Upgrading your accounting software?
An evolutionary versus revolutionary approach
Accounting software has become an essential tool of the profession. The finest software can be transformative—not only easing the workload and speeding the workflow, but uncovering patterns in financial and operational data of great value to audit clients. Yet, these new software packages can be enormously complex. Implementing them can be challenging. By paying close attention to a few critical success factors, however, firms can help ensure their accounting software upgrades generate maximum return on investment.
Define what success looks like
No one can hit a target they can’t see. Any new software installation—whether a full replacement or an upgrade—has to start with a definition of success. Identify the goals for the implementation project. Pay special attention to goals that deliver greater value to clients, either in audit efficiency or effectiveness.
Does the firm want to:
- Improve overall efficiency, productivity, audit margins?
- Support better collaboration between staff and clients by enabling them to seamlessly share data, files, progress updates and other information via the cloud?
- Free staff from routine tasks so they can focus on work requiring high-level cognitive skills and judgement?
Each organization will have its own unique goals: make sure everyone is clear on what they are.
Make sure leadership’s on board
Implementing new accounting software, and potentially new ways of working along with it, is a major change management effort. As with any change, there will be some resistance. That’s why leadership support has been found to be the most important factor in getting employees to support change. Managing partners, partners and senior managers must all be seen to be 100 percent behind the new software. They need to not only explain what’s happening, but why—and, perhaps most importantly—how the new software will benefit staff.
“Tone at the top is key to swift adoption and a smooth implementation. Staff must have a clear sense that the Managing Partner and Partners have bought into the solution and are convinced of the benefits.” — Todd Eyolfson, Director of Education, Technical Sales and Implementations, Caseware International
Don’t skimp on training
Proper training is vital to the success of any accounting software implementation, as well. Ensuring staff understand how to use the new tools—whether libraries of risks, controls and management letters or real time collaboration—is key to earning their buy-in to the change effort and to unlocking the software’s value. “Be sure to underscore the software’s capabilities, above and beyond the necessary functionality,” says Todd Eyolfson. “Focus on tools that will make their daily lives easier—analytics, the ability to automate processes, to make workflows more efficient, etc. That’s the messaging that you want to get out to your teams to gain buy-in.”
Set the stage for training by communicating the rationale for the change and its benefits for staff, clients and the firm itself. The collective sigh of relief may be audible from auditors now freed of routine tasks and able to focus on work that is more mentally stimulating. Create and deploy a detailed training plan that’s relevant, practical and meaningful for participants and gives them what they need to do their jobs more efficiently. And once formal training’s over, follow up with a regular stream of incremental training, such as accounting software “tips and tricks” and educational videos, to reinforce what staff have learned and build on those foundations.
Find the right implementation partner
Firms don’t often embark on major software implementations alone. They team up with a vendor or consultant who knows the software inside and out, can ensure that it’s properly installed and configured for the firm’s needs, and delivers the proper training. Because of this, it’s essential to have full confidence in your choice of implementation partner and to be aligned on the project’s end goals. Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and agreed upon, and treat the partner as an integral team member—not just an outside vendor. You both want the implementation to succeed, after all.
Be realistic about your rollout plan—and stick to it
The transformational capabilities of today’s accounting software can tempt firms to tackle a hugely ambitious implementation program. But trying to change too much at once can be counterproductive, and potentially undermine the project’s success. Instead, develop and stick to a realistic rollout plan that reflects the firm’s implementation objectives—as well as its capacity, capabilities, willingness to change and overall risk tolerance. Take a phased or gated approach to implementation to enable staff and the firm to adapt to changes in sequence before moving on to subsequent, more advanced features.
To reap the benefits of new accounting software, focus on getting implementation right
Today’s new accounting software can transform how accounting firms operate—helping staff collaborate more effectively, deliver more value to clients, and achieve profitable growth. Focusing on the critical success factors around implementation can help you ensure your firm reaps the full benefits of its software investment.
Thinking about upgrading your accounting software? Take a few minutes to read an expanded version of this post.