UNIT4 CODA Delivers a ‘Superior’ Solution for Bulk Carrier
September 24, 2013 Alex Woodie
Getting financial data out of its homegrown, AS/400-based accounting program used to be a giant hassle for Superior Bulk Logistics, a privately held trucking company an Oak Brook, Illinois. Reports were distributed to managers on paper, and if they had any questions, it required accounting and IT to dig through the general ledger. Since implementing accounting software from UNIT4 CODA in September 2011, it’s been smooth trucking for the firm.
Superior Bulk Logistics is national trucking company with 52 terminals throughout the US. The company specializes in hauling and handling tank carriers that transport liquid commodities. It operates two primary divisions, including Superior Carriers, which handles chemicals and hazardous materials, and Carry Transit, which handles more edible commodities.
The company has been an AS/400 shop for many years, with a strong RPG development culture. The reluctance against using pre-packaged software started to melt away several years ago, which paved the way for a big improvement in the quality of its accounting software and the business workflows that surround it.
Unease of Use
Superior’s homegrown general ledger (GL) and reporting system was starting to show its age. As the company’s accounting manager Donna Hudson explains, not only was it difficult to get information into the system, but getting useful information out of it could be practically impossible to do without involving the IT department.
“It was very cumbersome to make journal entries,” she says. “Your allocations had to be done in an Excel spreadsheet, and then hand entered, or cut and pasted in 10-line sequences, into the AS/400 green-screen format. And while it did create financial reports, the reports it created were very difficult to use. An accountant could not manipulate how we did reporting. We actually had to go to the IS staff to get changes to the reports. As accountants, if we wanted to do a change, we wanted to be self-sufficient.”
The homegrown system had evolved over the years to meet the company’s unique business model. While Superior’s main job is transporting bulk liquid commodities, there are lots of other ancillary activities that add complexity to its billing and revenue-recognition systems, such as inspecting and washing tank trailers and unloading railcars, which leads to track occupancy charges.
In addition to running TMW Systems‘ maintenance package, it runs its own homegrown dispatching system on the IBM i platform, as well as four payroll systems. All told, Superior has more than 50 “feeder” systems pushing data into its GL system.
On the reporting side, Superior’s workflow previously involved printing reports and mailing them to each of Superior’s 52 terminals around the country. “We sent out reams of paper to the field on a monthly basis,” Hudson says. “They had no computer access to those reports. They had a piece of paper. And if they wanted to see what made up a number in that report, they pretty much had to call accounting.”
When questions did arise from the field–such as a vice president inquiring as to what expenditures were responsible for a big drop off in profitability at a tank cleaning station during June–it wasn’t easy for the accounting department to get that information out, either.
“What accounting had to do to get that number,” Hudson says, “was basically go into the GL system, look at all the source documents that made up the number they were looking at, and try to find the big one, then go into that individual system–typically it would be AP–and find out where the spend was at that made up that large dollar figure. So it was very cumbersome.”
Staying On the ‘400
Once Superior decided to axe the old system, it set out finding a replacement. Hudson and her colleagues in the IT department were very happy with the AS/400 platform, so they decided to confine their search to a product that ran on that platform. “The iSeries platform is basically an outstanding platform,” Hudson says. “You’ve got all the support you need with your iSeries, so I can see why an IT department would be very hesitant to put in other types of servers when you already have what’s known to be a good product.”
Superior put out a request for proposals, and received 15 proposals back. After whittling it down two productsâ€”UNIT4’s CODA and Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne financials–the Coda package was selected due to what Hudson described as better customer service. “They made us feel like they would service us,” she says. “Oracle is Oracle.”
In September 2011, Superior went live with the new GL and reporting system from UNIT4 CODA. From day one, the new system was a huge improvement over the old system, although it did involve a learning curve and a bit of work to implement, according to Hudson.
The new reporting system, in particular, is a big improvement over the previous approach. Instead of printing and mailing tens of thousands of pieces of paper across the country every quarter–and hoping managers don’t send accounting on wild goose chases with difficult queries–the company now presents financial and operational information to managers and executives through Web-based dashboards equipped with key performance indicators (KPIs).
A big improvement resides in the drill down capabilities that are included in the CODA product. “If a terminal manager saw that their tractor repairs were high, they can click on that number in their financial statement, and actually drill down to see what units were repaired, what vendor did the repair, and what the dollar amount was,” Hudson says. “It just makes your life so much easier.”
Superior uses CODA not only for keeping track of finances–the dollars in and the dollars out–but also for operational reports and statistics that are unique to its business. It keeps track of driver-related information, such as the number of miles they drove, as well as details on each trip, including the tractor and trailer used, whether the miles were loaded or empty.
It also uses CODA to track tank-wash charges, including the cost of water and cleaning chemicals, how often a tank is washed, and how long it takes each terminal to complete a wash. The software is used to keep track of safety-related information, including accidents and spills, contamination, workers’ compensation incidents, and insurance claims and costs. “It is a tool being used by everybody in the company,” Hudson says.
Superior credits CODA with improving its business in several ways, including reducing the time it takes to close the books, simplifying the report distribution process, and streamlining the process of drilling down into details.
“From an accounting department perspective, it was a huge jump in efficiency and savings,” Hudson says. “From a corporate perspective, it was even bigger. These guys didn’t need all these paper reports. Now they just go online. They just love the fact that they can investigate their own cost structures.”
Configuring CODA, which is a Java application, took a bit of work, however. “They had a little difficulty,” Hudson says. “When we first got CODA, we didn’t know anything about this kind of software.”
Part of the difficulty was in creating the input templates that are responsible for moving the data from the 50-plus feeder systems into the CODA GL. “The most difficult thing for them was in fact just gaining that little bit of knowledge that they needed to create those applications,” Hudson says.
“We had our own guy familiar with Java. I remember him saying ‘If they send me an example, Donna, I can mock it and get it to work,'” she says. UNIT4 CODA obliged, which enabled the programmer to create “one big massive RPG program that gets all the data out of the AS/400 that we need from the feeder systems, and puts it into an input template. Once they got it, it was like 1-2-3.”