SouthWare Excellence Series: Making Excellence Easier Part One: Company Background and Product Overview

  • Written By: Charles Chewning Jr.
  • Published On: January 4 2005



Introduction

The process of selecting mid-market accounting software usually starts with products that have achieved some name recognition, and that's fine as long as the search does not end there. SouthWare Innovations (www.southware.com) has created in its Excellence Series a worthy competitor serving a number of industries and offering users a surprising array of functionality, either directly as SouthWare applications or through one of their independent sales vendors (ISV).

Founded in 1984 and based in Auburn, Alabama (US), SouthWare is a relatively small company of very dedicated people (80 percent of its employees have at least twelve years seniority), which has created what may be one of the best examples of a true business management system, not just an accounting system. What may be even more important to companies of all sizes is that the Excellence Series operates on many platforms and databases, giving users the option to select the environment that best suits their technology requirements rather than forcing them to accept a single option.

This is Part One of a five-part note.

Part Two will look at what makes SouthWare different.

Parts Three and Four will discuss the applications and development environment.

Part Five will provide a competitive analysis and make user recommendations.

Product Line Summary

The Excellence Series supports a significant number of applications, most of which complement its historical strengths in the distribution industry. However, users should not eliminate the Excellence Series simply because they are not in this single industry. In fact, the Excellence Series supports accounting, distribution, e-business, service management, rental management, and job costing out-of-the-box. Together with its third-party developers the Excellence Series also supports manufacturing and a whole host of other industry verticals.

Currently, SouthWare supports 6,000 sites in the US—it has no plans to expand internationally. The largest site supports 500 users—a cellular telephone company—with the next largest site supporting 300 users—high-end photographic equipment.

While we will discuss some of SouthWare's applications in more depth a little later, let's start by summarizing what's available out-of-the-box. I have elected to segregate this list into four categories

  • Business Management Functions
  • Accounting Applications
  • Productivity Tools
  • Technology Features

The Excellence Series, and every other business management system for that matter, is not all-powerful, but it does offer advanced functionality in several areas and outstanding business management support.

Business Management Functions

  • ExecuMate II is a powerful executive information system that presents to executives and managers user-defined summary data (expressed numerically and graphically) that allows them to take the company's pulse. If more detailed information is required, extensive drill-down is available. The system even posts alarm warnings for key financial areas (Note: These same alarms could also generate a standard alert in TaskWise, SouthWare's unified task, relationship management, and exception management system).

  • ExcelReport: This unique application helps users establish both subjective and financial goals and grades progress toward achieving them. We will discuss this in more detail later.

  • TaskWise: Combines into one application business processes such as task management, relationship management, exception management, and information sharing (collaboration). SouthWare has taken the concept of user-defined menus, which it supports, to the next logical level whereby the concept of a menu has been replaced by a completely integrated task management system that helps users carry out their jobs both more efficiently (do it cheaper) and effectively (do it better). This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Collections Adapter: Full-featured collections management application. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • AnswerReady is a tool that lets users set up a searchable database of topics, instructions, company policies, documents (e.g., employee handbooks), as well as questions and answers. The system has but one purpose and that is to help people do their jobs better by giving them ready access to the information they need. Users can create a table of contents to form the basic framework of the information management system, and add or modify topics (with appropriate access controls) as required.

Accounting Applications

  • General Ledger: Standard functionality.

  • Cash Flow Ledger: Bank reconciliation and powerful cash flow monitor. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Accounts Receivable: Standard functionality.

  • A/R Invoicing Adapter: Simplifies the invoicing process rather than using the more comprehensive order entry screens.

  • Accounts Payable: Payment processing that includes cash requirements reporting, invoice and vendor holds, and cash basis accounting. The application will support over 99 pay-to addresses per vendor. If there is any question about an invoice (questionable charges, total amount that exceeds a specified value, etc.), the invoice can be placed on hold automatically and handled by TaskWise, SouthWare's exception management application.

  • Purchasing: SouthWare has created a comprehensive purchasing system that is significantly more robust than other middle market accounting systems. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Order Entry: Standard functionality.

  • Inventory Control: Comprehensive inventory control including substitute items, vendor part numbers, RF receipts, and landed cost tracking. Although SouthWare provides significant functionality that relates to inventory management, these more comprehensive controls are contained in separate applications. If users require only basic inventory control, that's all they have to purchase or see.

  • Warehouse Tracking: SouthWare has adopted a unique approach to warehouse management by creating an application (November 2004 release) that offers sophisticated day-to-day controls that are actually outside the formal accounting process while at the same time maintaining full quantity and cost tracking. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Browser-based Handheld Processing: To complement its Warehouse Tracking application, SouthWare supports RF processing using handheld devices. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Item Group Matrix Adapter: Complete inventory matrix (row and column) support for clothing, lumber, landscape plants, and any other item that uses multiple units of measure per item. Users can assign their own part numbers or the system will automatically generate part numbers to fit the row and column combinations. The system will also generate different price multipliers per row or per column.

  • Marketing Catalogs: This feature allows users to group items into logical categories that can then be used to improve lookup speed, create logical ordering systems on web sites, or to improve inquiries. As an example, users can post items on web sites using multiple categories (e.g. coats / boys' coats / winter coats / long sleeve / blue) that make the ordering process for users far easier. This same feature is available on the buy side to improve lookup of required items. Finally, Marketing Catalogs can be combined with a tree view of stock items to vastly improve the search and inquiry capabilities of the system.

  • Point of Sale: Standard POS system plus a fast and efficient method by which sales transactions can be input without having to cope with the complexity of a more robust order entry application.

  • Assembly Work Orders: Rather than having to rely only on bills of material in a sophisticated distribution environment or conversely forcing users to purchase and contend with full-blown manufacturing suites, SouthWare provides users with a middle ground. Assembly Work Orders allows users to record a customer's order (standard or created on-the-fly), note any special instructions, calculate a final price if optional items or processes are added to a standard assembly, check availability of all components, and create applicable work orders for a simplified make-to-stock or make-to-order environment. Fixed and variable costs can be allocated to each work order and profitability checked against the price quoted.

  • Shipping Interface: Interface configurator for third-party shipping systems. Current integrations include StarShip and ClipperShip.

  • Delivery Scheduler Board: This utility allows users to examine daily and monthly views of scheduled deliveries.

  • Return Authorizations: Handles both customer and vendor returns, detailed warranty and problem descriptions, reimbursements due from vendors for labor charges, purchase orders (if required) for vendor returns, even vendor return label printing.

  • Rental Department: Supports all rental activities, including availability and scheduling conflicts, overdue contracts, serialized equipment tracking, delivery and pick up scheduling, and long term contracts with periodic billing. Rental and normal sales transactions can be included on the same invoice. The Rental Department integrates with SouthWare's Service Management applications to provide complete maintenance for all equipment available for rent.

  • Service Management Series: This is a complete service management system that is comprised of four specific applications to help companies manage service contracts, track service histories and required preventive maintenance for each piece of equipment under service contract, daily planning and dispatch, and service invoicing. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Payroll: Standard functionality.

  • Fixed Assets: Standard functionality.

  • Job Cost: Standard job costing including revenue recognition, master jobs for grouping of related jobs, AIA code set up and invoicing, certified payroll reports, and time sequencing for job shops.

  • International Transactions: Record, track and report multicurrency transactions. The Excellence Series is not fully multicurrency compliant in all applications, but it does support basic currency transactions.

Productivity Tools

  • Tree View Menu: Allows users to create an Explorer style menu organized by business process, application, or user-defined, including user created reports.

  • Tree View Inquiry: This applet helps users group and review key information according to rules they set. As an example users can review and manage open sales orders, open purchase orders, stock items, or any other aspect of a business by grouping information according to user-defined rules and then drilling down as far as necessary (e.g., sales orders can be viewed by location, billing operator, salesperson, order type and order status). This gives users the ability to zoom in on a small but important slice of all sales orders. One example of this technology would be a salesperson identifying and reviewing all sales orders waiting on back orders. As the user sifts through each layer, the system will display totals for reference purposes and at the last level will display each line item on a specific order. The same application could be used to examine specific stock items, their status, applicable vendor catalog pricing, cross-reference part numbers, substitute items, and even tracking or serial numbers.

  • FileView: This applet provides users with a built-in lookup, query, reporting, and export function. Users can selectively build a list a records that meet specified criteria in a grid, sort that list, group the list by one or more fields, preview each record in an attached pane, export the data in Excel or HTML format, and create customized reports once the records have been selected and sorted.

  • WebView: Resellers or knowledgeable users can create a complete browser'-based accounting and business management system with hyperlinks to call SouthWare programs and objects.

  • Handheld Device Access: Through its NetLink technology, SouthWare gives users access to system data and processes using handheld devices. Specific support has been provided for customer account management, a service technician portal, TaskWise task management, lookup contact information, executive review portal, order entry, stock item status check, receiving entry, and physical count entry. One of the really nice things about this new tool is that the applications have been sized so that they display in the standard handheld screen (no scrolling).

  • HTML and PDF Reporting: Grid views and reports can be exported or printed in either HTML format for posting to web sites, or in PDF format.

  • OfficeLink Interface to Microsoft MapPoint: This link allows users to view and manage route deliveries, and create a map for customer locations, scheduled service work, and other data related to geographical location.

Technology Features

  • SwiftMate: System manager.

  • ReportMate: SouthWare's report writer. SouthWare also supports F9. New reports can be created and added to any menu, as well as preselected and sorted reports. At the time the report is launched, the system will prompt the user for date ranges and other constants that are used to select or calculate information. Report designers can even display information to assist people actually running the report. Information can also be exported in HTML and XML format or posted to ExecuMate II, SouthWare's executive information system.

  • Extended Data: The Excellence Series allows users to easily add any number of user-defined fields and have those fields instantly accessible for reporting purposes. In addition users can add their own list boxes for fields, prompts, and defaults and even create simple stand-alone databases. When data fields are added the standard file definitions are not changed. This innovative concept allows users to customize their database while retaining compatibility with standard programs. At the same time it allows users instant access to new fields when creating reports.

  • SouthWare Thin Client: This application allows the Excellence Series to be configured using thin client architecture. Acucorp's Thin Client does not require programs to be split into client and server components. This means that SouthWare uses the same programs on "fat clients", "thin clients", and server-side processing. The Acucorp runtime has been split so that the user-interface portion can be displayed on the client while the program is running on the server. Thin Client may be loaded on any Windows client or installed on the network that is locally accessible to the client.

  • ProcessWise Manager: This innovative tool helps people review and manage processes within SouthWare, specifically implementation, daily and periodic processing, and upgrades. The ProcessWise Manager presents processes in a dependent list format and allows users to check each step as it is completed.

  • SouthWare WorkFlow: Acts as a bridge between the core accounting applications and any customized programming to maintain update compatibility. SouthWare has identified a large number of workflow points in the system where programmers can attach their modifications. Since the original source code has been untouched, the system can be updated easily. The flow point will stay exactly where it is thus keeping the integrity of the modification as well.

  • SouthWare NetLink: Complete system for providing browser-based access to corporate data and processes for customers (including shopping carts), vendors, and employees. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • ImportMate: Import utility with powerful filtering and validation. This will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Remote Control Fields (RCF) Packets: Remote Control Field (RCF) Packets is a technology that automates the running of SouthWare programs (e.g., end-of-day, month processing, or any repetitive process). RCF Packets are similar to a keystroke macro but add considerably more control and versatility to the process.

  • DocTransfer: Serves as the EDI interface between the Excellence Series and trading partners that send or receive information in flat file format.

  • SouthWare CheckUp: This diagnostic tool runs tests on the system, particularly system and application setup options, and looks for possible errors and warnings.

Industry Specific Applications

SouthWare supports a number of industry verticals that have been written by its resellers. The following list represents the most prominent products.

This concludes Part One of a five-part note.

Part Two will look at what makes SouthWare different.

Parts Three and Four will discuss the applications and development environment.

Part Five will provide a competitive analysis and make user recommendations.

About the Author

Charles Chewning, Jr. is president of Solutions, a Richmond, Virginia-based consulting firm specializing in accounting software selection. He is considered a leading software selection expert. Chewning has written a number of accounting software reviews and is a frequent speaker on the subject of accounting software selection as well as sales and marketing. He is the publisher of The Accounting Library (http://www.accountinglibrary.com). He can be reached at cchewning@accountinglibrary.com

 
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