Top 7 steps to think about when changing your accounting software

There comes a time in any growing or changing business when choosing a new accounting software or replacing an existing one becomes imperative to ensure productive growth.

Looking online for software and your given so many options and choices. How do you start to find out which ones are worth looking at? The below 7 pointers provide some high level tips to help you work out what you need to look at before selecting the software that suites you best.

Firstly, what is Accounting Software?

Well the core is – obviously – software that lets you produce your accounts.

Although typically this branches out into many other areas that ultimately affect the accounts, like:

  • Sales Order Management
  • Purchasing
  • Stock Management
  • Shipments
  • Invoicing
  • Accounts Receivable
  • Account Payable
  • VAT
  • eCommerce
  • Contact Management
  • Reporting
  • Etc.

Many business areas, departments and processes all impact accounts and software that lets you run and stay in control of your business as a whole is called ERP software. ERP is an acronym for Enterprise Resource Planning. Which is anything that helps the business plan and make best use of its resources – its people, time & assets.

However, most people call this kind of solution “Accounting Software” (as historically it was often controlled by the Accounts department)

Before you engage in finding the right Accounting Software

We have run hundreds probably thousands of projects over the years, and there are a few tips that we believe will maximise your ability to get the right accounting software and have it properly implemented.

The below 7 steps highlight the thinking you need

  1. Why change?
  2. DIY or Get the Professionals In?
  3. Big bang or phased?
  4. Running the project
  5. Software & Partner selection
  6. Going live
  7. Managing on-going improvements

Step 1: Why change from your current Accounting Software

All change needs time, effort and a motivation to keep it on track. Regularly reminding yourself & the team why you are doing this – the benefits – is key to keeping the project going.

Especially when times get busy and maxed out staff need to forge extra time in their week to make this change a reality.

Sit with staff and get the benefits written down – with numbers & tangible benefits – so you can measure the success of the project. This really reminds everyone to be rightfully proud of the change they are making happen.

Step 2: DIY or Get the Professionals In?

Do you “go it alone” or select a partner? Do you choose a specialist (or specialists) or single more broad-spectrum company?

Much of this depends on your view on risk, value and available time. The software videos & explanations make it look easy to use, but that is after is has been set up and configured to make it work the way you need it to.

Expertise is always beneficial to getting the set up done right. Going it alone looks attractive from a cost point of view, but ultimately it will take longer and can often be a frustrating experience.

Even if you don’t want to hand the project over to a partner, you can work with one. They point your team in the right direction and let them do a lot of the setup work. This is a good and valuable approach to setting up simpler systems.

We’ve written a separate Blog on the topic on the benefits of partnering.

Step 3: Big Bang or Phased Deployment?

Getting going (going live) with a new accounting software can be done in either a

  • Phased Approach
    Where a part or division of a business goes live, then the next part, etc. or
  • “Big Bang”
    Where the majority or whole of the business goes live at the same time

There are a lot of benefits to each, but the main points to consider are the time available from staff, urgency of the project and risk to the business to delays.

If people can offer a fair amount of time to the project and it needs to happen as a whole, the big bang is a good and traditional approach. It needs a lot of co-ordination across the business areas, co-ordinated testing and a strong project leadership team. It does come with the risk of affecting the whole company if it is delayed or things go awry.

Phased approach allows for smaller teams to be involved and keeps the project more agile. Improvements in one area provide time and benefits to the next area tackled. This can take longer overall (compared to big bang), but the risks are smaller and the projects more manageable. Additionally, you and the partner build up a good working relationship which is an asset in the next project.

The phased approach seems to be getting more popular, especially with cloud projects. Big Bang projects seem to be favoured by more complex businesses, especially when moving away from an existing outdated solution.

Step 4: Running the project

You will need someone to be the project lead on this. Is this an inhouse person or an independent advisor?

Making any change project a reality needs someone that will drive it and has the trust of the people bank rolling the project and the team benefitting from it. Depending on the size and time scales, this role can be a significant part of their working week.

If the person is internal, who will take over the work they no longer have time for? Do they have the required project leadership skills? If no one is available, can you get an external trusted advisor on board?

We would not leave it all to your accounting software partner though, as these projects need drive from both companies to make a resounding success.

Make sure that all steps in the project have been mapped out and put on a plan. Not matter how much time is spent in planning and understanding business needs, never assume it will go as originally planned.

Planning is vitally important and should be active. Regular, open and honest ‘are we there’ reviews need to be had between the project team.

If things change, discuss how it can get back on track or what the new plan is. Time scales will eb and flow and sometimes you may need to take things out of the project (if time is critical). The information in Step 1 will let you know what can be removed or re-planned and what must stay on track.

Step 5: Software & Partner Selection

Now that you have a shared sense of why you want to change, how you want to deploy it and who is going to keep it on track; you are ready to start thinking about software and the partner you want to involve.

Searching for software is difficult, there are so many choices out there. Do you want it on the cloud, hosted in a data server? on your own servers? Which do you choose?

The key things to look for in the software and your partnership is:

  • Does it match the way you want your business to work? Don’t just look at the problems it removed from your current set up & don’t assume because your current system does it the new one will too.
  • Concentrate on top 3 – 5 (or so) key scenarios you want improved (data from Step 1). Typically, 80% of the value will come from meeting these needs.
  • It is unlikely the software will match all the ways you want to work; can the software be changed to meet your ways?
  • How will you work through changes with your partner? You may only find this our mid project. It is highly unlikely that both parties have thought of every eventuality at the outset.
  • Is the software from a reliable, long standing business? This software will be the heart of your business productivity solution, make sure the authors are going be around for a long time.

Work with your partner, find one that you feel you can trust and work with. Not just in the sales team (who are often seasoned at building trust) but the project team as well. Bigger companies feel safer, but will they be agile enough to work with you and are they too biased on winning deals and not on the delivery. If they are smaller, will they have enough people to look after you.

Meet the team if you can or maybe have a webinar with the two teams to see how they gel? They are all going to work closely together for the project and beyond. Trust & a common aim are key to success.

One thing we do not recommend for most businesses are very formal, arms-length documented tender processes. The seem to offer a great impartial solution, but ultimately, they don’t convey what the business really needs to have delivered. Often resulting in a poor cake from seemingly good ingredients.

Step 6: Going Live

The is the last step for the project team and is seen as the most critical, but it should not be. The transfer from old to new should have been tested before.  At least a couple of time before.

“Going Live” should not be a new experience. Have you planned the testing in? Do you know what to test for?

The planning stage should include a written-up set of scenarios that need to be tested to prove the system does what you need it to. Without that you will not know if the system works and these scenarios are also beneficial in showing people how to use the new accounting software.

If the test scenarios work in the new systems after the data has been transferred from the old, then the system works, and you are safe to go live.

Having the partner ready and available with the users (either virtually or in your office) is beneficial in terms of ironing out any niggles or providing guidance on how to do the day to day tasks in a new software suite.

Step 7: Managing on-going improvements

The project go live is not the end of the change process. You will find some small things that were needed may have been missed or you need further guidance on how to do specific tasks.

Having an internal ‘guru’ and / or a support contract with a partner makes the lives of the users much more comfortable and gives them someone to talk through any difficulties with.

As a business, change is constant. The accounting software should reflect this. Work proactively within your team and with a partner to see what improvements can be made next.

Keeping open to productivity improvements allows your business to adapt to change faster and to ensure new recruits can get up to speed faster.

Any work done improving productivity today multiplies efficiency every day after.

Next Steps

If you want to change your accounting software and need any advice or guidance on where to start, please feel free to give our team a call on 03300 882 515 and we will be happy to help you make the right decision.

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