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Nelson\Nygaard: Revamping a Troublesome System

describe the imageNelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. is a rapidly-growing transportation planning firm, with 120 employees working in its San Francisco headquarters and eight satellite offices. Casey Boswell joined the firm in August 2012 as its Director of Business Services, overseeing A/P, A/R, contracts, compliance, and project administration — essentially, its Controller. He very quickly realized the challenges he faced.

Early lessons

First, the existing books were in disarray. “What I quickly discovered was that the books had never been set up properly. In fact, after I spent several months rebuilding them, they went from showing a $600,000 YTD loss to a $500,000 profit for the same period.”

The existing system, he learned, had been purchased two years before, based primarily on its low cost; but people weren’t using it. Boswell contacted the vendor to ask for support, and was unimpressed by the third-party consultants they sent, who seemed neither very interested nor capable of helping.

Boswell had experience using Deltek Vision in previous positions with other firms, so he knew it could address many of Nelson\Nygaard’s problems. But the timing was bad; the firm was going through a period in which some of its founders were ready to retire, and the board was leery of making a major capital investment.

Meanwhile, the firm’s COO had begun exploring the pros and cons of switching to Deltek Vision, not only for its accounting capabilities, but also for its ability to integrate with Newforma project management software. He asked Boswell to look into the logistics and cost of implementing Deltek Vision. In January 2013, Boswell searched online and found four companies that worked with Deltek Vision. “I sent identical emails to all four, and the only firm to reply was Full Sail Partners — and they basically said, ‘We know who you are — and we want to work with you.’”

A different tone

“From the beginning, I appreciated the approach that Full Sail Partners took,” says Boswell. “They came out and met with me, and actually listened to me in order to understand the issues I was dealing with.”

For example, one of the limitations of the firm’s existing system was that it could not accommodate foreign currency. As a result, Boswell notes, the firm was facing significant foreign exchange exposure. “In fact, we were actually losing money by billing clients in US dollars and being paid in Canadian dollars.”

“Together, we talked through the shape of the solution we needed. I never felt like I was being sold to — and we ended up deciding on a package that met our operational as well as budgetary needs.” While Nelson\Nygaard’s board evaluated the costs and benefits of scrapping the previous system and reinvesting in Deltek Vision, Boswell explains, “Full Sail Partners was very patient while we went through the process. I sum it up in two words: gentle persistence — and it was exactly what we needed.”

After the board’s approval to go with Deltek Vision and Full Sail Partners, the rest of the process has gone quickly, says Boswell. “We coasted through the rest of the fourth quarter, and in early January 2014, Scott Gailhouse [a senior consultant at Full Sail Partners] came out for a two-day meeting with me and my staff, where we set out a basic format of the data and discussed various conversion issues. Now Full Sail Partners is doing the backend programming, and we expect to go live on May 1, 2014,” says Boswell.

In fact, Boswell’s biggest challenge right now is making sure that his people have realistic expectations about Deltek Vision. “I’ve told people from day one, it’s not going to be a ‘magic 8 ball,’” he says with a chuckle. “No matter how hard you shake it, it’s not going to magically give you answers. It has to have the data going into it in an efficient and correct way in order for it to give back.”

That being said, Boswell is personally looking forward to several specific capabilities of Deltek Vision.

Looking forward

For starters, Boswell is eager to convert to an accounting system that can handle foreign currencies and limit the firm’s financial exposure.

“Also, it’s going to be much easier for our management to get insights into projects that are either over or under budget, and why. With our old system, to run such reports you needed a SQL programmer on hand, or had to call customer service. With Deltek Vision, it’s going to be a much easier, faster process.”

Deltek Vision will also represent a major improvement in how the firm manages its customer information. Previously, it had used a home-grown customer database that did not integrate with other systems. “With Deltek Vision, the CRM package will integrate with our financial and project information, and play a major role in supporting our proposal and business development processes. We provided over 600 proposals last year, and that number is going up. We’re really looking forward to Deltek Vision’s CRM integration to help us handle the increased pace.”

Last but not least, Boswell anticipates a better customer service experience. “Full Sail Partners saw in us not only a sale, but also a customer they could bring in as part of their family,” Boswell observes. “That’s what was missing with our previous vendor. In fact, we’ve had more service from Full Sail Partners in 3 months during this conversion than we had in 3 years under the old provider. Knowing that when I call and ask for assistance, help is going to come — that’s the relationship we want.” 

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