When one of the UK’s fastest growing construction companies decided to overhaul its accounts system, it opted for a Window-based solution, that gave employees the independence to access the network.
When Grist Construction financial director Alan Deves came to overhaul his company’s creaking accounting system, he faced a problem. Much of his existing software runs in the Windows environment, but Deves could not find a Windows-based accounts program tailored to the construction industry.

Then he discovered Dema. Based on Windows NT, Dema is a new job cost and accounts package developed specifically for construction firms by Nottingham-based system designer The Data Base.

Deves says Dema has “all the benefits of Microsoft” and is fully compatible with Microsoft Office. It is also – unlike the system that needed replacing – year 2000-compliant and capable of handling contract and labour costing as well as general accounting work.

Although taking on a new package was more risky than upgrading, Deves was concerned that Southampton-based Grist, hailed by The Sunday Times as the UK’s second fastest growing construction firm, would get left behind if it did not switch to a Windows-based program.

“If all the financial institutions are going down the Windows NT route, we thought we would”, he said. “This should help make the system future-proof.” The theory is that Microsoft will continue to invest and upgrade in its Windows-based systems.

Deves also felt his old system, which he refuses to name but describes as “garbage”, only had three years of useful life left.

The Dema system is built around a series of modules. The most useful module for contractors is the job contract ledger. This is where the profit and loss accounts for a particular project are kept, and where the overall profitability of the project will be ascertained.

All the project outgoings are fed into the ledger. This includes the total cost of materials on a job, the cost of Grist’s in-house labour, the cost of specialist subcontractors and any plant hire.

The other main module is the nominal ledger. For a company accountant, this is the crucial ledger –it is where the company’s profit and loss accounts are displayed and the company’s overall performance can be gauged. Smaller modules bolt onto these core modules to suit a firm’s requirements.

Grist has installed a payroll module and is currently installing subcontract and purchasing modules. The purchasing ledger will be used to enter invoices from suppliers, and then to pay them. The subcontract module has a similar function to the purchasing module but includes tax deducting facilities and apportions the cost to individual projects. Finally, the payroll module is used to process in-house salary payments. In future, the company will be adding contract sales and sales invoicing modules.

Deves also wanted a system that was simple enough to allow employees to produce and access reports of project costs and company results. On his old system, information could not be transferred between applications, which meant that only a few people could access it.

Dema’s familiar Windows-based interface has encouraged many more people to tap into the system. “It will improve our productivity because people throughout the company will be more aware of a project’s position.” It also means project managers can work more independently, because they will have access to the system – although only the packages on Grist’s larger sites can be accessed remotely.

The ability to track costs back on a contract-by-contract basis is important in assessing a project’s profitability. One major contractor currently considering Dema says it purchases some goods, such as plasterboard, on a monthly basis and allocates the cost to different invoices, depending on which project they relate to. It would use an upgraded version of Dema, which will become available soon, to process these costs. No such problem arose for Grist – it purchases its goods on a project-by- project basis.

The system did not come cheap. “We’ve replaced our whole IT infrastructure,” said Deves. “In all, we’ve probably spent about £100 000.” The system is based on two Compaq Proliant 1600 servers running Windows NT, and can be accessed by 50 users.

It is a hefty investment, but Deves feels he has had his money’s worth. He is particularly impressed with the support he has received. The Dema engineers dial in to the system from The Data Base’s office and “sort out any problems over the phone line – support for our old system used to take days”.

The Dema package

  • Windows-based
  • Modules cover subcontractor payment
  • Easy access to information
  • Year 2000-compliant
  • Some packages are still being upgraded

On the wire

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