Finance Indaba Q&A: ACS-Embrace's Ian Foster
CFO South Africa talks to Ian Foster about Embrace's differentiation factors and depth of data provision.
ACS-Embrace’s Ian Foster worked his way up from junior developer to sales and marketing director at the firm, enjoying a career that navigates the overlapping finance and tech spheres, and assisting clients with an integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that keeps both the operational and finance client teams happy and effective.
Q. Tell us about your career path to date
I have a B.Com in Accounting and Information Systems (IS). I understood the importance of accounting in the business world, but information systems held more immediate interest for me. Combining these two areas is what set me on the career path that I've followed – business software development in the ERP space. I've been with ACS-Embrace for 24 years – from junior programmer on the manufacturing side, working my way up through the technology department, seven years as R&D director, and today I'm the sales and marketing director, a position I’ve held since 2011.
Q. What is the niche that ACS-Embrace operates in and what solution do you offer?
Embrace is a locally developed, locally owned and locally supported mid-tier ERP software solution. With a strong focus on R&D, we successfully produce software solutions that are able to stand up against the best of the world. We maintain our position as a world-class software solution provider, but with a local footprint.
Embrace is a single, end-to-end solution, meeting the diverse needs of most industries. Essentially, we offer a robust all-round, power-packed solution that is cost-effective, well implemented and well supported.
Q. How has the system changed over the years and what sets you apart from competitors?
I think the difference between us and other vendors is the quality of our product and the service that we offer. Our skill set and depth of knowledge is really strong, as many of our senior staff have been with us for a long time. Furthermore, Embrace is our product – designed, developed and maintained by us, so we know it intimately. We are not a vendor representing someone else's product, meaning that every time we sell and implement Embrace, it is personal. We ensure our implementations are successful and that we build lasting win-win relationships with our clients.
In fact, we believe that we are one of the few ERP solutions provider who can boast a 100 percent successful implementation track record.
Embrace has grown a lot over the years. We have a great R&D team and yes, we’ve had to evolve to keep up with legislative and technological changes, but the biggest driver of product enhancement and change has been our clients! Working together, Embrace has kept pace with their evolving and changing business requirements. Some of our clients have been with us for 15 years and others even longer. This is because Embrace has evolved and grown with them as their new requirements arise. Enhancements and new features, developed in conjunction with our clients, are incorporated into our next software release. Accordingly, Embrace has grown enormously and supports a wide and diverse range of industries. The software is flexible, scalable and can be tailored to an exact fit for their business. We have clients with just five users and others with over 500 concurrent users. Embrace is an end-to-end real-time system, so if, for example, stock is issued to a store, that information is immediately updated and reflected across the financial system in an instant.
Most importantly, it is our excellent service and support, our passion and our focus that sets ACS-Embrace apart from others.
Q. What are the use cases and benefits of the system from a finance perspective?
The reality is that finance sits at the ‘back end’ of all the processes we engage with when we roll out Embrace. Typically, the system that we implement is focused on operational areas, but at the end of the day every piece of information that we are capturing, creating, and tracking through the system ends up in the finance system. Therefore we need solid knowledge of finance, and particularly finance team requirements, i.e., what they are going to want to do with that information. At the beginning of any implementation, we first consider the reporting requirements and finance team outputs.
We work to build up trust with the financial team and guide them, to enable them to extract the relevant, accurate and timely information they need.
An ERP system generates huge volumes of data and we are strong proponents of putting that data into a data warehouse and running a business intelligence (BI) system on top of that. We’ve partnered with the largest Qlik reseller in South Africa to create some out-of-the-box BI models, which will help finance teams glean valuable insights from the data.
Embrace ERP provides detailed drill-down functionality enabling finance professionals to access all the supporting transaction details – such as a sales order, creditor payment, debtor payment, or fixed asset movement. This granularity is critical from an audit and risk management perspective and provides the CFO or finance executive the assurance that they can address these requirements with ease.
It is our ability to manage both ends of that business spectrum – operational and financial – and deliver a solution that works for both, that speaks to the success of Embrace.
Q. Why have you chosen to partner with the 2018 Finance Indaba?
As mentioned, we know we need to work with operations and finance and tick the boxes with both. We need finance on board, not just to sign off on the deal, but to feel confident that Embrace can support efficiency and reporting requirements in the financial environment.
Finance professionals are key players in the decision-making process and the Finance Indaba is an opportunity to engage with them and showcase the boundless business benefits of Embrace.