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Workshop Businesses have become accustomed to software products like MS Office which can be switched between languages (although Word's US English can be stickier than a handful of superglue when you want to select another language).

But when it comes to the financials modules in enterprise resource planning (ERP), the multi-lingual solution doesn't always, well, translate.

The problem is that accounting rules and conventions differ from one country to the next, so it's a question of translating not just the words but also the underlying business rules.

“The challenge if you have an international business is that you need financial systems that can cope with multiple languages and, more importantly, multiple accounting legislative regimes,” says Chris Schafer, director and founder of MySoft, which implements multinational systems for Sage.

Uncommon currency

There’s a lot to be said for having ERP and financials that are targeted at one language and jurisdiction. The legislation that governs how accounts are presented can be embedded in the software's processes.

Consequently, multi-lingual accounting systems have been the preserve of giant multinational companies. Only the largest organisations, so the reasoning goes, have sufficient bean counters to cope with accounting in local currency and according to local rules, and then consolidating all the accounts to head office's rules and currency.

But as globalisation affects more medium-sized and even quite small firms, the need to implement multi-lingual multi-currency systems is rising up the agenda.

“Now even SMEs are not just trading overseas but setting up operations overseas and they can’t use the UK mid-market solutions they used before,” says Schafer.

There are also companies that have been using different accounting systems in each territory and now want to standardise on one vendor or package.

Seeds of revolution

One example is Germain Technology Group (CTG), which provides seed technologies – coatings, disinfectants, protections and the like – for agricultural and horticultural customers. Based in the UK, it has operations in Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

On GTG’s previous system data from its five sites overseas had to be copied to a zip disk once a period and sent by courier to corporate headquarters in Norfolk. The data was then imported into a central system to enable GTG to report on its seven separate businesses. It was a time-consuming process and the resulting reports did not reflect the current business picture.

The company opted for Sage Line 500 with finance, distribution and manufacturing modules to replace its accounts and bespoke process monitoring software. The software had to support Polish, which some other vendors do not consider a mainstream language.

“We now have clearer visibility of our financial information, with data from the UK, Ireland, Poland, Holland, Spain and the US all consolidated into one database,” says Duncan Ellis, group IT manager at GTG. “Holding the data centrally saves us two to three days every time our overseas sites carry out period-end reporting.”

Pardon my French

As well as coping with local legislation, an accounts system has to use the right language and terminology.

Whether due to Britain's imperial past or its inhabitants’ sheer laziness, English has become the default business language – but users still like to be greeted in their own tongue when they log on. “Hola Herman” might raise a smile in Stuttgart the first time but is likely to grate when it pops up day after day.

Ditto the financials' terminology. “If you were using a US system it would show a field for sales tax instead of VAT, which would hardly instill confidence in UK users,” says Schafer.

One way round this is a highly configurable solution in which users can impose local terminology on a blank sheet. But for Schafer the best systems are internationally ready out of the box.

“You need a system that doesn’t require endless configuration to make the nominal ledger in France, for example, look the way it should,” he says. ®

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