July 10, 2006
A Sage Solution for the Construction Industry
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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About this Issue….

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Sage Timberline Office 9.3 is the newest version Sage’s integrated financial and operations software for the construction and real estate industries. In an interview with AECWeekly, Erin-Todd Hansen, product director, tells about what led up to the new version. Hansen has been with the company for 14 years (and was formerly with Timberline which was acquired three years ago).

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Industry News

A Sage Solution for the Construction Industry

by Susan Smith

Sage Timberline Office 9.3 is the newest version Sage’s integrated financial and operations software for the construction and real estate industries. In an interview with AECWeekly, Erin-Todd Hansen, product director, tells about what led up to the new version. Hansen has been with the company for 14 years (and was formerly with Timberline which was acquired three years ago).

What has transpired in the years you have been with the company?

ETH: I was the product director for the release in which we introduced the Setup Central Wizard and some other tools referenced in the 9.3 release. Sage Timberline Office makes software for estimators, project managers and accountants. These tools were designed to help our smaller clients with less complex operations quickly implement their construction accounting software – for the accountants and contract administrators.

The accounting software was successful when it first came out, but we always had challenges implementing the software. Our reputation was for software that was customizable but it was not inexpensive to have implemented into your system. The reason for this was there are so many decisions and so many reports that you might want to customize. We wanted to see if there was an easier way for our customers to come on line.

The Setup Central tool is an interview tool – much like Turbo Tax or HR Block Online – that interviews you about your business, the industry you with within, e.g., residential, electrical, commercial, etc., gathers your starting balances and then creates your company behind the scenes for you. The motivation behind this tool is to reduce the time and cost to get implemented, so our clients can get up and going as quickly as possible. We also introduced tools called “Workflow Centers” that provide a graphical representation of workflow for specific roles in a construction business. At the new users’ fingertips they’ve got one-click access to the most
commonly used reports, tasks and answers to questions for people just getting started.

When you look at traditional project management/construction accounting software, there’s a main hub window with menus to pull down for tasks, setup, reports, etc. If you’re coming off a low end solution like Peachtree or QuickBooks, it can be a big shock because you’ve just bought this really specialized accounting and job costing solution. We’ve built this graphical orientation into the software, so you can actually see a diagrammed workflow by role, so whether you’re the contract administrator or the controller or payroll person, you can see the workflow you would perform within the software, in one quick action. It makes it easy for someone who’s not
software savvy to really get up and going quite quickly. We have a tool called Timberline Office Desktop which gives you one quick access to most common reports. This is linked to an online knowledge base which is actually a standard that we use for the rest of the Sage Organization.

Specifically, what are the best practices Sage customers have pinpointed and what has Sage done in this release to address those needs?

ETH: This pertains to how clients set up their software. Examples include:

  • Ready-made cost coding structures to better manage costs for their industry (although the client can use their own custom formats),

  • Special ways to track the workers’ comp associated with the type of work being performed to ensure you don’t over pay your insurance which happens all to frequently,

  • Specialized productivity, forecasting and analysis tools and reports based on the industry of the contractor,

  • We also introduced new functionality to make data entry easier for the implementation and setting up jobs after going live. For example, we support cut and paste into our data grids. Let’s say the client is using Excel to do their estimating, they can copy and paste that information directly into the Job Setup window in which we have all of the estimate info. Same thing for the schedule of values.

    We spent 6-9 months doing research on best practices around not only how individual companies of a particular industry type such as electrical, mechanical, residential, commercial, set up and run their businesses. But we also looked at best practices just in terms of how to implement software, or take something complex and interact with the user in such a way that you’re speaking to them in layman’s terms and behind the scenes figuring out something that will be of use to them. A good example is TurboTax. Our friends over at Intuit have done a nice job of interviewing people about taxes and do it in such a way that makes sense to users, i.e., tax filing information is created
    behind the scenes. Many tax tools such as HR block really shine in that way.

    QuickBooks has an interview tool which you don’t see it at the middle market, which is where we consider ourselves to be. We also wanted to make it easy for customers to get in their starting balances but have the software do reconciliations and make sure the balances tie out just right. Accountants are generally busy people and it’s a nerve wracking thing to switch accounting systems. We want to reduce anxiety for the accountants and contract administrators. That’s what Setup Central is about.

    What tasks does Timberline Office 9.3 address that are specific to the Construction Industry?

    STH: Obviously we have tailored the Setup Central wizard to hit the most common construction industries. We also help developers and property managers with the tool as well. In terms of what we might be doing after the wizard, we have those Workflow Centers I mentioned above. The available workflow centers include – Accounts Payable, Billing and Accounts Receivable, the Controller, Job Costing and Contract Administration, Payroll and general monthly tasks. Since our software is tailored for construction, all of these features are specific to the various industries. The other tool we introduced for after you go live is Job Central. It is really all about automating the process to
    as quickly as possible set up your most common jobs and contracts. If you have some very specialized construction tasks you need to track, we already have that plumbed into the software. What we wanted to do was really streamline the steps for getting a job, contract, estimates, etc. set up.

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