InFocus represents a breed of software that is best described as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). ERP software is distinguished by its ability to deliver an integrated suite of business applications. In the case of InFocus, these applications include: Accounting, Job Cost Management, Time and Billing, Resource Planning, Marketing Support, and Business Intelligence (BI).

These applications are fully integrated into InFocus rather than existing as a collection of loosely linked modules or third party add-ons.

The ability to deliver an integrated suite of applications is fundamental within the architecture of InFocus. ERP capacity was designed into the software from inception and incorporated into the original tables and scripted code. Ongoing development has assured that the software makes best use of the latest technologies and design approaches. Unlike many software products still marketed to the A&E design industry; InFocus is not the result of a cobbling of new modules and features onto a 1980’s legacy time and billing system.


Conceptual Foundations

Two foundational blocks within the InFocus ERP system are the concepts of Project and Account.

Project

A Project is a cost center against which users charge time and expense. Beyond the actual application of resources through time and expense transaction entry, anticipated application of resources to a project can be budgeted, or scheduled out to the future through time based planning. The plans can be aggregated to support enterprise level resource planning and management.

Project data ultimately connects to almost all data collected into the system, and when joined to the concept of an Account, fully supports ERP requirements.

Account

In general accounting, Accounts are an enterprise level concept that supports a General Ledger and basic financial reporting. In the ERP environment, the concept of an account is significantly extended to serve as a foundation for the collection and organization of relevant project information.

A cost to a project is simultaneously a cost to the enterprise that should be collected into a single transaction rather than a separate job cost system.

Any other approach invites loss of control over the information and ultimately leads to disconnect between information used by Project Managers and that used by the firm’s executives.


Organizations

InFocus accounts are constructed from a functional base code optionally joined to one or more organizational codes. The functional base code supports basic financial accounts at the firm level, and the organizational component supports multiple companies and/or profit centered accounting for such constructs as Office, Divisions, Departments and Studios. Joining the organizational components to Project and Employee records supports cross-charging of project costs, distribution of corporate overhead expenses, and the sharing of revenue across organizations.

Support for organizational reporting is not a new concept. Traditionally, system vendors have supported this requirement through the creation of large sets of segmented functional account codes, often with a delimiter of some kind, to represent individual organizations. Report masks and other filtering devises were then incorporated into reports and other information tools to support profit center reporting.

The use of a separate organizational table, joined at a data level to the base account, greatly increases the capacity of an ERP system and BI tools to construct various organizational information reporting scenarios. This approach is significantly more flexible than relying on segmented codes and allows for governance through business rules of how organizations are applied at the transaction level.

Metrics

InFocus base account codes are associated with project revenue, cost and budgets through their designation as one of several metric profiles such as Cost/Direct/OCC. A transaction charging an account with this profile is presented in project management reports and other information tools as a Direct Project Cost related to a Consulting Service.

The metric profile determines how the revenue or cost will be presented in job costs reports, and connects to other system processes such as billing.

Coupling the organization concept with the metric concept supports performance analysis at all levels, across all sectors, of the organization from the Project Manager through to the Profit Center Manager and ultimately the Senior Executives.

Business Intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) is a set of technologies and processes that allow people at all levels of an organization to access and analyze data (Howson, Cindi, “Successful Business Intelligence”, 2nd edition, 2014). 

Following this definition, BI is the capstone on the InFocus ERP system. Through the use of various BI tools including reports, queries, graphs, tiles and grids, presented to the user across multiple customized Dashboards and specialized presentation screens such as Project Central, users at all levels of the organization have convenient real-time access to relevant information to support useful analysis.

At the transaction level, navigator queries and data links support the operational user with tools tuned to their level of need. Information drill through allows higher-level business users to quickly identify transaction level source information through top down analysis.

Data Analysts can be granted access to data tables and views through a SQL Query window. Information Specialists that are proficient with report writing can access Microsoft Reporting Services. Casual business users can write useful reports without specialized query or report writing knowledge using InFocus ReportBuilder.


Conclusion

InFocus is one of the few systems serving the A&E market that was designed from its inception as ERP software. While some users migrating from other software initially configure InFocus to simply be a time and billing system, no additional modules need be purchased and integrated to support full ERP functionality.

Everything the user needs to support ERP is already native to the software.

 

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Rob Wintz

Rob is Clearview's CFO and a CPA with over 30 years of high-level accounting experience. Since the early 1990′s, Rob has worked almost exclusively with AE firms.

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