial period closing is similar to carrying out a successful implementation project. Each closing requires a good plan, effective communication among participants, someone that can control activities and risks, and ideally, a review at the end to learn from mistakes and identify opportunities for improvement. Like a project, a closing must adhere to a defined schedule and meet quality objectives for the deliverables, that is, financial statements that accurately portray results and are free of material errors. The personnel, systems, and processes are equally essential.

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Every good controller works from a monthly closing plan or checklist that is honed from experience. At a minimum, it identifies the closing tasks, when tasks must be completed, and the person responsible for carrying them out. The listed tasks typically include each of the regular journal entries, each of the account reconciliations, as well as each financial report review. As tasks are completed, they are checked off, so that the unfinished tasks are clear. While the plan may remain the same from one month to the next, it must be updated as conditions, requirements, and resources change.

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Communication with all participants is critical to a successful close. This includes publishing the accounting calendar, closing schedules, and providing users with access to your plan. Regular meetings with participants (accounting team and contractors, if any) during the close can help ensure that issues are addressed quickly and that schedules stay on target. A common file repository in a secure shared drive is a great way to share documents and artifacts such as the closing plan and checklists. Even better, consider using a SaaS-based collaboration and content management site like SharePoint Online or Smartsheet.com to maintain the closing plan, issues lists, and to store key closing documents.

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The efficiency of completing accounting tasks also is important to meet reporting deadlines, and use of automation in modern accounting systems can make a difference. For instance, Intacct's Recurring Journal Entries, once set up, post automatically according to a defined schedule. This not only saves labor, but it also ensures that transactions are correctly coded and timely. Similarly, creating transaction templates in the accounting system or in importable worksheets add to efficiency as well as accuracy. Worksheets, once imported, should be attached the journal entry to save time during the controller's review and to document and support the transaction in future audits.

Part of the controller's role during closing includes managing and minimizing risks and errors. Well-configured accounting systems assist the controller by providing "Preventive Controls" that are built into user interfaces, eliminating some types of errors from ever being introduced. For example, the system may validate amounts or limit the use of certain general ledger accounts without proper authorization. Enforcing transaction cut-offs by closing a sub-ledger such as Accounts Payable for the previous accounting period can prevent new transactions from creeping into the period, post-close. Additionally, some systems also have rules-based "Detection Controls" that alert managers of potential errors found in accounting data. For instance, Intacct's Smart Events can create emailed notifications when transactions meet specified criteria.

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Unfortunately, system error controls are never enough to prevent all errors, so, the closing process must include reconciliations and reviews to ensure that account balances are correct. Wherever possible, perform reconciliations through the system rather than in off-line spreadsheets that may be prone to error. Most accounting systems provide bank account reconciliation functions, and some such as Intacct, provide functions to reconcile company credit cards. Every account should be reviewed and reconciled on a monthly basis.

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One good practice is to make certain that at least two people review each financial report. The design of reports can sometimes help identify errors. For instance, trending reports often makes errors stand out. When ready for publication, the distribution of financial reports through email or by publication to dashboards can ease the burden on the accounting team and help ensure that reporting requirements are met.

 

Finally, the controller should consider holding a post-mortem meeting with the entire team following each completed closing. Issues and solutions found during the closing should be highlighted and discussed to avoid or minimize future problems. In some cases, the value of developing new reports and automations can become evident during the post-closing review, so be sure to document the findings. Additionally, point out tasks the team performed admirably as well as those that need improvement, as this will provide an opportunity to share knowledge and best practices among team members.

 

Sources:

"Building Blocks of a Successful Financial Close Process", Journal of Accountancy, November 30, 2011

PowerPoint from a lecture titled "Creating a Basic Monthly and Year-End Close Process" given by Marc Linden and Teresa Ruppel on 10/28/2010.

 

Tags: Financial period closing

Three Common Reasons for Not Doing Implementation Acceptance Testing

Posted by Chris Firra on Tue, Oct 07, 2014

User acceptance testing is an extremely important part of a successful accounting system implementation. The testing phase is typically carried out just prior to live deployment, and if done correctly, it eliminates the risk of failures in critical business functions that depend upon new accounting systems. Despite this, there are always pressures to reduce the scope and depth of testing. Here are a few commonly cited reasons:

The user resources are too busy and just can’t be spared 

User acceptance testing, as its name implies, relies upon the expertise of the accounting systems users. While developers and implementers can carry out systems testing, the system’s real users best understand the business applications. For this reason, acceptance testing must be the responsibility of the client and its staff.   

We’re deploying published standard software that has little risk of failure

While it is true that the risk of application failure is often low, the purpose of acceptance testing is to determine if the new system has adequate functionality to meet business requirements, which is quite different from simply determining whether the software works as designed. Additionally, the acceptance testing provides an opportunity to determine if users have the know-how to operate the software.

Faults can be corrected after go-live

Solving system issues in production is more expensive and certainly more stressful than correcting system faults prior to go-live. In a post-go-live scenario, the quickest solution usually is deemed best. However, if the problem is detected earlier, more and often better options can be evaluated.

The long and short is that there is just no alternative to adequate user acceptance testing. It should be planned and carried out by the client and its users of the new system. BTerrell’s implementation team plays an active role by providing guidance and user support during this very important phase.

 

Tags: successful software implementation, software testing, implementation

Configuring Intacct for Sales Tax Compliance Part 2

Posted by Chris Firra on Tue, May 20, 2014

by Chris Firra

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In a previous article, I posed a question of how Intacct could be configured to provide sales tax compliance for a multi-state services company.  In that article, we reviewed Intacct's Advanced Tax configuration, and found that it could enable accounting departments to "in-source" the company's sale tax calculation and reporting, but did not offer much help in simplifying the chore of keeping track of new jurisdictions and tax rates.  

 

The alternative to in-sourcing, is of course, outsourcing.  Outsourcing tax compliance is nothing new.  CPA firms have always performed these types of services for small businesses.  What is relatively new are the technologies that enable automated sales tax outsourcing that is fast, efficient, and cost-effective.  This is leading to an in increased use of outsourced tax compliance services.  A 2011 survey of the readers of AICPA Corporate Tax Insider found that more than half of the respondents reported that they were outsourcing some aspect of their tax function and even more were planning to do so in the future.  Not surprisingly, the predominant reasons cited were (1.) to "increase time for higher value activities", and (2.) a "lack of qualified tax professionals."    

 

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The prime example when it comes to Intacct of an integrated provider of sales tax compliance is the subscription-based AvaTax from Avalara, a SaaS provider of sales tax automation.  AvaTax utilizes Intacct's web services API to seamlessly identify correct tax jurisdictions and tax rates related to sales and purchases transactions and then return the correctly calculated sales tax amounts for customer invoices.  AvaTax outsources the accounting department’s burden of maintaining jurisdictions and tax rates in Intacct.

Let’s review the steps to configure AvaTax for Intacct: 

Step 1: Subscribe to AvaTax from Avalara either by contacting BTerrell Group, or directly contacting Avalara.

Step 2: Enable Avalara AvaTax in Intacct from the Company Subscriptions screen.

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Step 3: After receiving login credentials from Avalara, Configure AvaTax in the Avalara customer dashboard, where one or more Intacct companies may be added.  For each company, the required jurisdictions may be selected and subscribed, by area, state or country.   

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Step 4: Intacct must be configured to connect to AvaTax. The information necessary to make a web services call to AvaTax must be entered, consisting of the following:  

  • Account ID
  • License key
  • Login ID
  • Login password
  • CompanyID   (Note: it's a good practice is to use the corresponding Intacct Entity ID as the company ID in AvaTax in order to make set up simpler.)

 

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Additionally, turn off any active Intacct Tax Schedules used previously.

Step 6: tag each Intacct item (both inventory and non-inventory) with the appropriate Avalara Tax Code, which assigns the tax treatment classification.  This step is critical, but rest assured that the implementation team at Avalara is prepared to assist with questions regarding proper coding.  Also note that item updates may be imported from a .CSV file.

 

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After these steps have been completed, Intacct is ready to calculate correct tax amounts and Avalara is ready to track and report taxable sales for reporting.  At the end of each reporting period, AvaTax generates summary reports and data exports that may be used to facilitate report preparation as well as detailed reports to provide full accountability and auditability.  Alternately, Avalara Returns will file returns and remit tax payments for fully outsourced sales tax compliance management.

When evaluating the two approaches presented, it's fairly clear that in a multi-state environment, using sales tax automation from Avalara provides greater simplicity and efficiency, especially when operating with a "lean" accounting staff (and who doesn't these days?).  Contact BTerrell Group if you'd like more information regarding maintaining sales tax compliance with Intacct.

Tags: sales and use tax, Intacct

Addressing the Heartbleed Bug

Posted by Chris Firra on Mon, Apr 21, 2014

Much has been recently written about the OpenSSL bug known as "Heartbleed", which is a vulnerability in the HTTPS protocol for Apache and nginx web servers. The vulnerability could allow unauthorized users to read unencrypted web traffic, including passwords.  Early stories circulated that as much as 2/3 of the Internet was affected by the bug.  According to the latest articles, it likely had a much smaller impact.  However, the defect was found to have effected some of the largest providers of Internet and cloud-based services, such as Amazon, Google, Akamai, Blackberry, Tumblr and even the Canadian version of the IRS.

Norton and other security providers have now released tools that can determine whether a site is vulnerable to Heartbleed.  Check out: http://safeweb.norton.com/heartbleed

Norton Heartbleed check

Most providers have already taken steps to patch the OpenSSL vulnerability and replace their security certificates.  However, it is now up to users to change their passwords as soon as possible.  Intacct, one of the many services that utilized OpenSSL, took steps to address the issue on the same day as the Heartbleed announcement.  Subsequently, they recommended that their users should immediately change passwords.

To change your password in Intacct:

  1. Go to the Company menu and click My Preferences.

  2. Click the Change Password button.

Additionally, consider using strong passwords.  Here are some guidelines:  http://www.thegeekstuff.com/2008/06/the-ultimate-guide-for-creating-strong-passwords/

Intacct further recommends that users consider implementing two additional security features that are offered of the core solution.

  1. Set up IP address filtering, which restricts sign in to an accepted list of IP addresses.

  2. Turn on two-step verification otherwise known as two-factor authentication (2FA), which adds a layer of protection when users sign in by sending a text or email message to the user confirm the new machine that they are using to sign in.

IP address filtering is more secure, but significantly less convenient for users that travel. Two-step verification or 2FA is quickly becoming a standard in Internet security and is much stronger than relying on security certificates alone. In Intacct, it can be enabled on a user-by user basis.

  1. Point to Company, then click Users. 

  2. Locate the user, then click Edit. 

  3. On the User Information screen, select Enable two-step verification. 

  4. Click Save. 

  5. In the Verify your identity window, enter your account Password. 

  6. Click Done.

BTerrell also highly recommends 2FA when using cloud-provided services.  For a list of other 2FA web sites, check out http://twofactorauth.org.  More importantly, make certain that you and your users have updated online passwords.  Contact BTerrell Group if you have any questions about choices to keep your Intacct and Sage environments secure.

Tags: Intacct

Sage Announces General Availability of Sage 300 ERP 2014

Posted by Chris Firra on Fri, Mar 28, 2014

Last week, as anticipated, Sage officially announced general availability of Sage 300 ERP version 2014.   I attended the business partner webinar that took place a day earlier, where I learned that the early release for developers and so called VIP customers was consistent with the latest version. 

The release is in keeping with Sage's mode of providing evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) improvements to their stalwart ERP.  Sage announced with version 2012 that new features would appear between major releases along with each product update.  As with all new software, there have been some reported bugs, which have been addressed with software patches.  During the meeting, I learned that 2014 Product Update 1 incorporating these patches is anticipated before the end of April.  Below are a few of the new features that I found interesting in version 2014:

The Sage 300 ERP desktop received an overhaul that gives it a cleaner and more modern appearance.  

A "ribbon style" tool bar with new icons appears at the top of the desktop.  Various screens have been redesigned so that they are larger and easier to navigate.  Required fields have been indicated by an asterisk.

Sage 300 ERP 2014


One of the featured benefits of the new release is a clearer view of the users that are currently in the system and what they are doing.  

The LanPak Users screen (launched from the desktop Help menu) displays not only which user is logged in but optionally what screens they have open.  I know that this will be useful for client’s CFO that will no longer need to ask, "Who is in my Accpac?" Better yet, Sage hinted that possible future enhancements will include the ability to “kick-out” specific users from the system.

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Another nice new feature is found in the General Ledger Transaction Listing.  It now provides an ability to run a report that can span multiple fiscal years and fiscal periods.

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Support for Excel 2013 (32-bit) has also been added for Financial Reporter.

It's important that Sage customers keep the 32-bit requirement in mind before upgrading Microsoft Office applications for users that rely on Financial Reporter.

A New Visual Process Flow has been added for U.S. Payroll.  

In version 2014, it's easy to add programs, reports and user interfaces from other modules to Visual Process flows using the Visual Process Flow Designer.  I think that Visual Process Flows are one of the best-kept secrets in Sage 300 ERP, as it provides a controller with a great opportunity to define an accounting department’s processes, yet few people are taking advantage of the feature thus far.

Sage 300 ERP 2014


If you are interested in learning about any or all of the new features in Sage 300 ERP 2014, give me a call at (214) 647-2611, x103, or check out one of BTerrell Group's upcoming webinars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: Sage 300 ERP