Putting agile ERP to the customer test - inside Acumatica customer CCE's award-winning project

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed April 20, 2022
Agile ERP is one thing - but magical ERP? For that, I'm going to need examples. Via keynotes and sit down interviews, I got the story from Cornell Cooperative Extension. Here's how they went from legacy pain to cloud ERP results.

CCE - Acumatica Summit
(CCE team shares their Acumatica project story)

Not all customer use cases are created equal. Some are too early after go-live to tell you much. Others have limited ROI. But then there are the stories that get better and better, each time you learn more.

I wrote about the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) back in January, live from Acumatica Summit 2022. CCE's core team members were on the ground in Vegas, picking up their Acumatica Impact Customer of the Year Award - and for good reason.

When you can talk about 56 organizational go-lives(!), driven by a lean but obviously resourceful team, you have my attention.

CCE had one of the standout quotes from the show, via the video played during the keynote. As I quoted from CCE in January:

I think the perfect example of agility is Robert in the video. Just as we were doing the taping for that video, he just stepped aside on the spot and approved a [scholarship voucher in Acumatica]. That's the type of agility that would have never happened in the old system.

Since then, a lot's happened in Acumatica-land, with the departure of long time CEO Jon Roskill, and the recent hire of new CEO John Case (see my first conversation with Case on his Acumatica plans). But the CCE story stayed with me. The CCE team aired out their views on Acumatica's "agility" buzzword. They went further, describing Acumatica as "magic." Casually referring to an ERP system as "magic" is unexpected/shocking enough to justify a dedicated piece, so here we are.

On CCE's "painfully, magically-complex" cloud ERP requirements

The best way I can explain what the Cornell Cooperative Extension does is to try to list the things they don't do. Even so, that list would be short - CCE even has its own news section to track its projects, including dairy farm and climate change initiatives. The CCE mission?

CCE puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research-based solutions together, helping New York state families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.

From a cloud ERP perspective, that means an industry-crossing list of requirements - and many go-lives. Here's a flavor for this "painfully magically complex" organization, as per Sarah Fox Dayton, CCE Associate Director:

Natural resources are one part of our program. We also have huge agriculture, food security, obesity prevention, youth and family and community and economic development... Each state in the United States has at least one land grant university. The role of the land grant university is to take the research from the University [New York State University in CCE's case], and translate it out into the communities.

That spurs the need for intense collaboration - not to mention regulatory reporting. Dayton added:

It's a closely collaborative relationship. It's a painfully, magically-complex organization. The associations are subordinate governmental agencies with not-for-profit status. We have extraordinary reporting requirements at the federal, state and local level. It's part of the reason why Acumatica was a good fit. It's pretty flexible, and could adapt to the things that we need.

Revenue tracking is no picnic either. Roxanne Churchill, Statewide Finance Lead with CCE, explained:

Our funding comes from federal/state/county dollars, plus grants and contracts. So we needed to be able to slice and dice all that information, and keep all of our funders happy - keep all of our balls in the air... Right now, when you look at our chart of accounts, it's federal through the county, federal to the state; many we even break it down further.

We can roll it all up to those bigger buckets, but we need to be able to break it down to the smaller ones as well. And: we need to be able to roll it all up to the university, who we have to report to because they have to report to the federal government through their land grant status. And: the state of New York.

That's enough to challenge any ERP solution. Churchill continued:

We actually reconfigured our chart of accounts before we went live with Acumatica. There were certain things the university needs to do, so we took the opportunity to split our activity up, based on the different segments that they needed. By doing so, it's basically the push of a button, and we can get the information.

Finding the right cloud ERP

Cornell Cooperative Extension told me a classic story of legacy pain, and a multi-year push to find the right solution. I won't detail the legacy pain here. It's a story most organizations know: servers aging out, inflexible software that is anything but user friendly. "The software wasn't growing with us," said Churchill.

The licensing pain, however, deserves a mention - Acumatica's software licensing is one of the only in ERP-land not tied to user seats. Elizabeth Klug, Statewide Finance Lead with CCE, said:

Our software also limited our capacity to grow, because you had to buy a license for every single user. But in addition, our service could only handle so many users at a time. During the peak month of January, February, or March, every user might want to be on there, and get locked out of the system. So it had limited users at any one time. We had to wait for a license to become free - or kick somebody out.

About five years ago, CCE began its first RFP process. The first year was a challenge. Eventually, they moved on from the service provider running that first round, and started from scratch. In 2019, CCE sent a fifteen-person team to the Acumatica Summit, to put the finalist to the test. I asked the CCE team: was there a light bulb moment for Acumatica, or did it check the most boxes? Klug:

We asked every person that replied to the RFP to actually take our data, put it in your product, and show us what it does with our information. That's what sold Acumatica. We saw seamlessly, 'Here's our data. Here's our reports. Here's our balance sheet. Here's everything. We can see our information coming out of it.' That was so user-friendly; the main group of people that were reviewing it were just really excited.

About those 56 go-lives: CCE serves 56 associations, ranging from budgets of $200,000 to a budget of $20 million - each with  "very unique and different needs." But: they need to standardize processes and reporting. The last of the 56 organizational go-lives happened in March 2021 - a bit less than a year from kick-off (that means 56 separate tenants in Acumatica). Correction - 66 tenants. Why 66? Donna James, Statewide Finance Lead, explained:

We have some other entities within the organizations that are functioning on their own. So we created separate tenants for them as well.

This organization isn't messing around.

The wrap - on agility and "magical" ERP

Acumatica's leadership is pretty vigorous about what their cloud ERP can do, employing keynote catch phrases like "agile ERP." If you use bold catch phrases, I'm going to see if those resonate with customers. I've already noted the video example from Cornell Cooperative Extension, where a CCE employee spontaneously approved a scholarship voucher during the video itself. But during our Vegas sit down, CCE took it beyond "agile," describing Acumatica as "magic." I'm not used to hearing business software described as magic - so what makes them say that? James responded:

It's really fun to work with - it's like the information just appears in front of you. It's like it magically appears, because it's not information we could comfortably get in the past. So that's why it's magic to us.

Magic or not, these kinds of wins are definitely hard work - and they usually involve a talented services partner. No surprise, the CCE team had glowing words for their VAR, Prelude Consulting. Of course, the work never stops. The core Acumatica system is in place, but there is more. CCE is just about done with their Acumatica fixed assets project; with purchase orders and time-and-expense to follow. A major CRM push is also on deck.

The word "magic" is outside my enterprise software comfort zone, but I will listen to results. Dayton spoke to the difference Acumatica's data access makes:

It changes the way the university makes decisions or views information. It gives the association's executive directors on their board of directors a degree of information about their own organization that they didn't have access to before. So they have much more informed decision-making ability now than they had in the past.

Sounds like a result to me.

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