Ever since Acumatica rolled out its latest cloud ERP vertical - construction - I've been
pestering asking them if I could get with a customer. At last week's Acumatica Summit, I got my chance via a sit down with Texas Scenic Company.
Acumatica bills their construction vertical as the only true cloud ERP for the construction industry. My question for Ronald Fairchild, CFO of Texas Scenic Company, was: why take the early adopter plunge?
Texas Scenic (TSC) is a compelling company. Dating all the way back to 1936, TSC is a theatrical equipment company and theatrical systems integrator. They supply specialized theater items such as stage curtains, counterweight and motorized rigging, theatrical lighting, dimming and control equipment, and a whole lot more. TSC has been part of some gorgeous theater renovations, such as the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach and Richmond Center Stage in Richmond, VA.
I don't know about you, but I'm fascinated by specialized companies that punch above their weight. Not many people know that the theatrical equipment industry even exists. So I asked Fairchild, how did he wind up as CFO?
I've been there since 2001. I actually got there as an IT consultant, and the consultant just never left.
Getting a tech edge in the construction industry
Fairchild was an accountant by degree, but he warmed to the IT-finance crossover. Though Texas Scenic Company has stood the test of time, it hasn't always been easy. Fairchild:
It's a very competitive space. The downturn in 2008 created an environment where there was a lot of pressure on profit margins. We're primarily a hard bid dollar contractor, so that makes us a little bit of a unique business in that there's not a lot of ability to renegotiate terms or negotiate custom deals.
The construction industry has changed, but price pressures remain:
There's been a slight movement in the industry for more of a partnering-type mentality. Lean construction was a buzzword for a while. Construction is evolving, but it's still pretty much as it was forever, where it's the low-dollar guy is the guy that wins. Because of that, you need every competitive edge that you can get.
Fairchild knows technology can be a big differentiator:
It's helped us give a little bit better opportunity over some of our competitors.
Prior to moving to Acumatica Construction, TSC was coming off Timberline (now Sage 300 CRE). Fairchild recalls a time when that Timberline software was leading edge, but times change.
The search for modern construction ERP software
So why make a move? It all started about six years ago. Fairchild realized his IT wizardry and elbow grease could only take TSC so far:
There's a bunch of custom integrations that I had developed back in '97, '98, and 2000. That filled in the missing pieces for what was missing for Texas Scenic specifically, as far as Timberline was concerned. It got to the point to where it was time to either rewrite all of that stuff, or see what the alternatives were.
Fairchild and team began a search. They looked at construction-style vertical software, but they also manufacture equipment, which adds to the requirements lists:
We have a small retail sales operation, and we also have a service department, so finding a piece of software that can address all those different needs is not super, super easy.
They put the search on hold for a while. But then their consulting partner, Clients First, had a new idea:
They said, "We've started working with this new package, Acumatica. You might want to take a look at it, because it kind of hits all the points that you are trying to find a solution for."
Fairfield kicked the tires:
Sure enough, it really had the manufacturing... At the time, Acumatica did not have construction, but it had projects. It looked like it was close enough to construction that we could make it work. It also has the distribution, which was for the retail sales and the inventory.
Then Fairchild got another call from Clients First: Acumatica had launched a construction-specific module. So they put the project on pause. Fairchild didn't mind waiting for the right software:
I used to be a Timberline implementation specialist ... You run the risk if you ramrod it through too fast, you don't end up with a good result.
Being an early adopter can be tricky in its own right. I asked Fairchilld: how did Acumatica Construction look at first review?
It definitely had enough of the construction flavor to where it was easier to wrap your head around. You could tell it was still early, but you could definitely tell that they were on the right track.
Go-live ahead - what's in store?
They are now about three months from go-live:
We're extremely close. We're actually in the conversion steps right now. The processes have all been put in place, so now we're trying to do the cutover in the most sensible manner possible.
Fairchild is excited by what he sees, from manufacturing to reporting:
We really had no good way to handle the manufacturing fabrication portion of the operations. Now we have something that we can build around.
Drilling into costs is appealing:
In our particular industry, there's only very few of us that make our own equipment. So the better we know what our equipment costs actually are, and what our manufacturing costs are, the more competitive we can become.
Fairchild is looking forward to the Acumatica Projects view:
The project managers will have a much easier time of finding what they need. Right now, they have to go to several different systems to get that information, so just having one log-in for them will make it a lot easier.
TSC's project managers typically handle 30 to 40 projects at a time. Fishing for data is not a good use of their time. That adds up to 500 - 600 projects a year, which makes me wonder about that classic IT dilemma: change management. How are users responding so far?
This is actually the first system where we actually have users asking, "When are we going to go live?" Instead of, "I dread the day that we're going to live." That was a pleasant surprise. I've been doing this for 30-odd years. This is the first time I've had that.
The wrap - modernizing ERP for a new generation
I asked Fairchild is he was going to miss the fun of custom coding. He told me he'd still have a few opportunities. Acumatica has built in some new features for Texas Scenic, including a way to upload vendor catalogs. But for the most part, Fairchild will be looking at add-ons, not coding:
The good thing about software these days, if you pick the right solution, which Acumatica definitely falls into, you've got all the additional add-ons. They've got integration with Power BI. They've got an integration with Smartsheet. They announced integration with Tableau today. Those kind of things give you the ability to do custom dashboards and whatnot.
The CFO side is the right focus:
Spend your efforts on the things that make the system extremely useful for the company, rather than just trying to make it work at a basic level.
Fairchild also sees Acumatica tying into transitions at Texas Scenic to a new generation of workers - workers that expect modern software.
A company that's been around since 1936, believe it or not, probably still has some practices that are from 1936, so we're trying to bring it into a more data-driven approach.
After go-live, Fairchild is looking forward to sharing data with employees, and acting on that data quickly:
Just engaging your employees to where you can catch their attention, and then hopefully at the same time, you're giving them useful information that they can act on - and not necessarily just react to... We're excited about it, we really are.