The American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association with approximately 300 member companies operating in the United States and abroad. ACLI advocates in federal, state, and international forums for public policy that supports the industry marketplace and the 75 million American families that rely on life insurers’ products for financial and retirement security. ACLI members offer life insurance, annuities, retirement plans, long-term care and disability income insurance, and reinsurance, representing more than 90 percent of industry assets and premiums.
When ACLI was ready to move their 11 company databases from Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains 2010 to GP 2013, Controller Scott Dixon knew his team was facing a fairly standard software upgrade. “It wasn’t a unique customization,” he says, “but we were aware it may ultimately require bigger hardware and server changes.” ACLI was operating on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and FRx version 6.7, and shifting to SQL Server 2012 and Management Reporter would help ensure the most dependable, long-term system performance. Yet Dixon had reservations about calling ACLI’s IT development partner for guidance: they weren’t delivering a high level of service and lacked the follow-through to resolve issues.
“We felt that it was time to bring in a fresh set of eyes to walk us through the next set of upgrades and decide what system changes to implement first,” Dixon explains. “I was predisposed to like Wipfli.” Several of Dixon’s colleagues—Controllers from both professional associations and corporations—had positive experiences with Wipfli, particularly with their Great Plains training. “I knew Wipfli would be a significant improvement over what we had,” he says, “so I thought, ‘we can’t lose.’"
Dixon welcomed Wipfli to be part of ACLI’s decision-making process leading up to the GP upgrade. “Wipfli has knowledge of our systems and how they work together,” Dixon explains. “Our lead consultant gave us the pros and cons of our different upgrade options—and we appreciated getting that honest advice.” Electing to move forward with the SQL server upgrade, Dixon says, “We understood this would make future upgrades much easier. It ultimately saved us time and money.”
From the beginning of the project, Wipfli worked “behind the scenes,” directly with ACLI’s IT director. This enabled Dixon to remain focused on his day-to-day Controller responsibilities. “Wipfli laid out a good process to work through—and around our schedule,” Dixon reports. “We didn’t have much downtime. In fact, I didn’t see a lot of what was going on after 2-3 days. Everything was ready to run on the new server and tested without issues. They copied data to the new server overnight, and our new Great Plains was up the next day.”
The project was an overall success, with only one hiccup: a Microsoft-generated glitch with the FRx to Management Reporter migration. Wipfli was there to help walk Dixon’s team through importing reports and getting them up to speed. “When there’s a problem, you want a response quickly—Wipfli did a fantastic job on that.” And Dixon says that from his perspective, switching to Management Reporter has made a big difference in terms of stability. “We’re finding benefits with Management Reporter. It’s more user-friendly and reliable, a better product.”
One thing Dixon wasn’t expecting were the detailed daily summaries of what Wipfli accomplished. ACLI’s team was kept in the loop and Dixon had no surprises with invoices—something he is not used to with most other providers. “If Wipfli billed a quarter hour, we knew what they did. We had a good history of what they were doing.” And since Wipfli maintained up-to-date records, Dixon had the peace of mind that comes with thorough and accessible project documentation. “If something comes up and our primary consultant is not available,” he says, “someone else can get into the notes and get our problem corrected. They don’t fly by seat of their pants,” he continues, “and that only reinforces our decision to work with Wipfli!”
Today, ACLI’s senior accountant collaborates directly with Wipfli when needed, and the follow-through is always there. “Things have exceeded my expectations,” Dixon says. “Our consultants have been fantastic. They’re always able to quickly get back to us. Responsiveness is so important, especially after initial upgrades.” Looking ahead, Dixon will transition ACLI’s financial reporting from a paper-based system to electronic distribution. His team plans to work with Wipfli to implement these new capabilities beginning in 2016.
Key requirements included:
• Upgrade from Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 to 2013
• Migrate financial reporting from FRx 6.7 to Management Reporter
• Complete project on time and on budget, with minimal issues
• Superior service, with responsiveness to requests Key Challenges:
• Faced with decision to upgrade SQL Server 2008 to 2012 now vs. later
• Microsoft-generated issue with financial reporting migration
ACLI saved time and money by upgrading to SQL Server 2012 at the same time as Microsoft GP upgrade. Wipfli provided responsive service with consistent and timely progress updates, allowing the ACLI team to focus on their other duties during the project. After the upgrade, ACLI was able to experience the enhanced functionality from Management Reporter.