“I am confident IRIS Star Practice Management will continue to pay for itself many times over.”
Nicos Nicolaides, Managing Partner
• IRIS Star Practice Management
Back in 2001, PwC set about withdrawing from certain client work in a number of jurisdictions due to conflicts arising from Sarbanes-Oxley legislation – and in Cyprus, Nicos Nicolaides and two fellow PwC partners seized on the unique opportunity this created.
With the blessing of PwC, they were able to acquire a well-established business, with a strong client base and healthy revenue stream, to create Abacus. They sealed the deal by stepping down as partners in PwC, giving up their stake in the firm and settling the balance of the valuation of the business with a cash payment. They also took on a number of the existing staff while PwC agreed to provide practice management services, internal accounting support and IT maintenance to help smooth transition to the new firm.
Everybody benefited. PwC complied with Sarbanes-Oxley; it was pretty much business as usual for the partners and staff, albeit under a new name; and the delivery of high quality client services through Abacus continued without interruption.
Now with offices in Nicosia and Limassol, Abacus is a leading independent professional services firm in Cyprus.
The sub-contracted support agreement served Abacus well until the middle of 2003 when PwC said it would be ending the arrangement and that Abacus would have to take its accounting and IT in-house. The solution was to move to a new Microsoft NAV financial accounting system, employ some of PwC’s IT people direct and bring the existing practice management system in-house.
“That suited us for the next three to four years but the practice management system was beginning to show its age. The system was developed in the 1990s and technology had moved on considerably – as had our expectations of what an up-to-date application could do to support the continued growth and profitability of the firm. It was time to review alternatives,” Nicos Nicolaides, Managing Partner of Abacus explained.
Nicos insists that he is not an IT expert but he appreciates the issues that have to be addressed when deploying technology for business benefit. Before Abacus, he was the Senior Partner in charge of PwC’s management consulting services division on Cyprus and also served as CEO of a software house owned by PwC – experience which was very useful during the review process.
“In 2009 we set up an internal project team which included our IT manager and a line partner, and also engaged Nicosia-based IT consulting firm Exelsys, to prepare a statement of requirements and research potential suppliers. The contribution of Kyriacos Fiakkas, the Managing Director of Exelsys, was especially valuable as he had worked on the development of the existing practice management software and had also maintained and supported the system. Kyriacos knew the firm, our people, how we operated and what we needed from a replacement system. He was the ideal person to advise us,” Nicos said.
“The IRIS Star Practice Management response to the statement of requirements was professional and comprehensive,” Kyriacos recalled. “An initial demonstration confirmed that the IRIS Star Practice Management software should be shortlisted – and we followed up with a visit to Star’s offices in the UK where we spent a day going through the system in detail. We discussed with their consultants how they would implement the application, drawing on installations in similar firms.”
“From the moment we saw the statement of requirements we knew that IRIS Star Practice Management software would be a perfect match,” says Ian Thompson, a Senior Manager at Star. “We have tremendous experience of working with professional services firms around the world. With Abacus, the key challenges we knew we should focus on were a good data conversion from the legacy system and integrating IRIS Star Practice Management with the firm’s Microsoft Dynamics NAV finance system as well as their own very impressive HR application, which is also Microsoft SQL based. Star is a long-term Dynamics NAV reseller and has a ready-made NAV interface with its Practice Management system, so Star consultants were very well placed to work alongside Exelsys’ consultants to provide a total solution.”
Nicos commented that the team felt very comfortable that they had chosen the right partner in IRIS Star Practice Management: “There was considerable synergy between what Abacus wanted and what Star offered. We anticipated that the Star system would help increase our competitive edge through higher levels of efficiency and better access to management information – and in my view that has proven to be the case.”
Abacus is proud of its professional standing and of the fact that it delivers a range and quality of services equal to those of the large international practices – but without the constraints associated with traditional networks. Raising corporate statutory compliance standards, fulfilling accounting obligations, dealing with tax compliance issues, carrying out payroll functions and other related activities – accurately, objectively and with integrity – is at the heart of the business.
“The IT tools and software we have adopted underpin our ability to deliver first-class professional services,” Nicos added. “Abacus believes very much in the application of appropriate information technology to help run our business better. We sell time and if we save just a 15 minute unit, or even better an hour, that is equivalent to money coming into the practice. We spare no expense in the drive to become more efficient. And better efficiency means less day-to-day administration which in turn frees up time that can be spent on servicing clients and building the business.”
IRIS Star Practice Management’s modular approach allows users to focus on those parts of the Practice Management System that are most important to them. At the heart of the system is its powerful time and billing software which links seamlessly to workflow processes, staff resource planning and management, CRM and business intelligence and reporting tools.
The CRM module helps Abacus manage client and contact relationships, take advantage of new revenue opportunities and run effective marketing initiatives. User definable forms – usually found only in high-end ERP solutions – give great flexibility and control over data capture and presentation, providing strict security while underpinning compliance in the key areas of client, job, staff and contact data. This means Abacus can hold a substantial amount of information about companies, clients and engagements in a single location, and importantly, that it can trust the content.
IRIS Star Practice Management has a range of business intelligence and reporting tools designed to ensure immediate access to key information, and where possible, automation of pre-defined reports.
The Star Dashboard – a powerful yet easy to use business information tool – enables partners, managers and authorized staff at Abacus to find any information in the underlying database and present it in a visual way that is highly intuitive and helpful.
Commenting on the contrast between the old and the new systems, Nicos said, “We invoice clients on a quarterly basis. With the old batch processing system, we had to issue every bill due during that period before posting them – and it took an average of three weeks after closing the quarter to complete. Now that we do this in real-time, the process has been sped up significantly.
“Time and expenses are entered into the timesheet system online and the billing cycle is finished five calendar days or less after the end of the quarter. Being able to bill two weeks earlier has a positive impact on cash flow and we estimate this saves around €50,000 a year in interest charges.
The system is easier and faster to use, so partners and managers can use the time saved to service clients and earn more income.”
In addition, the immediacy and quality of management reporting has improved.
Abacus has around 150 staff spread across six operational groups, each with its own budget, split into quarters. Performance is tracked through a number of KPIs, such as how much is being billed and profitability, by client and accumulatively across divisions. The information is taken from the online IRIS Star Practice Management dashboard, which also updates in real-time, and is fed into a confidential Excel spreadsheet for review.
“A complete set of Management Reports could take three or four weeks after quarter end to appear,” explains Nicos. “But now, with IRIS Star Practice Management, they become available for review within just a few days.”
Efficiencies found by bringing together what had been three disparate systems have been significant. New staff and changes to staff details are made in the HR application and automatically inserted into the staff records within Star. Supplier invoices with rechargeable expense items are passed from Accounts Payable in NAV directly into Star. Staff expenses are passed across into Accounts Payable for reimbursement while period end financials pass from Star straight into the NAV General Ledger. All of these save hours of manual effort and eliminates the risk of errors being introduced through re-keying.
“The beneficial impact of IRIS Star Practice Management across the business has been dramatic,” Nicos says, “and substantiates the firm’s attitude to information technology. I don’t have much technical interest in hardware and equipment, but I am interested in the business outcome. We are always very willing to look at new technology on the basis that even if a partner approves just one bill from home, the payback on investment in IT starts to be measured in weeks. I am confident IRIS Star Practice Management will continue to pay for itself many times over.”
Case Study first published April 2012.