Consultant War Stories

Carlton provides a personal account of
some of his experiences as a consultant

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA


Any seasoned consultant knows that the process of implementing accounting software is often more of an art, than a science. In this article, J. Carlton Collins draws from his personal experience to share with us the following war stories and tales of hi-jinx related to accounting software. 

Let’s face it, the process of installing accounting software is typically anything but exciting. However, if you install systems long enough, you are bound to encounter many mishaps and miscues along the way. Presented below are a few of my war stories from the trenches.


Back Up Trauma

Many years ago, I installed an accounting system for a construction company and instructed the office manager, Gwen, as to the proper back up procedures, which involved twenty diskettes. I strongly suspected that Gwen would not perform these back up procedures as I instructed – call it “consultant’s intuition”. However, to my astonishment, over the next six months each surprise inspection of the client’s back up disks revealed data files for the previous day – it appeared to me that Gwen was doing her job. 

Six months after I had installed the system, Gwen encountered something that can best be described as a “vague technical problem with the computer” and the “guy” at the computer store where she purchased the computer instructed her to format the hard drive – which she did. (I was amazed that this “computer store guy” was able to determine the need for this procedure via a simple telephone call – I figured that he must be really smart). Gwen then called yours truly to restore the system and data. 

I reinstalled the operating system and accounting software just fine and then turned my attentions to the data files. The first diskette restored just fine however the second diskette would not cooperate. Upon closer review, I found the data files on disk 2, and all subsequent diskettes, to be six months out of date. I inquired as to a possible explanation for this unfortunate circumstance to which Gwen replied (in a thick southern drawl) – “I only entered a few transactions so I thought surely that must have gotten it”. Translation: “I started the back up procedure each day as instructed, but then turned the computer off after disk 1 was full.” 

It gets much worse. I was now forced with the task of re-entering the data into the accounting system from the paper records. The trial balance data entry proceeded without difficulty, however there was something askew about the 334-page construction-in-progress detail report detailing the $4.7 million costs related to 147 homes in progress. It seemed that the printer ribbon on the Okidata Streamline 193 printer became lodged, and on page 3 of this report, you could begin to see the printed data fade to “brail”. The detailed data report was virtually unreadable. I considered my options carefully. I ruled out a crayon rubbing. I considered employing the services of an FBI cryptologists – but didn’t know where to find one. I thought about strangling Gwen. In the end, I asked Gwen for a key to the offices and sent her home. I then pulled an all-nighter, wading through 147 file folders in an effort to reconstruct the data. 

In the end, I realized that the problems I encountered were of my own doing. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Ever since that day, I measure time in terms of “BG” and “AG” (Before Gwen and After Gwen). On that day I learned to make secret back ups of the client’s data, and to test both the first and last back up diskettes in a stack. I learned the hard way just how important proper back up procedures are, and it seems that most people who have learned this lesson learned it the hard way too. By reading this, I hope that you will benefit from my mistake by learning this important lesson the easy way. 

                                                                                                J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Dead Possum Drive

Two years “AG”, I installed an accounting system (Solomon III) in a North Georgia prosthetics company about an hours drive from my offices. It was a rather long boring drive with nothing but pine trees and dead possums in the road to entertain me. Each day, I would count the dead possums on the way to the client site, and miraculously they would all be gone by days end. One day, I counted 8 dead possums (that’s got to be some sort of record). 

Anyway, I finally reached the day of my last trip to the client’s offices – I was excited to have this installation behind me. Upon entering the building I encountered the President and CFO standing around with their hands in their pockets. I clapped my hands joyfully and announced, “last day – we’re almost done”. There was no response. I asked what was the matter and the CFO informed me that there had been a break in over the weekend and that all of the company’s computer systems had been stolen. Then the really bad news was delivered. He told me that “the grandfather, father, and son back up tapes we had religiously maintained were stolen too”. Ouch. No computers, no back ups – more possums. 

I quickly wondered to myself whether I had recently made a secret back up of the company’s data files. I couldn’t think clearly enough to remember. We suffered a severe blow and had no choice but to initiate “plan B”. The company ordered a new computer and I returned to my office to search for possible data files. There in my drawer I located a handful of unlabeled diskettes. I nervously inserted them into my diskette drive in a frantic search, and then celebrated joyfully when I found a recent back up diskette which represented weeks of set up and data entry work. We were able to secure a new computer, reinstall the system, and establish off site back up procedures in a couple of days. The end result was a happy client, a happy consultant, and no more possums. Thanks Gwen.

                                                                                                         J. Carlton Collins, CPA 

Check the Cables 

On one occasion, I installed an accounting system (Great Plains Accounting) for an Atlanta-based construction company that constructs canopies for gas stations. Studies had shown that gas stations could increase sales by more than 30% by erecting large, well-lit canopies. As a result, business was booming. The company was planning to move it’s offices to a new building to accommodate their tremendous growth. 

I went about the business of installing the local area network and related accounting system. Everything seemed to proceed just fine. However, a week after the installation, the controller called to report that the local area network had crashed several times, each time during the printing of invoices. I visited the company, checked things out, and found no problems. However, the crashes intensified, each time during the invoice printing process. I tried several measures, reinstalling the operating system, reinstalling the accounting software, and installing new updates, patches and drivers. Nothing worked. Because each crash brought the whole network down, many people in the company grew increasingly aggravated with the computer system, and me. There was even some minor name calling (which I will not repeat here). Things escalated to the point where I was reluctant to answer the phone. 

It was frustrating for me because I was never able to recreate the problem. Finally one day the controller called and reported the same type of crash. I rushed over the company offices and tried to replicate the problem to no avail. I turned to the controller and stated “it likes me, it doesn’t like you – you do it”. The controller took a seat and proceeded to print invoices. Upon printing, the controller then quickly slid her chair back and over to the left, reached for the printer that sat on the floor and  tugged gently on the corners of the 4-part invoices to prevent the pages from binding in the printer. With that action, the system crashed. I looked, looked, and looked some more and then, I saw it. There it was. The mystery was solved. The company had not installed the network cables in the wall in anticipation of their up-coming move to new office space. The network’s linear topography cable lay on the floor behind the controller and each time she scooted her chair back to reach for the printer, her chair rolled over the network cable causing the crash. I resourcefully recruited a small piece of scotch tape, which I then used to tape the cable to the wall. The problem was finally solved. I reported my successes to the company’s management who had little to say about the matter. It seemed, the relationship had been strained and the company was a little embarrassed. Whatever the reason, I never did work for that company again. The lesson I learned – that’s easy. Check the cables, check the cables, check the cables. 

                                                                                                         J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Support You Can’t Count On

A few years back, I was engaged to assist a large architectural firm with a troublesome accounting software installation. The company had been trying for months to get the system up and running, but it seemed that the time and billing data just would not properly flow to the job-costing module. Yours truly confidently came to the rescue. 

After several days of effort, I had exhausted the obvious remedies based upon my knowledge of the system, and I was forced to turn to vendor support. Unfortunately, vendor support from this particular vendor amounted to waiting on line via a long distance phone call for a couple of hours before an operator would take my name and number, promising a call back later. In this case “later” usually meant “3 days later”. Undeterred, I awaited the support, explained the problem, and received a patch that promised to rectify the problem. I returned to the client’s offices, installed the patch but found that the problem persisted. 

Back at square one, I repeated my original steps. I called support, waited online, gave them my name, returned to my office, explained the problem again three days later, received another patch, installed the patch, tested the results, and determined that this stubborn problem would not fade away. This became a little game. Like an endless loop, I re-traced this procedure a total of four times over six weeks. At the end of six weeks, my client put an halt to this endless loop by firing both me, and the controller – claiming that neither of us knew what we were doing.

Years later I met with an employee of this accounting software vendor. I mentioned to them the problems I had encountered trying to integrate the time and billing module with the job-costing module. Without skipping a beat this long time employee retorted “Oh, that never did work, that’s why we got rid of our time and billing solution”. Astonished and explained that a person had gotten fired over that bug, that I had lost significant consulting fees related to this bug. This person explained that the support department was simply buying time hoping that the known problem would be resolved. The lesson I learned is to recommend and work with only those products whose publishers provide good end user support. 

                                                                                                          J. Carlton Collins, CPA

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Consulting War Stories