July 29, 2008

South African sister companies praise Linux-based accounting program

Author: Ian Palmer

Gospel Direct and Maranatha Record Co., sister companies based in South Africa, have exercised their faith in a Linux-based accounting program.

Jaco Jacobs, manager of the finance and IT departments at Christian music and book retailer Gospel Direct and at Christian record label Maranatha Record Co., says that the companies chose Quasar because of their dissatisfaction with applications such as UltiSales and Syspro.

"UltiSales was a DOS-based program," he says. "It was decentralized and not an accounting
package. Syspro, on the other hand, is a great accounting package, but cannot do WAN transactions. Syspro was also not created for a retail application, as there were no point-of-sale (POS) capabilities. One of the main reasons to move away from these program was Windows. Instability ... and lots of viruses is something a small upcoming business can do without."

Before ultimately choosing Linux Canada's Quasar three years ago for now 385-employee Gospel Direct, Jacobs says that the company held extensive talks with Syspro, hoping to convince the company to produce an application with better POS and WAN capabilities.

"But I have had much better conversations with a brick wall," Jacobs recalls. "We also had a look at Omni Accounting, which also had very limited POS capabilities. UltiSales around that time came out with an upgrade from the DOS version to Windows, but [it] still was not a full-blown accounting system. Out of desperation, we also had a look at SAP, but that is a horse you want to ride only if you have a bank account in Switzerland."

It soon became obvious to Jacobs that Quasar, which was designed specifically for retail shops, was the way to go. The implementation phase started with the retail chain, which currently has 30 stores nationwide.

"At that stage we started converting all the terminals at branch level to Fedora and later on to SUSE 10," says Jacobs, both because of Quasar's strengths and the vast amount of virus problems with the old terminals at each store. Today 99% of the estimated 200 PCs in the retail company run on Linux.

"On July 1, 2008, we converted Maranatha Record Co. to Quasar, as the program has developed into much more than just a retail accounting system. The versatility and customization possibilities of Quasar makes me think of a scaled-down version of SAP, and it's much cheaper. Currently, [both companies] have more than 400 users working on more than 250 Linux terminals."

Jacobs says that there were eight primary reasons that the Quasar solution was the best choice.

  1. Centralized processing
  2. Offline capabilities
  3. Fewer Windows-related problems in the areas of security and viruses
  4. POS capabilities
  5. Cost effectiveness compared to similar products
  6. Versatility of program design
  7. Vendor's willingness to listen to the client
  8. Program's ability to communicate directly with the SQL database

Although Quasar has been working well at both businesses, Jacobs acknowledges that there were some implementation challenges that had to be overcome.

"As in any program there was a few programming errors, but nothing as severe as getting the blue screen of death on Windows," he says. "Currently, we have an estimated 1,800,000 sales transactions recorded in the database since we started three years ago with not significant database integrity issues.

"What took the most time was to write customized reports for our retail business. Reports are written in a combination of SQL, Tcl, and XML. As a chartered accountant -- not a programmer -- it took a few weeks to get the hang of report writing. There are dozens of reports already on Quasar, but there is always a need for specialized reports. There are obviously third-party report writing tools that can talk to the SQL database, but I prefer to use one system and not complicate the global IT picture with third-party software. Now all data and reports are centralized to one system."

Eschewing the notion of coming up with a return-on-investment figure, Jacobs says that an accounting program should be judged based on its timeliness and accuracy of data. He explains, nonetheless, that the cost of the Quasar program and the related support added up to merely one quarter of the price that rival programs would have worked out to.

"Another good example is that the yearly licensing fee of Syspro is more than the purchase of Quasar for Maranatha Record Co. with no yearly licensing fee," he says. "This is just half the story. To purchase Windows licenses for 250 terminals, excluding virus protection and other needed programs, would cost more than the price of a luxury German vehicle for our CEO. Anyone, then, still thinking of going the Windows route must then surely live inside the box and not outside it." And Jacobs advises, "If you live outside the box, do not settle for something inside the box."

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