E-Handbook: Selecting SaaS accounting software need not be intimidating Article 2 of 3

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Cloud-based accounting software can be hub of tailored 'ERP'

Users explain why they chose their cloud core financial system and the thought process that goes into adding applications for key functions, like procurement, HR and case management.

When hotel management company Donohoe Hospitality Services was looking to replace its homegrown financial application, the company opted for hotel-specific cloud-based accounting software from M3, Inc. instead of the accounting features of a full-blown ERP system.

The main reason Donohoe Hospitality opted for M3 was that the cloud-based accounting software was written specifically for the hotel industry, said Jack Fritsche, senior vice president and CFO of the company, which manages nine hotels operating under the Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group brands.

"For the business that we're in, there wasn't a more appropriate piece of software in terms of how we do our daily work," he said. "When you look at the price of a full ERP system implementation, upgrade, contract -- all those things – it's a markedly less expensive task to go with M3 because there's no contract."

M3, which offers integrated cloud-based accounting software and analytics, helps clients operate more efficiently, improving visibility to drive hotel financial performance, claimed Sean White, product manager at M3, which is based in Gainesville, Ga. The company offers basic accounting functions a la carte, from bank reconciliations and accounts payable to complete full-service accounting. The product also includes analytics functions.

M3's platform integrates with other cloud-based systems and tools in the hospitality industry, such as property management systems (PMSs), as well as HR and payroll systems, to allow end-to-end hotel management, White said.

"M3 integrates with our payroll system, which is ADP, and we also integrate with MassMutual, our 401(k) provider," Fritsche said. "M3 also integrates with the proprietary PMS system of each hotel. The PMS systems link up with M3 every night to let us know all the receivable data, all the customers that have checked in and checked out, and to record all the revenue. That's all automated."

Fritsche said M3 also integrates with Donohoe Hospitality's bank system, so the company can automate bank account reconciliations, outstanding checks, Automated Clearing House transfers and other financial processes.

Multivendor integration a must-have

The IT departments of organizations that decide to implement cloud-based accounting software instead of entire ERP systems are key to helping those companies successfully integrate the accounting functionality with other systems, such as payroll, expense reporting, travel booking, e-procurement, contract management and financial analytics, including planning, budgeting and forecasting, according to John Van Decker, research vice president at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"We're in a postmodern ERP world where not everyone buys all their solutions from a single provider," Van Decker said. "So, the IT department is going to have to use the tools that are available to them through the vendors for integration. Or they can use systems integrators to help."

Such ERP-like accounting often comes through built-in integrations between different vendors' products. For example, small to midsize companies that use QuickBooks Online and want to keep track of their expenses can use Expensify, which integrates with QuickBooks, said Alicia Amaral, a partner at Juna Financial Solutions, a Boston-based company that provides outsourced accounting, finance, CFO and consulting services. Juna uses QuickBooks Online.

Additionally, the bill pay functions of QuickBooks Online are provided by Bill.com, according to Jean Zick, a partner at Juna. Zick called the bill pay feature "a lighter and lower-cost functionality than the full Bill.com system."

Another third-party application that integrates with QuickBooks Online is Hubdoc, Zick said. Hubdoc automatically "fetches" financial documents from banks, utilities, telecom providers and online vendors, extracts the key data and syncs transactions to QuickBooks Online -- or other accounting software -- with the source documents attached.

Payment provider assembling cloud system around NetSuite core

With the right tools and teams, companies can integrate good technology and make it work, said Sue Vestri, CFO of Greenphire, a provider of software for automating payments for clinical trials, based in King of Prussia, Pa. Greenphire uses NetSuite's cloud-based SuiteSuccess Financials First for its accounting needs.

"You don't have to be tied to one thing that may do many things well but not everything well," Vestri said. "There is an advantage to the business to go out and get the right tools for the right job and have those systems integrate."

Vestri said Greenphire has been using the NetSuite cloud-based accounting software for about a year.

"We had outgrown QuickBooks, our previous product, for a whole host of reasons," she said. "Our billing processes were very time-consuming and manual, the reporting wasn't robust enough, the functionality was limited [and] we had data in multiple systems. Some of the features weren't adequate in terms of collections, there were user license limitations, there were data storage capacity issues and limited integration capability."

After evaluating accounting software from a number of vendors, Greenphire felt NetSuite, which made its name as a provider of full-blown cloud ERP, was the best fit because of its capabilities, she said.

In addition, because Greenphire was already using Salesforce for CRM, the company needed an accounting system that would "play nice" with Salesforce, according to Vestri.

"I knew that NetSuite integrates beautifully with Salesforce, so that was a key consideration," she said. "We also use Marketo as part of our marketing efforts. So, not only does that integrate with Salesforce, but it also plays nice with NetSuite."

At the same time, Greenphire was also looking to replace the system it used to manage tech support cases and chose the features built into NetSuite.

"It's very customizable and flexible, and it's been able to handle our needs. So, we're not looking to use any third-party system for that," Vestri said. "We're also using the native capability for collections."

Currently, Greenphire is also using NetSuite Financials First for commissions, but that may change.

"There are better -- and NetSuite would be the first to admit this -- commission programs out there if you have a very complex plan," she said.

Greenphire is also looking at new program management tools to replace its current system. "We've been evaluating the NetSuite capability and also other companies that will integrate nicely with NetSuite," she said. "So, we have a little bit of both. We're using some of the inherent capabilities within NetSuite's system, and we're also using some other tools that integrate nicely with NetSuite."

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