Four years ago, my agency underwent a massive systems migration, transitioning from historically siloed accounting and media booking systems to an integrated cloud solution. The efficiencies realized through this migration, although both time-consuming and resource intensive, have enabled growth and evolution within our business that would not have been possible otherwise.
I know many organizations struggle with the question of whether a systems migration of this nature makes sense for their business and—if so—whether a cloud-based solution is the right fit for their organization. In this article, I’ll walk you through our decision-making process, the questions and challenges we faced, and the benefits we’ve seen as a result of our migration to the cloud.
The Fragmentation Problem
Four years ago, DWA had no central accounting system. Globally, we were completely fractured. DWA has nine offices spanning the NAM, EMEA, and APAC regions. In the U.S., we were using QuickBooks. Everywhere else in the world, we were using different versions of Sage. In some countries, we were outsourcing our accounting. In short, we had no single source of truth when it came to our company’s financials.
Perhaps an even bigger issue was that every number had to be entered two or three times in different places. We’d have to enter data into our old media booking system, which back then was an Access database that we used to produce purchase orders and insertion orders. Then, at some point, those figures would need to be transferred into QuickBooks or Sage in order to record revenue and cost of sales. Of course, redundant entry of data like that opens up significant opportunities for human error. And when there would be an error in one system, it was always a hassle to sort out.
Our migration to cloud systems has made us nimbler for the future
Then, of course, there were the reconciliation problems. Everyone would send in their individually formatted reports, each one different from the next, and everything would have to be linked together in a master Excel file. That included converting all the local currency numbers from seven different countries into a single currency so that we could get one global view.
As you might imagine, it was really difficult to get a timely view of the numbers on a month-by-month basis.
A Better Look at Financials
When we decided to take the leap and invest in overhauling our systems, we knew we wanted a single financial platform for everyone—one that could handle currency conversions automatically and enable our team to slice and dice the numbers without spending two weeks compiling a report.
We considered a number of options, and ultimately, we chose NetSuite as our financial system. NetSuite offers a robust multi-subsidiary, multi-currency tool. It let us get rid of all of our various tools, where financial information just sat on someone’s PC until being reported into the global accounting team. It enabled us to move to having one consistent set of numbers that let you see the global organization’s financials, in a single currency, at the push of a button.
There were multiple systems that could have delivered this single view— including less expensive options where you host software on your own servers and connect all offices to one another via VPN. But VPNs can be slow and flaky, and we determined those solutions weren’t going to deliver the reliable, real-time view we wanted. With a cloud solution, all you need is an internet connection to work within the system. You don’t have to worry about network downtime or managing server security. Everyone gets access to the same functionality, and entered data becomes viewable to the global team instantly.
Connecting Systems, Delivering Results
At the same time, we were upgrading our accounting system, we knew we also needed a better system for managing media bookings. After some consideration, we decided to go with Salesforce for our media bookings, which at the same time gave us a significant upgrade on our CRM capability. The attraction of Salesforce was that it was significantly more affordable and easier to customize than many “full ERP” solutions and could be connected to NetSuite so that the two could share needed information on both sides. We did this through a series of pre-built and customized connectors, and now the relevant financial information from media bookings in Salesforce drops through, automatically and in real time, into NetSuite. And vice versa. Again, that’s the beauty of the cloud.
In connecting NetSuite to Salesforce, we again eliminated the need to be entering the same numbers into two different systems. Without a doubt, our accounting these days is more accurate and error-free than it’s ever been. Where we used to take up to 21 days to close out a month, we’re now able to do so on the second or third working day of the month.
Since our systems migration, we’ve grown from $50-60 million in annual billings to close to $250 million. And, believe it or not, we have fewer people in our finance department than we did four years ago. We’re spending more on our financial systems now, but we need fewer people to run them. In addition, our media team spends a lot less time answering finance queries and dealing with invoices. In short, the efficiencies we’ve realized have been significant.
Just last year, our agency was acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network's performance marketing agency Merkle. The due diligence process around acquisitions is quite intensive. Frankly, if we had still been on our fractured systems of four years ago, I don’t think we would have been able to get through the process and ultimately complete the deal.
Perhaps most importantly, our migration to cloud systems has made us nimbler for the future. The media landscape changes quickly, and as an agency, we have to be able to shift with it. Being on the cloud, we’re able to upgrade easily to the latest versions of systems, and we’re not being forced into five- to 10-year software contracts that won’t enable us to make changes when the need arises. With our current systems, we’re able to stay relevant and on the cutting edge without the burden of major capital investments. And in our industry, that’s the difference between leading and being left in the dust.