Changing accounting system? Here's some practical advice
Throughout the software industry, it’s a well known fact that 80% of clients use only 20% of their software product’s capabilities while the other 20% use 80% of it. Why? It’s all about implementation.
Darren Cran, COO of AccountsIQ has extensive experience in transitioning clients to a Cloud Accounting platform from legacy “on-premise” solutions. Darren and the team at AccountsIQ have managed many such projects ranging from small, simple implementations to large complex ones involving multi-group structures with over 200 sites, with extensive Business Analytics and Reporting requirements. Darren has an extensive background in accounting and finance systems having trained with KPMG, served as management accountant and later CFO for a group of 20 companies before moving to his present role in AccountsIQ where he has brought many clients to that 20%/80% experience and beyond.
Expectations are very different now. The basic month end is no longer enough. You wouldn't build a house for a growing family on poor foundations, and arguably finance functions are the same. As there is not much interest in the foundations, they must be right and hence the importance of a well implemented system that can scale and be built on as the company grows.
The role of CFOs today
CFOs are being asked to step up and play a more strategic role in business. Reliable information is critical to facilitate good strategy and the finance function is usually the most trusted source of information to help key decision makers move a business forward. As business gets more diverse and competitive in working practices, the importance of the finance function is rapidly increasingly. Every transaction eventually visits the finance system and resource and sales systems are now increasingly integrating with finance too (e.g. Salesforce, Online ticketing, EPOS systems and Reservation systems). This puts finance in a unique position, but it doesn’t happen by magic. A good finance function is a combination of the right system and the right people capturing data and reporting it to business managers in time.
In summary, even though there are now many software aids which will ease the process, you should not underestimate and expect the changeover process to be simple. If enough time is spent at the design phase it makes for a much better experience as everyone has a vision of the end goal. That’s the hearts and minds piece which is often overlooked. To achieve this, the implementation team need the support of the wider business leaders and community, so that risks are understood and expectations are managed.
It CAN be straightforward though. The more you plan and prepare, the easier the experience will be. Changing your accounting system (and maybe, as a consequence, your internal processes also) is all about developing the pre-formulated goals and achieving the resulting long-term benefits: i.e. the increased productivity and efficiencies brought about by the changeover to the new Cloud Accounting system.
The initial move will require extra effort from all involved to bring about these results. Some of the points to consider include the following:
Choose the Right Software Provider
You already know about the inadequacies and limitations of your existing accounts package and consequently what you now require from your new system, therefore it should be straightforward to match your needs to those that your potential suppliers can offer. Or is it? There are a lot more benefits that can be realised now than just processing the accounts every month. For example, Business Intelligence, Executive Dashboards, customised KPIs, Graphs and Charts, and “Drill Down” explorations and inquisitions, to name a few, which used to be the sole prerogative of the most sophisticated and expensive of database architectured systems, are now quite commonplace from some more advanced but modestly-priced accounting software suppliers.
Most especially in the Cloud arena which is relatively unencumbered in terms of storage capacity and processing power versus older in-house based systems. All of which can and will bring better insight into the performance and profitability of your business. Fully transaction-based systems will also constantly reflect the up-to-the-minute status of the business, literally. Paperless offices, online collaboration and messaging, cash flow projections, email communications, off-site working and so on, all have changed and replaced the traditional ways of doing business. So, it’s very important to understand what a replacement system can also bring in terms of additional benefits, not just in the areas of day-to-day accounts production, but also in the areas of much improved and access to vital management information.
In addition, you need to ensure that the chosen replacement system is also scalable in that it has unlimited capacity and ability to continuously expand in volume terms as your business grows, but also that it can and will facilitate your ability to open up new avenues of business opportunities in terms of expansion. Make sure you can easily add new entities in your accounting software!
Selecting the right software provider will go a long way to easing your implementation process and ensuring you have the right support you need for the future. After selection, the number one issue in migrating to the Cloud model is the question of support – which is an absolute essential if the transition is to be the success you look for and deserve. Therefore, during your selection process:
- Ensure that you will have a dedicated implementation manager;
- Check the provider’s support services;
- Ensure that you will have access to a dedicated Account Manager going forward;
- Make sure SLA’s are in place and are contractual.
In addition, having an implementation manager and team experienced in the world of accountancy is also crucial as they will fully understand your requirements and how to apply the new software to achieve the required outcomes. You need to select a Supplier whose staff are completely proficient in both software and accounting.
Finally, make sure that the solution you select is one that can grow and scale with your business. It would be a great shame (and waste of effort) to select a solution that you then outgrow only to find that your chosen system is limited in terms of capacity or that you have to “migrate or upgrade to a higher/later version” in terms of functionality, and you then have to repeat this process (when your business is larger, more complex and more demanding)!
When thinking about the future you need to consider new business opportunities; possibly additional sites or locations; new reports and new integrations with other systems that you don’t currently use. Make sure that the chosen software solution is adaptable to such changing conditions and that your chosen solution is completely expandable in terms of transactions and data volumes and includes automatic access to enhanced and extended functionality.
Education and Engagement
You are about to change an integral and established part of your company’s processes and practices. Many existing users of the current system will have developed their own ways of doing things and quite often change is not welcome as it means they will have to adapt and alter their way of working. For example, implementing a Cloud based system will mean the end of the in-house system management in terms of daily and weekly backups and their rotation, no more software and security patches, no more transferring files to and from your accountant, and so on, since all of this is now fully taken care of and included as part of the Cloud service.
This means that the people formerly responsible for these activities will now no longer need to carry out these tasks. Others will be less affected, but will still have to adapt to changed and much newer and easier ways of carrying out processes. The new Cloud-based system will bring many benefits and you will want to encourage your staff to fully embrace these changes and recognise the long-term benefits both for the company and their own personal future.
- Educate your team on the topic of the Cloud
- Involve as many people as is feasible in the selection process to engender enthusiasm and allay any fears
- Ask your chosen supplier for access to a Demonstration Test account so that those affected can have a chance to “try it out”
- Explain future processes and procedures. This may be a good time to re-write policies and procedures for accounting.
- Engagement is about getting as many people as possible to “buy-in” to the future benefits of changing your accounting system. Engaging people as early in the project as possible will engender acceptance and enthusiasm and will make the training and implementation steps much smoother.
Planning and Design
Implementing a new system also presents the opportunity to revise some old, possibly outdated, coding and analysis systems in the light of the new system’s capabilities in order to gain maximum benefit. To do this, however, you must get to know the new systems facilities and functionality in detail. So, work with your supplier’s appointed implementation manager to get a thorough understanding of how it works and what benefits it can bring in terms of business information and intelligence in the form of new reports, drill-downs, fast enquiries, dashboards and charts and so on.
The day-to-day operational stuff will flow as a matter of course with the introduction of the new system – but this area of management information is where you will get maximum benefit from the right design and set up of the company’s organisation and structure. Now is a good time to re-examine existing structures (and possible future additions being contemplated), begin to write down Company and/or Group structures, Departmental structures within a Company, Charts of Accounts, Sales Analysis criteria and design initial sketches and thoughts on Reporting. Some points to consider:
- Plan pre-project design meetings with your implementation manager to ensure that you both understand the objectives to be achieved
- Plan and assign roles and responsibilities within the implementation team
- Design the Group (if relevant) and Company Departmental Analyses structures (Divisions, Branches, Locations, etc.)
- Design the Chart of Accounts and Sales Analyses Coding(s)
- Agree to scope of the data migration plan
- Thoroughly plan the key Reports, Charts, and Management Information
- Agree milestones and key dates for the implementation process
- Agree timetables for training and lists of users requiring the training
- Agree a nominated “Super User(s)” to receive additional training and all training materials
- Review training material and customise towards different planned users
- Design and agree each user access and user profiling and workflow processes
At this point it is all about planning and understanding the project between the project leader of the business and the implementation manager. The more the two parties understand about each other’s requirements, the better the implementation (and future use) of the system.
Setting up the user profiling can be quite important. If you have a large number of low profile users that only require minimal access to the system then removing unnecessary access to un-required functionality will make the system more appealing to these users. An accounts system can be overwhelming for minimal users if presented with the systems entire menu structure and if the user only sees what they are required to see then they will be a lot more comfortable with the system.
Finally, if integration is required then this must be discussed and planned at this stage. Many Cloud systems are very accessible in the transfer and integration of data. One of the key points here is to agree which technology partner will be handling the integration (i.e. who does the data request and push) and where the integration sits in the overall technological hardware system.
One of the most frustrating situations for everyone concerned is the Client who says he knows “how these things work, we’ve done it before” and as a consequence “doesn’t need or want to undergo all that wasted time and expense in training”. The outcome, inevitably, is a situation where Support Staff are continually being interrogated as to “how to do this?”, “how do I do that?” etc. to the frustration of both parties until the client finally agrees that they needed proper training on the operation of the system.
While this circumstance doesn’t occur that frequently (and most usually happens in the event of a Client moving on to a new system having previous experience of an existing system), it is however symptomatic of quite a number of Accounting Software suppliers adopting a “Super Support Service” (and, of course a higher level of fees) in order to continue to service these types of clients who believe they understand the systems capabilities and, inevitability and sadly, fall into the 80%/20% category.
Training comes in many forms and different users will require varying levels of training. Once again you need to plan different training methods and events for differing users. Some light level users may simply require simple training cards on how to perform a specific task, whilst other users will require substantial training (such as “super users”). The first task here is to split the users by training level and define what is required for each level. You then need to decide what training tools are required for each user level and set dates for completion of such training. Differing training methods may include:
- Training cards on various functionality
- Video-based learning such as AccountsIQ's AIQ Academy
- Documentation such as in-depth articles
- Online guides
- Zoom sessions or one to one training sessions
Cloud technology roll-outs are very simple to conduct since there is no software to install or deploy – it’s already there and ready to use. All that needs to be done is to parameterise your use of it. Every user can very easily access the system once they have been given the appropriate permissions.
Some functional areas can be quite complex, such as Bank Reconciliation, Multi-Company Consolidation, VAT Preparation and Submission, Multi-Currency Revaluation, and so on. But, with the right information to hand they can be, and are, very straightforward. Comprehensive “How to Guides”, with their step by step instructions and lots of background information as to how the system behaves and operates in these areas can be very useful.
Following the “Go Live” date there will be a period of Hand Holding. This is where the software supplier works alongside you in ensuring everything is running smoothly, like a special support period. At this stage, it is essential that you and your staff are fully trained, and test out every aspect of the system to ensure its completeness and that all users fully understand their interaction with the system and are happy with it.
The Hand Holding period is also a great time to get feedback from users and to pass this feedback onto the software providers. Remember that Cloud software is a product that continuously evolves and develops and your feedback is very useful market intelligence for the software developer. Additionally, you may find certain process and/or reports, whilst a great idea in theory, may not be ideal in practice and therefore need adjusting. This is the period to iron out small issues and ensure the system is moulded to your exact requirements for now and the future.
Just having one person at AccountsIQ dedicated to the onboarding process was absolutely amazing. She helped with all my questions, spent hours with me discussing and resolving issues. She’s still there to answer any questions today.
Patrycja Breisa, Management Accountant, PRP.
After the Implementation
The SaaS model is a new way of working with Software suppliers, albeit some traditional software suppliers are struggling to alter their business models to this new way of working. In the SaaS model you are continuously paying for the use of a Software application and the support provided in a partnership model Therefore ensure your supplier has reliable, efficient support on hand when you need it. As Cloud software products are continuously being developed there will only ever be one version of the software released to all clients. Therefore, ensure that you give feedback to your dedicated account manager to enable your desired upgrades, functionality requests and general feedback to be included in future upgrades.
The best thing about AccountsIQ is the successful and collaborative relationship we have with the support team; we have completed a number of projects with them and they never seem to tire of listening to us and working with us to adapt the software for our own and for every other user’s benefit. It almost feels like we are all part of the same development team.” Emma Whelan, Financial Controller, Asavie. Read case study.
Download our whitepaper on Implementing a New Finance System.
Join our Implementing a New Finance System Webinar on Thur 17th June at 11am BST.
We'll be sharing our advice to ensure the transition is a big success, having helped thousands of customers make the switch from older technology and legacy systems.