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Tech & Innovation

How accounting firms can plan a smoother technology implementation

Samantha Mansfield  Founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC

Samantha Mansfield  Founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC

The manner in which accounting firms handled needed implementations of new technology goes a long way to how successful the new tech will be with employees

A technology implementation is something every professional has gone through, likely more than once. Some implementations probably went better than others, but some people still are filled with dread when any technology change is mentioned. Yet, this doesn’t have to be a painful process.

Most accounting professionals have not be formerly taught best practices for implementing technology or even general project management techniques. Their learning was through trial and error or by following the procedures of the previous implementation — often, regardless of whether it was smooth or not. In the end, organizations can lose thousands of dollars on projects started, but not completed. It is time for a better process.

Steps to success

The keys to a successful implementation are planning, mindset, and communication. While all three concepts are important during each step of the transition, make sure to scale each step based on the size and significance of the tool being implemented. And remember, don’t skip a step.

Here is a typical five-step process that can ensure a smooth tech implementation:

1. Define the need

Typically, an issue arises that leads to the search for a new technology solution. Before heading out to find a replacement for that one issue, explore other needs that are tied to that process. Too often an organization can end up with a patch work of software types because a tool was selected for one problem and it may duplicate functionality in another system. Pause at this time to do some discovery.

Pull together a team of individuals with different perspectives. Try engaging the group by framing your questions around positive outcomes and opportunities instead of the challenges that you currently face. “The main premise of appreciative inquiry is that positive questions, focusing on strengths and assets, tend to yield more effective results than negative questions focusing on problems or deficits,” says author Warren Berger, in his book A More Beautiful Question: the Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

Keep in mind, you don’t want to boil the ocean. In this brainstorming session, the scope of the initiative can grow significantly. After brainstorming, prioritize the components that would be foundational to the future vision and those that alleviate urgent needs.

2. Explore solutions

Assign someone — or better yet, a couple of people — to do the research. Create capacity for them to do the inquiries; and confirm the timeline, budget, and participants in the decision-making process. Although you may involve IT professionals, do not abdicate this research to your IT team alone. They are not as entrenched in the processes and may miss the nuances of a system and how changes can impact the team’s workflow.

When evaluating solutions, look at technology used in other industries as well. Is there a philosophy, technology, or trick that has been incorporated elsewhere that would be applicable to your accounting and finance operations? If so, find it and study it for possible use.

Find other options by reaching out to people in your network to see what they use. Don’t base your decision solely on their input as they may not share the future vision your team has created. Additionally, identify options through software reviews, websites, exhibit halls at conferences, social media forums, and other venues.

3. Test the process

For effective testing to happen, there has to be knowledge on how to setup the system. Depending on the timeline or the scope of the problem, you may not have the bandwidth or lead time to learn the setup to begin testing. Inquire with the technology vendor to see if they have a service that will setup the database for your needs. If they are unable to do so, look into value-added resellers (VARs) that know the system and could do the setup for you based on your specifications.

Then identify a small team of colleagues, and clients if applicable, to test the solution. Don’t consider it a failure if the initial plan for implementation didn’t work and you have to iterate. This is part of the process and actually will get you to the best results — as long as you learn from it. Communicate to your pilot users that it’s important that they provide quality, detailed feedback to make the initiative worthwhile.

Gather feedback at each phase of the testing. Receiving authentic feedback will only make the implementation more successful, no matter how hard it may be to receive. Invite some people into the test group that may be skeptical of the new solution, so you’ll hear feedback from those that may give the greatest pushback upon rollout. These people eventually could become your greatest cheerleaders.

4. Rollout the changes

The success of the rollout starts with the communication. No matter the struggles with the current process, people are uncomfortable having to change. The message you communicate needs to be centered around “What’s in it for me?” Users need to see how this change they will benefit them.

Layout the plan on when and how everyone will be trained on using the new tech solution. Keep in mind not everyone learns the same way, so offer options that work for the diverse members of the team. Some professionals learn best by reading documentation, others need to be hands on, and we are seeing a tremendous growth in the use of videos as an effective training tool. Schedule internal webinars so they can be recorded, and develop an FAQ.

Remember, be sure to communicate what will stay the same and what will be changing. It is important to create accountability so everyone implements the new process instead of trying to stay with the old way of doing things.

Finally, make sure you celebrate the accomplishment of a successful launch by taking a moment to acknowledge the achievement.

5. Continue improvement

Technology is continuing to evolve and improve, so that means you need to assign a champion to monitor the updates and enhancements made to the system with your new tech implementation. When new features are relevant to your process, undertake a mini-launch of the new features and communicate that with the teams.

Often there is an inclination to push off a technology change to a better time. Yet, that better time rarely arrives. It’s important to remember that you can start small, just start. The scale of each step will vary based on the reach and impact of the technology being implemented.

Tools that we try to rush into the workflow by not following this process can often lead us to having to backtrack and refine the implementation. Make your next implementation smoother.

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