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Four tips for changing practice management system


While new practice management tools promise efficiency and time-saving, moving from one system to another can be rocky with the occasional nasty surprise. So how can firms minimise risk and maximise benefit from such a move?

19th Jul 2023
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We’ve seen a lot of change in the practice management software world in recent years, with new products allowing remote access, more streamlined processes and automation, and increasing levels of integration across other tools and systems. 

Based on past experience, over the next three to four years we anticipate that around half of our clients will change their practice management system. Sometimes this is just natural churn: a need for a specific service or integration, dissatisfaction with price increases, service or product fit, or simply wishing to go in another direction.

Some firms don’t even want to replace their practice management software but are being forced to by suppliers collapsing their product catalogues to eliminate duplicate or competing systems. While they might give a year or two's notice, given the magnitude of change involved for many firms, this is unlikely to be enough. 

As a technology adviser, we’ve seen the whole gamut of practice management migrations, from smooth sailing to rough seas. Many migrations are poorly executed because firms lack (or fail to allocate) the resources needed to make it work, while others might lack the expertise to make the most of the opportunity. 

Quite often we encounter practice management systems that have been put in place relatively recently, but just copied verbatim the poor data and working practices of their predecessors. What a waste, given the spend and disruption involved in the change!

So what can a firm do to minimise risk and maximise benefit? Here are four tips:

Scope out exactly what you’re looking for

Build a set of requirements for how you’d like your firm to work. Most old practice management systems bear the mark of successive changes in IT and executive leadership decisions, with haphazard initiatives embedded and ingrained over time.  

Look at the whole project with a fresh set of eyes and take time to conduct an analytical review of data, data processes and integrations. This will result in a more precise and comprehensive specification for a new system, and the more detailed and comprehensive your specification, the better. 

Both you and any potential vendor will have a clear understanding of your needs, helping build a reliable selection process and eliminating doubt as to the result you are seeking. 

Decide what your new system should be 

It is not at all clear that the best replacement for a practice management system is another practice management system. 

The niche suppliers that write these are serving a relatively small market, resulting in constrained investment budgets, limited resource pools, long product lifecycles and protracted delivery times. When compared to general-market alternatives, the products themselves are often quite limited in features for larger firms.

Might a finance package combined with a modern CRM be a better alternative? This obviously varies from firm to firm, with size, scope and budget all factors – an external view of the “art of the possible” will certainly help here. 

Negotiate from a position of strength  

Accounting firms rarely purchase big systems like this and inexperienced buyers can fail to get the best deal, particularly when it comes to paying for extra modules, services and features. 

It isn’t the commercial negotiation that is the issue – you should be fine with that – but rather what we refer to as the technical negotiation. 

Vendors love to tweak orders that broaden the scope once the virtual ink is dry on the core contract. Can you be sure you’ve covered all your bases? 

This is where good old desk research, harnessing the views of fellow practitioners or bringing in a bit of outside help may pay dividends. After all, if you went to buy a second-hand car, you’d take your petrol-head friend with you, wouldn’t you?  

Do you what you need to do before engaging the vendor 

Lastly, do as much improvement work as you can before migration, not during it. Processes can be improved, data cleansed and operations standardised.  

Doing this during migration increases risk, and also tends to rely on the incoming vendor for expertise. Their expertise is in their product, not your data or process. Optimising these first will lower the cost and risk of migration, as well as ensure the vendor is focused on their job, not yours. 

Changing practice management system may not be something that you want to do, but it will probably be something that you will have to do as systems become end-of-life. 

Rather than being forced to go down the route prescribed by a supplier, seize the opportunity to take control of the situation and use the next couple of years to redesign your approach and working practices to maximum effect. Then you will be empowered to confidently choose and implement the right solution for your practice.

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