Meet the Accounting Systems used by AEC firms

If you’re selling printing equipment to AEC firms, you’ll undoubtedly get questions about how to get printing information from the device into the customer’s accounting system. It is standard practice for AEC firms to recover project-related costs and bill them back to the client. Some of the project costs that are commonly billed include printing, scanning, copying, finishing and postage. If you are placing equipment that will be used for any of these functions, expect that your customer will want to capture these costs for billing purposes.
The accounting world can be daunting for equipment dealers, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll outline the most common accounting systems you’ll encounter in the AEC market, and give you the rundown on how you’ll get expense data from your devices back to them.

The big one: Deltek Vision

80% of AEC firms in North America use Deltek Vision for expense accounting. So if you want to be familiar with one program, start here.

Deltek entered the AEC market by acquiring the makers of popular products such as Advantage, Wind2 and Sema4. After controlling the majority of the market, Deltek released Vision, which has been the standard in the AEC market for the past decade. Deltek has since abandoned support for older applications, which has helped drive usage towards Vision. It wasn’t just brute force that made Vision the standard – it is a great product that handles all finances for AEC firms.

Deltek Vision is continuously evolving, and most new installations are now completely cloud-based, rather than requiring expensive server hardware.

How to get print activity into Deltek Vision

Vision’s Data Import Utility can accept data in a variety of formats, and supports every expense type in Vision – including prints and reproductions, units, A/P voucher, miscellaneous and more. If the equipment is on a lease, A/P voucher data may be the customer’s preferred data method, as this will pass “vendor costs” directly to the client rather than showing a bill that comes from the firm.
Argos has direct integration into Vision and can automate delivery of expense data in any format. The Deltek Import Utility validates the records to ensure no erroneous information is brought in, and data can be displayed on client invoices in a variety of formats.

The Untouchable: BST

Unlike Vision, which is marketed to all flavors of AEC companies, BST has historically been found mainly at large engineering companies. BST has managed to avoid the Deltek acquisition bandwagon and has a dedicated customer base. BST fanatics are vocal about their love for the product, and find it is easy to customize and easy to bring data in and out. After recently releasing the cloud-based BST10, we expect to see BST make a bigger play for smaller architecture and engineering firms, but for now you probably won’t hear their name unless you’re working with big engineering firms.

How to get print activity into BST

The most common method for bringing print activity into BST is through a CSV or text file. BST has an import utility that will validate data and ensure the file is formatted correctly. Advanced BST users may prefer to use direct database input, which bypasses the text file and import utility. Billed print data from Argos can be copied from our SQL reporting view directly to BST’s SQL database, which provides an unparalleled level of data customization. This method is not for the faint of heart, however – non-BST gurus should stick with the standard CSV/text file import process.

The Alternative: Axium Ajera

Axium has long been a Deltek competitor, and marketed Ajera as an alternative to what many saw as an oppressive licensing and upgrade scheme from Deltek. After Deltek discontinued Advantage, Wind2 and Sema4, Axium reached out to disgruntled Deltek customers and offered an enticing alternative to the Vision upgrade. However, last year Axium quietly released a press release stating that they, too, were acquired by Deltek.

Unlike previous acquisitions, Deltek plans to keep Ajera alive and market it to smaller AEC firms who don’t need the full feature set of Vision.

How to get print activity into Axium Ajera

Until recently, Ajera had one major flaw – no way to automatically import accounting data. Accountants were stuck hand-keying information from a spreadsheet into the program, which added hours of work each month. Starting in 2014, Ajera added an import feature that mimics the Deltek Import Utility. Billing data can now be brought from a CSV file directly into Ajera on a scheduled basis. Argos cost recovery information can be imported easily and quickly.

The upstart: Clearview InFocus

Clearview is the new kid on the block, after getting on the market around 2009. As the story goes, a handful of former Deltek employees and industry veterans had heard the constant grumbling from Deltek users who were getting forced to switch from Advantage, Wind2 and Sema4 – the same grumbling that fueled the success of Ajera. While Clearview got off the ground later than Ajera, they had the benefit of starting from scratch and building a modern product. While Clearview InFocus had been playing catch-up with Axium Ajera for years, they are suddenly the only real alternative for small to mid size firms who want to leave Deltek. Will they become part of the Deltek umbrella too? Who knows, but they are a thorn in Deltek’s side at the moment.

How to get print activity into Clearview InFocus

Clearview InFocus has a simple and easy to use data import utility that accepts billing information in a variety of formats. Argos customers who use InFocus have touted the ease of integration between the two products.

Other players

We get calls from dealers all the time who run into unfamiliar accounting packages and want to know what to do. While we’ve outlined the four AEC-specific systems, there are many business applications that can be used for accounting that are not designed specifically for the AEC market. Here are a few you might find out in the wild.

Oracle JDEdwards EnterpriseOne

That’s a mouthful, but Oracle’s popular EnterpriseOne is used by many firms that require project management and client billing. Oracle uses a proprietary database and likes to charge for every add-on, so sometimes getting data in and out of an Oracle system can be complicated. Our professional services team help you automate data export from Argos to Oracle.

Peachtree/Sage 50

You’ll hear this referred to as Peachtree or Sage – but either way, it is an all-purpose accounting system geared towards small businesses. Older versions use a complicated proprietary database format which requires additional drivers (at a cost, of course!) to bring data in or out. Newer versions are easier to integrate with.

Quickbooks

Some small AEC firms run on Quickbooks, and the trade-off for limited functionality and frustration is the low entry price. However, to get enterprise features (like data access), they will either need to upgrade to the enterprise version, or pay for costly custom integration and proprietary data drivers.

Excel

Believe it or not, we still find companies that just use a spreadsheet to handle their financials. It is cheap, customizable, but limited. The good news: It is easy to get a list of projects from an Excel document. The bad news: If your client runs their business on Excel, they probably won’t be buying a lot of printers.