In my Acumatica Summit review, I raised a fundamental question: isn't it time to judge ERP based on customer impact, not on transactional efficiency? As I wrote in Acumatica Summit 2023 - Acumatica stakes its claim to modern ERP:
Whether we call it modern ERP, post-modern ERP, or something else entirely, it all comes back to this: "Is ERP helping to serve your customers better?" If not, then why did you bother upgrading to a new system? That may sound harsh, but I believe that's the bar now.
However, I left one question hanging:
I asked that question of every Acumatica customer I spoke with - and they all had good, specific examples of how Acumatica is helping serve their own customers better.
It wasn't hard to press the question: Acumatica's customer success and comms teams literally deluged me with customers - not to mention those I ran into on the show floor. There were lessons-a-plenty, but my attention was drawn by the vivid stories of two healthcare customers, starting with LifeSource.
LifeSource - why their organizational mission requires modern ERP applications
I try to separate out my emotions from enterprise coverage. For me, events are ultimately about bringing a real world view of projects to our readers, not dwelling on drama. However, it wasn't easy for me to hold it together when the LifeSource team shared their organ donation stories - including their donor quilt, garden, and tips for donors writing letters to transplant recipients.
Organ donation is vitally important - but that doesn't mean it is easy. In LifeSource's mission, grace and tragedy often come together. Peter Farstad, Chief Administrative Officer at LifeSource, told me this story:
I remember meeting a donor father at one of our events; he had arrived alone, and so I went and started talking to him. Their son became a donor. His wife didn't attend; she was really bitter and angry about his death. She wasn't on board with donation. He pulled a letter that must have been folded and unfolded 1,000 times, from one of the recipients of his son's organs. That's the connection to hope that he's grasping to be able to make the next steps.
Within a couple of years, his wife started attending. It's a process. We're working with families on the very hardest day of their lives... It might be hard to see that this is a good thing. And yet, many, many people make that choice. We operate in a sacred space.
Wait - now I'm supposed to pull it together and talk about cloud ERP? But in fact, LifeSource can't fulfill its mission without modern ERP applications.
I've contrasted the different factors of cloud ERP value: from the baseline of operational efficiency, to the advanced aspects of better decision-making - and better customer value. But as LifeSource CEO Kelly White told me, when it comes to Acumatica, all three are intertwined:
I've had the privilege of really getting to know these people to implement Acumatica. From a LifeSource point of view, what I'm excited about is it helps us with the back office work, and, I would say, gained efficiency, so that we can really focus on what you talked about: the purposeful work of saving lives.
How do we enhance that technology even further? There's certain capabilities we use today. But how do we continue to do that? I keep going back to the efficiency and the analytical background, so that we know what decisions we need to make moving forward to enhance total organs transplanted, and total donors in the future. Ultimately, how do we use this to save more lives?
I've always felt Acumatica underplayed their licensing/pricing advantages, but perhaps that is about to change. Maybe it's the economic headwinds, but these days, customers bring this up again and again. Case in point, LifeSource Chief Administrative Officer Matthew Forse:
In 2018, we decided that we were going to implement a new accounting system in 2020. [Our partner] Blytheco did the legwork of finding a few systems they thought we might be interested in. We did the demos. The thing we really liked about Acumatica - and what kind of set them apart - was the affordability for a smaller company. The other products that we looked at - they would work great for us. But their cost was based on the users.
Even though we're a small company, we have a fair amount of users, because we use it for approving invoices. So we're sending invoices over to different managers and whatnot. Another thing that really drew us to Acumatica was that it's on the cloud. The system that we had before was on a server at our building. It was something we had to manage. On the cloud, we don't have to worry about security - all that is handled by Acumatica.
What's next for LifeSource? Lessons from the Acumatica Summit
Why did the LifeSource team make the trek to the Acumatica Summit? Healthcare may not be one of Acumatica's main verticals, but as Farstad told me, there is quite a bit of overlap with manufacturing - and plenty to learn from talking shop with other customers:
The areas that Acumatica seems to have a focus on - construction, manufacturing, distribution - on the surface, you would think, 'Well, we've got nothing in common,' but you know, well-run organizations always have something in common.
What we were talking about earlier is inventory management. Manufacturing has inventory management; Acumatica has got inventory management. We could learn a lot from a manufacturing customer that uses Acumatica, trying to integrate an inventory control system.
Farstad sees an opportunity for LifeSource to extract more value from Acumatica here. He says the current interface to their inventory management system is "marginally successful." But given the mission-critical nature of LifeSource's inventory, he sees an opportunity:
We could expand with Acumatica. We have a medical record system. There could be a lot of possibilities to really understand how we are doing our work, and be able to streamline and do our work better.
Another good reason for the LifeSource team to be at this year's Acumatica Summit? They won Acumatica's 2023 customer impact award. Now that LifeSource's main Acumatica implementation is over, what's next?
Forse says they are looking to get more value out of reporting - a big theme of this year's event. One way they are doing that is through Velixo, a popular Acumatica partner specializing in deep Excel integration. They would also like to integrate their medical records system directly with Acumatica - that would eliminate more manual work. LifeSource has an HR roadmap item also: Forse says their current payroll system isn't going to be supported after 2024. That could bring Acumatica's payroll option into play.
For White, it's the fusion of talent management and financials that will take their use of Acumatica to the next level:
The more I can start to look at staffing models along with my financials, I can start to use those resources, because we are a 24/7 shop. For a midsize company, you have to be really thoughtful about: 'How do I maximize my staff, and save as many lives as possible?' That could be incredible as well, to inform how we use our resources better.
Is LifeSource serving customers better with modern ERP - even if they have a lot more they still want to do with Acumatica? The answer was definitely yes. The LifeSource team gave me examples, including getting invoices approved faster, signing checks and managing payables remotely - even while at the Summit. Customer responsiveness is an overlooked part of finance, that is certain.
Another compelling Acumatica healthcare story came via Avante Health Solutions - while at the Summit, the Avante team (pictured above) picked up the Acumatica customer of the year award. So what was the key to this award-winning project? After the keynote, Amy Behl, Customer Administration Manager at Avante Health Solutions, told me why Avante Health moved to Acumatica:
At Avante Health Solutions, we sell, service, and repair medical equipment, on site - in hospitals, in-house repairs. We offer loaner equipment to hospitals while their equipment is being serviced.
But the diversity of Avante's customer base isn't something an old school system can handle. Behl continued:
We have a very wide variety of customers that we work with day-to-day in patient monitoring, ultrasound, diagnostic imaging and our medical surgical suite. As I mentioned during the keynote, we were operating eight different companies - working out of eight or nine different systems. We really wanted to move towards something that could handle all of the complexities of what we do, but still allow us to work as one organization, and present ourselves as one Avante.
A cloud-based system was non-negotiable, especially during a pandemic go-live. Behl:
The cloud-based system was critical for us as well, because we implemented in 2020, right in the middle of COVID. It was a challenging time - hospitals were really shutting down.
The slowdown presented a golden opportunity to rethink:
It allowed us some time to take a step back, and reevaluate how we transact business, so that when hospitals re-open, we can jump right in.
Khan Tran, Chief Technology Officer at Avante Health, said that remote access was just the beginning: the pandemic accelerated healthcare's digital shifts. Avante Health wanted an ERP system that would help drive that change:
The healthcare sector has been slow moving to the digital era. The pandemic helped to push that over. We wanted to make sure that we're ready, and at the forefront of that opportunity. That was another reason why we wanted to do this faster and sooner than later.
The first Avante Health division went live on Acumatica in 2019; by January 2021, all divisions were live. My big talking point about modern ERP is: keep pushing. There is so much more to tap into after go-live. The Avante team is making the same discovery. SaaS ERP doesn't have to be vanilla; Tran says customizations have paid off, even if we don't really call this type of thing "customization" in cloud ERP:
Acumatica has a very good developer collaboration and partner program, so it allows us some flexibility on top of Acumatica itself. So that's another side benefit that we didn't even know coming in.
Behl says this advanced stage of usage includes a better use of data, including role-based dashboards:
Now that we've been in Acumatica for so long and using it, we understand it so much better. We're continuing to adjust our processes, and to use their upgrades and improvements that they're putting out. As we get more involved in the system, there's other ways we can look at the data. So we can customize new dashboards for teams - teams that wouldn't normally have dashboards will have them now.
For Tran, getting value out of Acumatica traces back to that goal few companies ever get to: a true, single source of data truth. Avante Health has come a long way from nine separate systems of record:
People talk about systems of record, a single source of truth. In reality, it's basically a patchwork of integration, or heavy duty. Here, the single source of truth is a reality for us - and our partner Kensium was there with us along the way to make it happen. We didn't do it alone; it's a collaboration of innovation, if you will, but it's truly housed in one system in the cloud. It's a benefit we went after.
There is plenty of room to grow from here - drawing from the same data/applications platform.
Beyond that now is all the different modules that Acumatica provide, depending on what you're looking for, and the degree of complexity and maturity you're looking for. But at least it comes from the same source. So the quality of the data, is there for us to work with, tweak, enhance, adjust, massage. It's an evolution, but it's in one place.
Yes, I also asked the Avante Health team my ERP customer value question. One example they gave me? The speed and efficiency of financial audits - freeing up time for value-add projects. "The ability to quickly gather data, turn around and support the audit at hand, is golden," says Tran. But Avante Health also shared an example they didn't expect Acumatica to deliver: ease of employee onboarding.
When I dig into the customer impact of ERP projects, I include employees as a stakeholder group - especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. So a 50% faster onboarding process is a nice win. As Tran explains:
It used to take months. Now it takes days or weeks, at most... Given the dynamic of the industry with the labor force, it's suddenly become a key metric.
These are the stories worth getting on a plane for. It's always good to validate cloud ERP proof points - and it doesn't end here.