Implementing new technology is a key aspect of running a modern accounting firm. The pandemic only accelerated the need for, and the speed in which we are adopting, new software and other tech tools.
To enjoy a successful implementation, it is important to remember that the process is not simply an exercise in swapping out an existing product for another. Effectively using a new piece of technology involves adjusting our processes and getting used to them. When we fail to realize this, we do not get the full return on our investment and do not create the competitive advantage a new tool has the potential to deliver.
Starts With Leadership
Leadership must buy in to the concept and overly communicate the importance of the change. Communicate the why with the team: why the change is being made and how the organization will benefit. Depending on how vast the initiative is, leaders of staff directly impacted should discuss what is in it for their employees personally.
People can get nervous about change. They worry about:
- whether it will cannibalize their jobs
- how they will learn the new system
- when they will have time to learn it
- trusting the accuracy of the output of the new technology
- potential discomfort from doing something differently
As leaders craft their message, they must consider these concerns, and any other staff may have, and work to address them directly. Give the talent a forum to ask their questions without judgement. If an answer is unknown, be transparent by recognizing items that are open and unresolved, and how they will be followed up on.
William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, talks about the phases of leading a transition. Implementing a new technology is a transition. The change happens when the new tool is acquired, but the psychological buy-in has not yet happened for most. There are emotions connected with any change a person has to navigate.
Bridges explains we start with communicating The End. This is when we discuss what is changing, or what is ending, and what is staying the same. As the implementation process begins, we go into the Neutral Zone, as Bridges calls it. This is where we are learning and testing the new system.
During this phase, some people get nervous and want to go back to the old way. Leaders need to keep the team mindful of the goal and end result. While iterations to the plan will happen, the primary goal will be the same. It is important for leaders to keep the team engaged.
Building an Effective Implementation Team
Choosing members of the implementation team is an important step. The size of the project will impact the size of the team. Do not only include those most adept at technology. You want input and questions from those who may resist the new tool so that their point of view is incorporated into process improvement and training materials as well.
These more resistant professionals can become some of the biggest advocates across the firm. The members selected for the implementation team need to be open to improvements, however.
The implementation team should bring up questions from their groups. Consider how the new solution will impact processes and integrate with other tools they use. Yes, many of these things should come up in the purchase process, but now we go deeper. Not all members of the team that purchased the solution may be part of the implementation, but someone should be involved to ease the handoff from one phase to the next. The person who was involved in the purchase and the implementation may be the overall champion.
Identify a Champion
Having a champion is important to the implementation’s success. They need to have capacity freed up to serve in this role. Without the full ability to commit to the implementation, they will fall behind in expectations of their work, or the implementation itself.
- keeps the project on track
- is trained on the new technology
- coordinates documentation of processes
- orchestrates vendor communication
- keeps the team and leadership informed on the project status
- gathers feedback
They are not working alone, unless they are a sole practitioner. They should lean on the admin team to help schedule training sessions and handle documentation.
Champions provide leadership by reinforcing why the project is happening and providing overall support of the initiative; this communication has to continue throughout the project. Firms across the accounting profession are starting to see the value of implementing project management principles to ensure success.
The rollout is another important phase of any implementation. During this stage, everyone affected by the change is taught how the new technology will be used. The implementation team needs to celebrate the effort and commitment of those affected that led to reaching this major milestone.
A rollout should include:
- documented procedures
- training options that fit different learning styles
- a method of answering questions
- a way to collect feedback
Not everyone learns the same way. Video is a common training method, and works well in the hybrid work environment most organizations are embracing. To be time-efficient, offer live video classes to allow people to ask questions —and be sure to record them. This allows those unavailable at the time to watch it later, and those who are hands-on can reference a recording once they have access to the tool as well.
Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom also provide transcripts, which are searchable for easy future reference. Questions submitted through the chat can be the basis for developing an FAQ. This one training can generate multiple training resources for varied learning styles.
Another training time-saver is the use of courses the vendor offers, either as prerecorded or live sessions. This way, the technical functionality is taught by those who know it best.
Accountability For Accounting Software Implementations
Lastly, accountability must be established during the rollout. People will go back to old habits, especially when they are stressed and busy. It is crucial to communicate the value of moving away from the new process. Consequences for not following the new approach need to be conveyed and followed through on.
For ongoing learning, the champion should stay abreast of updates to the technology, and do mini-implementations of relevant new features. Hold periodic lunch-and-learn sessions to ensure everyone is becoming more adept with the system. Encourage other people to be inquisitive and bring up new ways the system can be used. This way, everyone is part of the process, and they don’t feel the changes are always pushed upon them.