Organizing Your Data

When implementing an accounting system, how do you determine how to identify your Vendors, Customers, Employees, Inventory Items, Fixed Assets, etc. etc. etc?

That is a subject that requires some thought. An important question to ask is whether the identifiers need to have any “intelligence” built into them. An example of an intelligent identifier would be using the vendor’s main telephone number as the Vendor ID in the accounting system. Another example would be to use a variation of the company’s name (e.g. ABCCAN for ABC Canada Inc.) Intelligent identifiers make intuitive sense, but they suffer from a common problem: what if the underlying information changes? You need to plan what to do if the company moves, gets acquired or changes its name. Some systems let you change the identifier retroactively. Others, particularly older systems, do not.

Employees are a special case. Traditionally, many companies used the employee’s Social Insurance Number (SIN) as an identifier. SIN’s have been ruled as private information under The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), so you cannot use them as identifiers. Even using the last four digits of the SIN has been ruled as private.

But let me put another idea on the table. When I talk to computer developers, they ask why is there ANY intelligence in indentifiers? Modern systems can sort and filter based on any field. You don’t have to use a telephone number as a Vendor ID since you can search your vendor file by telephone number at any time. In that case your Vendor ID could be “VE” followed by a five digit serial number that starts at 00001 and goes up. The two character prefix is handy so you can tell at a glance whether it is a Vendor or a Customer (etc.) that you are talking about.

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