Answering the Call for Better Accounting and Distribution with Sage MAS 500
With eight operating companies — including several governed by Part 32 procedures -Sierra Tel needed a faster, more accurate accounting system
Since 1895, Sierra Tel has been providing telecommunications services to businesses and residents in rural California. With headquarters in Oakhurst, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, the company today includes 11 corporations that deliver a full portfolio of capabilities including long-distance telephone, Internet and wireless, quick-copy services for the public, and financial and investment management for the parent company.
Although each Sierra Tel corporation is run separately, all accounting needs are addressed by the corporate accounting department. Led for over a decade by Accounting Manager Anne Miller, the 16-person department is organized into teams that include an accountant responsible for general ledger, an accounts payable bookkeeper and, in some cases, a plant accountant who looks after equipment, ground cable and other assets. Each team serves more than one operating corporation.
Recently, Miller and her team faced—and overcame—some significant challenges around the complexity inherent in meeting the accounting requirements of Sierra Tel’s diverse corporations. As she explains, “Most of the corporations are for-profit enterprises that follow standard rules of accounting. However, Sierra Telephone participates in the Universal Service program and needed to meet special reporting requirements for many regulated agencies. Universal Service is the guideline designed to ensure that all Americans enjoy equitable, affordable access to telecommunications services regardless of where they live or how densely populated the area is.” Those Sierra Tel companies fall under regulatory guidelines known as Part 32 of the Uniform System of Accounts (USOA).
“Part 32 spells out very clear rules for how we must allocate revenues and costs,” Miller says. “In addition, we face demanding federal reporting requirements for these corporations.”
Sierra Tel has to have clear documentation that money was received, that it was used in an appropriate manner, and that the resulting new or improved assets have been properly captured on the balance sheet. Adding to that complexity, Miller and her team also have to roll up all 11 companies—regulated and deregulated alike—to a single holding company.
“Even though each corporation has an operations-type manager responsible for the outcome of that company, it’s all consolidated into a set of financials for the Board of Directors,” Miller notes.
Seeking a Better Approach
Unfortunately, using Sierra Tel’s longstanding accounting system, it was nearly impossible to quickly, accurately and efficiently meet all of the requirements under Part 32. And if Miller and her team had been any doubt that the old system wasn’t effective, those doubts were eliminated by their experiences at the end of 2005—when the team had no ability to supply reports electronically and was spinning their wheels with manual balancing.
“Just as one example, we had an Excel spreadsheet for continuing property records that was 10,000 lines long,” Miller says. “And we had to balance that to one of the asset accounts. We simply couldn’t supply the information we needed to supply.”
That was frustrating for Miller and her team, whose goal is to provide financial information to managers in a timely fashion.
With Sage MAS 500 and Sage FAS, which manages and tracks fixed assets throughout their lifecycle and includes CIP (Construction in Progress) capabilities—Miller and her team felt confident they’d found the solution they needed.
“We believed we could modify the software to track our work orders and then, when a work order was closed, the project would become an asset,” Miller explains. “We were thrilled that we could link our asset management and work order systems directly to the general ledger.”
Implementing the New System
For help understanding all of the requirements and modifying and implementing the Sage solution, Sierra Tel turned to CompuData. Working in partnership with another Sage reseller, the CompuData team successfully rolled out an all-new accounting and distribution system that includes Sage MAS 500 version 7.0, Sage FAS for asset depreciation, Sage FAS 100 CIP for tracking work orders and Sage Abra for human resources and payroll management.
The project began in the summer of 2006 and went live in December. Miller has been more than pleased with the work to date: “CompuData was able to come out and understand where we were trying to get.”
Now, instead of manually tracking assets and consolidating the various general ledgers, the team has a single, integrated system. A project is created as a MAS 500 work order; time is recorded in Abra and passed through to the MAS 500 accounting system; materials are recorded; and, finally, the asset is electronically moved into the Sage FAS fixed asset management system to be depreciated.
Miller is extremely happy with this new, streamlined approach. She said the bottom-line difference is simple: they now have the ability to generate required reports when they are needed.
“We are now closing our books on time—and providing financial reports to our managers on time,” Miller notes.
Planning Next Steps
With the new accounting and distribution system in place, Sierra Tel is moving ahead with a web-based requisition application, which will seamlessly integrate with the Sage MAS 500 solution. And the company is working with CompuData on a third initiative: warehouse automation.
Miller’s advice to her peers: “When faced with a major system implementation or upgrade, find a solid partner like CompuData. Interview the people who will be working with you,” she says. “Make sure they’re willing to listen and learn. When you have people like that, then you’ll achieve the goal that you want.”