Aquilon an Accessible ERP for SMB

Aquilon—and Accessible ERP for SMB Aquilon bridges the gap for companies that need to move beyond entry-level accounting solutions, such as QuickBooks, yet can’t afford the high cost of mid-range enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Aquilon provides an affordable, adaptable, and feature- rich solution with a low total cost of ownership. Headquartered in Burnaby, British Columbia, Aquilon Software was founded in 2006 by Phil Patton and Greg Condon. The two have been working together for more than 25 years to deliver ERP software solutions. Aquilon’s history of developing, implementing, and supporting business software has led to the development of a complete package for the customer. This package starts with an extensive set of tools to load and manage data in the system, along with ubiquitous query tools available across the entire system. The system is wrapped up in a user interface that is easy to understand and work within. The Aquilon ERP suite is a single, integrated ERP system that offers financial, distribution, manufacturing, supply chain, and customer relationship management (CRM) functions for small and midsize businesses. Figure 1 depicts an overview of the solution components. Figure 1. Aquilon ERP application components The solution is built for wholesale distribution, light manufacturing, and make- or configure- to-order manufacturers. The customer sweet spot is small to midsize businesses with annual sales of between $1 million and $100 million (USD) and 3–100 concurrent users. Aquilon serves customers mainly in English-speaking Canada and in the United States. The company has a long history and deep expertise supporting companies in the building products, pre-hung doors, and other configure-to-order industries. The solution also supports companies with short turnaround jobs and durable goods manufacturing and distribution, and has lot traceability for the food, pharma, and nutraceutical industries. As shown in the benchmark reports section that follows, the Aquilon ERP system has solid functional support for a broad range of ERP features. The product demonstration (discussed in the next section of this report) reveals the overall fit and finish of the product to be very easy to work with. The company takes special pride in making business practices such as complex accounting processes available to people who would rather run a business than study accounting principles. The system has numerous features that are not commonly available in ERP systems at a comparable price. Examples of some of these advanced features include the ability to manage the complexities of landed costs across multiple warehouses, use an integrated product configurator, and handle multiple currencies. Aquilon Software currently provides all services directly to its customers. It supports the customer from the initial sale, through to implementation, and with ongoing support. Aquilon boasts that the average implementation takes only 8–10 weeks. The company has even pushed through system conversions in 2 weeks when necessary. Aquilon can implement and support a 10-user ERP implementation—which supports end-to-end business processes for manufacturers and distributors—for little more than the cost of QuickBooks Enterprise licenses. Benchmark Results for Aquilon ERP The TEC Focus Indicator presents the results of benchmarking Aquilon ERP against an Industry Average. TEC calculates the industry average for a given software market space based on product data from real-world software solutions, scoring solution support for hundreds to thousands of features and functions. The Industry Average circle in the middle of the graph is a normalized representation of the average of the scores.  The Focus Indicator represents neither the quality of teh product nor an absolute quantity of supported funcitonality. Rather, the graph is normalized to show support relative to the average quantity of functionality supported.  The functional criteria have been equalized (attributed equal weight).  High and low thresholds have been set in order to create the “Dominant,” “Competitive,” and “Minimal Support” zones (see below for more details). Reading the TEC Focus Indicator The axes represent the main modules of a typical small business software (SBS) product and the red dots show the relative support of the product compared with the Industry Average. The closer a red dot is to the center, the more functionality the product supports for that module. The Industry Average circle marks the relative support of the average SBS product within the indicated market space. The Dominant Zone (green) shows where the product supports more functionality than the average solution. Dominant modules are likely to be competitive differentiators for the vendor. The Competitive Zone (white) shows where the product supports about the same amount of functionality as the average solution. This typically indicates that most vendors in this market space support this functionality. The Minimal Support Zone (red) shows where the product supports less functionality than the average solution. Minimal Support modules might indicate less of a focus for this functionality, as it may not have as much of an importance within the vendor’s target market. If your needs correspond to modules ranked closer to the center of the Focus Indicator, Aquilon ERP may be an application worth evaluating. This TEC Focus Indicator™ shows you which types of functionality are likely differentiators for Aquilon Software’s solution in the SBS software space. The Focus Indicator shows that Aquilon ERP scores better than the industry average in all the modules. In the Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, and Inventory modules, the system has solid capabilities and scores in the Dominant Zone. The system scores slightly higher than the industry average in the Manufacturing and Payroll modules. It has less capabilities support in certain Manufacturing and Payroll submodules. Aquilon has plans for adding further capabilities in future releases as required by its customer base. Product Review: Aquilon ERP Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) was given a live demonstration of the Aquilon ERP solution. In the demonstration, Aquilon was tasked with showing the major features and functionality of the system. This section gives the reader insight into the key takeaways from that demonstration. Here we will explore the overall fit and finish of the product, and how it supports other pertinent features such as security and reporting, and look at some unique capabilities of the Aquilon ERP system. Fit and Finish When a user enters the system, she/he is greeted with sets of icons across the top of the screen. The top row of icons is for commonly used functions and tools such as a calculator, messaging system, favorites list, the super query tool, and online help. This row of icons stays anchored to the top of the screen. The super query tool, part of this top row, allows a user to query information in the system from any screen at any time. This super query tool is a very nice feature, as it allows a user to bounce around the system and find information without stopping the current task. For example, a user might be entering an order for a customer and she/he wants to take a quick look to see what previous communications and orders have been recorded with this customer. The second row of icons is for accessing the different modules in the system. For example, selecting the bank icon would list all the bank processing functions, or selecting the factory icon shows all the functions available in the work-in-progress (WIP) model as shown in figure 2. This look is consistent across the system for all users. Figure 2. WIP factory transactions The system screens are designed to be focused and uncluttered. The screens are built to present the most pertinent pieces of information to the user that are needed to perform the current task. The sales order query screen shown in figure 3 is such a screen. This screen allows a user to query and find the sales orders via a list and then immediately see the details of the order being viewed. Such a screen saves an operator time because she/he doesn’t have to navigate into a query view, drill down into the details, and then repeat this until the sought-after detailed record has been found. Figure 3. Sales order query screen The user has numerous ways to customize the system to meet her/his unique needs. A user can create custom menus for most frequently used transactions, create a set of favorites, and with the proper privileges, can even customize the screens to show only the information most pertinent to the task at hand. One feature in Aquilon ERP that many software vendors have forgotten is ensuring that all operations can still be performed using the keyboard. Vendor software development staff might not know that people do NOT always want to reach for the mouse to finish entering an order or that a customer service rep might need to pick up a file while talking on the phone and completing an order, for example. Just as importantly, having keyboard access to all functions supports access for people with special needs. Aquilon has made certain that all operations can be performed using the keyboard, and even has shortcut keys that can be used for common functions. Reporting and Analytics As mentioned earlier, queries into the system are available at any time via the super query tool in the top menu. There are also queries available in the individual modules, and the reporting area is where Aquilon really shines. The ubiquitous queries are Excel-like “query and view” screens, and are key to data lookup and query in Aquilon (see figure 4). These views allow the user to manipulate the data in numerous ways including the following:  Drag and drop the columns to change the order of the display  Apply multiple data filters to each column  Apply multiple sorts to each column with support for nested sorting  Use a find function to find a value and highlight the matching data  Group items to create summaries and subtotals  Export data to Excel for further analysis if needed  Save customized views and share them across the system Figure 4. Customer invoice query screen Aquilon is delivered with a management dashboard. This is a pre-built set of reports that gives a real-time summary of each module in the system. The single screens present the user, albeit with the necessary access, a summary view of all key numbers needed to understand how the business is doing. This includes total accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank balances, inventory value, sales orders, and total assets and liabilities from the general ledger. From the summary, a user can drill into view first a summary and then all the details in each area. There is a very flexible sales analysis wizard that lets a user build a custom sales model in the system. The user is guided by the wizard to choose the variables needed to build up a sales model from the facts and dimensions in the system. The wizard guides the user through a few simple steps to build a new model for managing sales. This is really a nice little business intelligence tool that hides the data complexities, making it easy to manage all aspects of sales at a company. For general ledger reporting, a custom financial report writer is included for creating general ledger reports. Aquilon can integrate with Infor’s F9 product and other financial report generators if necessary. Aquilon has a custom report writer that can be used for creating more reports. Additionally, the database is accessible through Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), so other reporting tools can be used for generating reports if desired. Other System Features Security The security system is a role-based security model where operators are assigned to roles in the system. The roles will have programs assigned to them, and then capabilities such as “create an order” are assigned to the roles. Reports showing the security setup, changes, and operator activity are provided. The system also has audit trail capabilities that record all transaction activity that affects the company’s financials. Like other parts of the Aquilon ERP system, the security system is very easy to work in and to understand. Ease of Implementation Aquilon has put significant effort into developing tools for data import and code changes. There are import tools for a wide range of data including stock code master and the inventory master, and for stock code changes and merges. In all, there are some 60 import/code change tools. Aquilon provides a spreadsheet template to use for all these data imports/code changes. These tools are used not only during implementation but also at regular intervals to support operations. Aquilon offers extensive options in these areas to control the behavior of the system. A wide variety of setup options control key configuration options around inventory, sales, shipping, and receiving transactions. These options are set to meet the unique needs of each customer. Common options such as whether negative inventory is allowed, the order number type (alphanumeric or numeric), and the sales order numbering method are set up in this area (figure 5). Many ERP systems require specially trained resources to manage these types of options, but with Aquilon, a savvy non-IT resource would be able to handle these relatively complex system parameters. These options are all set from a set of screens that any user with the appropriate privileges can access. Figure 5. System parameter setup These tools support rapid system implementations and are the main reasons why Aquilon can get a company up and running on its system in, on average, 8–10 weeks. Event Notifications and Alerts Operators, with required permissions, can subscribe to events that are triggered in the system. There is a wide variety of predefined events in the system, e.g., supplier created, stock code created, or purchase order created to name a few. When the event occurs, the event subscribers are sent a message in the system or to their Outlook mailbox. Extra Mile System Capabilities Aquilon ERP has many capabilities that we normally don’t see in a system at this price point. For lack of a better term, we will talk about a couple of these in this extra mile section. It is obvious that these features have been developed specifically to meet the unique needs in the vendor’s target market, i.e., light manufacturing, kitting, and short-duration build operations. Bill of materials (BOMs) have a part structure, the manufacturing operations, and the specifications section. There is special handling for light manufacturers and distributors on a special BOM type called a production kit. The production kit is for a quickly assembled item, and the item doesn’t have to go through all the WIP steps to be manufactured. After the item is put together, all the material, labor, etc., is automatically flushed through the system for these special types of items. Aquilon ERP supports less complex product configurations as shown in figure 6. The screen displays proxy items for the components that make up a kit defined in the BOM. These proxy values are selected from a list of options for the item. (This configurator doesn’t manage complex product configuration rules found in most configure, price, quote [CPQ] solutions, but easily handles these simpler configurations.) This is especially useful for distributors that put together a product that is assembled from components where each component has multiple options. An example is a door distributor who will sell a door kit that includes the door specification, along with components including the hinges, finish, and other options. Here is an example of how the specifications and components of a door kit are entered: Figure 6. Product configuration screen There is a supplier performance report feature for ranking suppliers with an ABC ranking. The report displays supplier analytics such as the overdue, early, late, and on-time line items, average lead time, average days late, etc. The report calculates a score for each supplier and ranks them with a score of A, B, or C. The time horizon for viewing the information can be easily changed to view the performance over the desired time window. TEC Analyst Observations on Aquilon ERP Aquilon ERP delivers on its commitment to provide a low-cost ERP system for small and midsized businesses. The system delivers in several key areas and provides excellent value for organizations that need to move beyond purely accounting solutions but have no desire to pay the price needed to get into other mid-market ERP solutions. The Aquilon ERP system though does deliver a significant percentage of the capabilities found in other mid-market systems at a fraction of the cost. It has solid financials, coupled with complete inventory management capabilities, and has some very nice features that support light manufacturing, distribution, and short turnaround operations. The system stands out in numerous areas including:  Ease of use o Simple-menu system o Focused, uncluttered screens o Personalized menus staff focuses on important tasks o Operator/role removes items from menus o Informational messages keep user informed o No black box calculations calculations shown on screen o User defined queries are ubiquitous  Low total cost of ownership (TCO) o Great value for initial and annual license fees o Great value on SaaS costs, totally inclusive o Fast implementation tools reduce time and cost of going live Of course, there are limitations to the Aquilon system, and the purchaser should review the detailed functionality carefully to make sure that the system meets all the necessary requirements. For example, the system does not support multi-level organizational hierarchies, which limits the system’s ability to handle multi-tier approvals or other more complex organization processes. Aquilon does not currently support more complicated manufacturing operations that require capabilities such as material requirements planning (MRP) and integrated quality management, but has plans to add quality assurance this calendar year and MRP in the following year. Detailed Functionality Graphs for Aquilon ERP by Aquilon Software The following functionality benchmark graphs represent the quantity of support by Aquilon ERP for the functionality within each module identified in the TEC Focus Indicator, on a scale of 0 to 100 points. The closer the plotted value is to 100 (toward the outside in spider graphs, toward the top in bar graphs), the more functionality Aquilon ERP supports. The functionality of Aquilon ERP is shown in blue; an average of what competitor solutions offer is shown in red. General Ledger Accounts Payable Accounts Receivable Payroll Inventory Management Job and Project Costing Fixed Assets Sales Management Budgeting Manufacturing General Ledger General Ledger functionality maintains centralized charts of accounts and corporate financial balances. It supports all aspects of the business accounting process. In this module, financial accounting transactions are posted, processed, summarized, and reported. It maintains a complete audit trail of transactions and enables individual business units to view their financial information, while parent companies can roll up all business subsidiaries and view the consolidated information. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Chart of Accounts 76.3 57.7 2 Transaction Processing 58.9 64.0 3 Month and Year- End Closing 100 75.1 4 Control Reports 100 79.5 5 Financial Statements 87.1 73.5 Accounts Payable Accounts Payable schedules bill payments to suppliers and distributors, and keeps accurate information about owed money, due dates, and available discounts. It provides functionality and integration to other areas such as customer service, purchasing, inventory, and manufacturing control. It also includes the following functionality: vendor master file, purchasing controls, data input, payable analysis, check writing, control reports, financial reports. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Vendor Master File 98.3 59.2 2 Purchasing Controls 84.2 50.6 3 Data Input 62.5 54.5 4 Payables Analysis 61.2 52.9 5 Check Writing 90 75.0 6 Control Reports 100 77.4 7 Financial Reports 87.4 61.7 Accounts Receivable Accounts Receivable tracks payments due to a company from its customers as well as other related activities. It contains tools to control and expedite the receipt of money from the entry of a sales order to posting payments received. The software should support the following functionality: Customer Master File, Customer Relationship Management, Invoicing, Cash Receipts, Debt Collection, Control Reports, and Financial Reports. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Customer Master File 85.1 58.1 2 Customer Relationship Management 80.4 47.4 3 Invoicing 60.6 59.6 4 Cash Receipts 89.7 57.2 5 Debt Collection 80.9 48.6 6 Control Reports 100 76.4 7 Financial Reports 88.0 68.1 Payroll Payroll functionality allows making, storing, managing, and reporting financial transactions regarding salaries of employees, as well as wages, bonuses, and appropriate deductions. The software should also support benefit enrollment programs and new hire initiation. The Payroll module includes the Employee Files, Human Resource Management, Canadian Payroll Processing, Data Input and Cost Distribution, Payroll Check Writing, and Payroll Reports submodules. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Employee Files 59.1 56.3 2 Human Resource Management 20.0 62.5 3 Data Input and Cost Distribution 59.4 66.4 4 Payroll Check Writing 90.0 67.2 5 Payroll Reports 100 70.9 Inventory Management Inventory Management functionality is used for the record keeping of goods that are warehoused, and managing the movement of these goods to, from, and through warehouses. Inventory Master File, Inventory Control/Assembly Systems, Data Input and Cost Distribution, Receiving Activities, Shipping and Withdrawal Activities, and Inventory Reports are also a part of this functional module. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Inventory Master File 78.0 56.8 2 Inventory Control/Assembly Systems 79.7 56.8 3 Data Input and Cost Distribution 96.5 64.9 4 Receiving Activities 93.2 61.9 5 Shipping and Withdrawal Activities 99.2 59.4 6 Inventory Reports 96.7 67.0 Job and Project Costing Job and Project Costing allows to create and control job orders, and to analyze product costs related to overhead, labor, material, and manufacturing costs of separate products, manufacturing orders, or projects. It provides a variety of costing approaches such as standard, actual, and average. Job and Project Costing functionality encompasses job initiation, data input and cost distribution, job control, cost analysis and reports, and job invoicing. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Job Initiation 91.9 58.4 2 Data Input and Cost Distribution 89.8 54.1 3 Job Control 41.5 43.9 4 Cost Analysis and Reports 65.4 59.0 5 Job Invoicing 51.0 58.0 Fixed Assets Fixed Assets functionality manages accounting of expenses, costs, and operations associated with tangible and intangible assets such as buildings, property, software, and equipment. The software should support the following functionality: equipment files, cost calculation and distribution, and reports. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Equipment Files 65.9 59.9 2 Cost Calculation and Distribution 53.6 58.2 3 Reports 78.3 50.1 Sales Management Sales Management encompasses a group of applications that automates activities associated with customers: order placement, tracking, shipping, invoicing. It involves the following functional areas: Order Entry (Set Up), Order Receipt, Order Tracking, Shipping, Invoicing, and Reports. It also provides a typical sales functionality such as sales commission calculation and tracking, quotations, returns, discounts, etc. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Order Entry (Set Up) 69.2 57.5 2 Order Receipt 59.9 55.0 3 Order Tracking 88.8 66.8 4 Shipping 73.3 63.4 5 Invoicing 70.9 73.4 6 Reports 84.0 65.5 Budgeting Budgeting of small business software is indeed a limited version of full-scale budgeting functionality that small and medium businesses do not usually require. It involves the Budgeting (General), Review Process, and Construction of New Budget submodules. The software, however, should provide sufficient tools to enable budget development and analysis. Additional functionality should be available to import budgets from spreadsheets. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Budgeting (General) 64.2 70.3 2 Review Process 100 75.8 3 Construction of New Budget 68.6 71.7 Manufacturing The Manufacturing module manages all aspects of activities associated with planning and producing finished goods on the right time with minimal cost and at the required level of quality. It involves applications such as product coasting, master production scheduling (MPS), material requirements planning (MRP), capacity requirements planning (CRP), shop floor control, and quality control. Criteria Aquilon ERP Score Average Score 1 Product Costing 87.3 37.9 2 Master Production Scheduling (MPS) 33.0 39.3 3 Material Requirements Planning (MRP) 33.7 38.4 4 Capacity Requirements Planning (CRP) 23.2 37.9 5 Shop Floor Control 63.4 40.9 6 Quality Control 20.0 33.3