Practice automation: Turn your team into champions
People can make or break your project and they are the most important element in the “people, process and technology” formula for digital transformation. Steve Ash looks at how to turn your team in automation champions.
As an accountant you’re used to dealing with regulatory change – and 2020 has certainly been no exception when it comes to changes in government financial support. But what accountants are not so good at is voluntarily changing the way their practice works.
Despite the multiple evolutions going on in accounting technology and digital transformation, getting onboard with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) still worries many professional accountants.
So, how can you overcome this aversion to process change? And what are the most effective ways to get your practice team engaged, onboard and enlivened by the benefits of automation?
Overcoming the fear
It’s not surprising that accountants are wary about the prospect of automated accounting. The media has been portraying automation as a threat to bookkeeping and accountancy for many years, giving examples of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence taking over the low-level, repetitive accounting tasks.
But automation is an opportunity, not a threat – and for exactly the same reasons. Automation won’t replace accountants, but it will help to remove a huge amount of the data entry and tedious financial admin that’s involved in the basics of accountancy.
“Automation is not going to take over your job,” explained SJCM Accountancy proprietor Sam Mitcham. “If I can take on more clients because of the efficiencies of automation, I can take on more staff and provide more careers. So that’s got to be the way you look at it – as an opportunity to do more and to get closer to clients.”
- By becoming a digital practice and embracing automation, you can:
- Automate the basics of bookkeeping and data input
- Automate your client onboarding and communications
- Automate much of your practice management.
All great news, if you’re looking to evolve into a lean, effective digital accounting firm. But how do you convince your staff of the benefits? And how do you explain the move away from time-consuming data entry and towards services that add more value, improve client relationships and apply the irreplaceable human skills of innovation and client empathy?
Set the automation agenda
Accountants want to be part of a practice that runs smoothly. Automation, AI and digital transformation all help achieve this goal, yet many staff members still feel daunted by the prospect of such a hi-tech, software-heavy solution.
To put these concerns to bed, factor in a range of different opinions, perspectives and ideas when looking to automate your workflows. This broad approach is vital when starting your automation journey, says Mitcham. “You need to keep staff involved in the decision-making process and communicate well. So, rather than telling them what new tool to use, ask them their opinion. Some staff are kept in the dark and then have a software tool thrown at them.
“And straight away that’s a defensive thing where the barriers come up,” she added. “They might not like this new process or even know how to use it properly. I really do believe that you should talk people through the software options and how they impact on their job and their career.”
To get real buy-in for your automation plans
Get your team involved from the start. When your people are involved in practice change and improvement, that’s generally a marker for longer-term success. Find out what is worrying your people about automation and listen to their ideas too. As the practice lead, you need to be open, transparent and inclusive if you want your automation project to keep the team happy and deliver the results you’re aiming for.
Offer training and up-skilling. Using unfamiliar apps and software tools can be daunting for staff, so invest in proper training and education. Many software providers run their own training programmes, so liaise with suppliers and enlist their help to introduce these new ways of working to your team.
Weed out the tech luddites. With the best will in the world, not everyone is cut out for being part of a digital practice. If team members are unhappy with using technology, or feel this isn’t the right direction for them, they may mean to find different roles. Education will always be the better option but, in some circumstances, you may need to change your practice team and focus on hiring people with the right tech skills.
Create tech champions. The Accounting Excellence Awards have regularly witnessed strong performances from firms that have in-house tech champions and “mod squads”. By creating tech champions in the business, you can help to inspire the wider team, focus your automation knowledge and create a great advisory resource for your clients.
Energise clients relationships with new tech. When team members are motivated by the possibilities of automation, this engagement is easier to transfer to clients. Staff will connect more with tech-savvy business clients and can help them negotiate their own tech issues and digital transformations – adding to the strength of the relationship.
Looking to the future of the practice
Automation and AI are no longer the theoretical, sci-fi concepts that they once were. Automation already plays a significant role for many accounting firms and their clients, so now’s the time to grasp the automation opportunity and to create a team of tech-savvy accounting professionals.
Talk to your Sage account manager about ways we can help you to evolve and update your accounting firm – and introduce the considerable benefits of automation and AI.
Sage is on a mission to bring the benefits of automation to every accounting and bookkeeping practice in the UK. To get started, download your free guide Artificial intelligence in 2019: A guide for business leaders.