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Tech Series: How to Select & Implement New Tools

Oct 12, 2021
How to Select & Implement New Tools
Last year, we conducted in-depth surveys with INCPAS members at small- to medium-sized firms to find out where they were—or weren’t—in terms of technology adoption. Some of the results were surprising to me. In particular, regardless of where the firms were at digitally, they listed the exact same top three challenges with technology:
  1. Determining how it will integrate with existing technology.
  2. Learning to use it.
  3. Making sure everyone is using it correctly.

As CPAs, we spend a lot of time figuring things out on our own, but technology does not have to be one of them! I consider myself an advanced tech user, and it’s because I regularly work with vendors whose sole job is to help make sure we understand how a tool works and then make it as easy as possible for our team to implement it.

So, in my previous blog, I shared why and how we transitioned the INCPAS office to be cloud-based. Now in this blog, I will share how we implemented one of those new tools: our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software system.

I’ll walk you through the process step-by-step, including how to identify when a new tool is needed, how to tell if it’s the best solution, what to look for in a vendor, pricing, timing, and implementation and training options.

Pain Points & Wish List

In late 2018, we were closing in on the end-of-life cycle for our existing ERP software package and spent 2019 researching new options that would go into effect…in early 2020. What better time to change ERP software than during a global pandemic, am I right? Obviously that was not our original plan, but “now more than ever” we needed to move forward with a more efficient, comprehensive and internet-based system.

Our requirements were not overly complicated:
  • An internet/cloud-based solution that would:
    • Preferably be SAAS (software as a service) so we wouldn’t have to worry about obsolescence or installing updates.
    • Eliminate the need to create our own backups.
    • Eliminate the hardware expense for a server, either on-site or cloud-based.
  • A system that could replicate our existing integrations with other systems—including our CRM (customer relationship management) and payables system—and offer additional integrations to payroll and any other external systems.
  • Reduce our reliance on Excel during month-end and for financial reporting.
  • Improve reporting capabilities.
  • And we wanted to get all of this at a reasonable price.

Vetting a Vendor

We met with several vendors and looked at a number of options.

I forgot how tedious it can be to sit through software demos, but—even though they can be mind-numbingly boring at times—they are really important. Not only can they show you the software capability, but they also are a great opportunity to see how well a vendor listens to your needs and can offer a solution that meets them.
I encourage anyone looking at any sort of software implementation or conversion to make sure you are really clear about your wants, needs and pain points as you talk to vendors.
I encourage anyone looking at any sort of software implementation or conversion to make sure you are really clear about your wants, needs and pain points as you talk to vendors.

It can be embarrassing to admit you don’t know the full functionality of your existing system or that you still use Excel for just about everything, but it’s important to get all the facts out up front to help you find the best match for your needs.

This process also emphasized how important it is to find the right partner, too. If you go through the process of explaining your wants and needs, and then you sit down with a vendor who doesn’t come close to addressing them during their demonstration: run away! It sounds harsh, but if they aren’t listening up front—how can you count on them to help you have a successful implementation?

In one instance, I looked at the same software solution through two different implementation partners and walked away with totally different impressions of its capability. The first demo was so broad and didn’t address anything we needed, so I assumed the software would be a terrible fit for us. However, after sitting with another vendor who took the time to ask questions about how we would use the software, they showed us it could be a great solution and it ended up back on our list of contenders (but with a different implementation partner).

Set Up

Another interesting thing to consider is the implementation process.

How will the vendor work with you through implementation? Will they do all of the heavy lifting and set up the system for you and then come in and train you once it’s ready, or will they turn the implementation process into a collaborative effort, training you about the different elements and capabilities of the software and then let you work through the process of setting it up as part of your training, while helping you think through every step of the process? Personally, I’m an active learner and prefer to learn by doing, so the latter was my preferred approach.

Pricing

Pricing was an interesting element of the process as well. It varied dramatically from system to system, and not only for the software, but also for the implementation…and don’t forget about any add-ons we might need to get the full functionality. Everything had a cost attached to it.

Because we were looking at a SAAS system instead of the purchase of a software, we needed to do a reasonable cost comparison—not only between the options being presented, but also to our existing software. In order to make the comparison as fair as possible, we looked at the total costs over a 5-year time horizon which made it much easier to process the total costs. 

Timing

Once we made our software selection and had an implementation partner, the real fun began: figuring out when to implement it.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we were at the end of life-cycle on our existing software and it was no longer being updated. We decided we wanted to start implementation in late fall of 2020—still in the midst of the pandemic while working from home. We debated delaying the implementation, and then the IRS decided it was a good time to make changes to 1099s and replace 1099-MISC with 1099-NEC, so that forced our hand—we either had to get the new software or prepare 1099s manually. Decision made; we were a go for implementation! 

Implementation

Our entire implementation was done virtually, and the process was smoother than anticipated.

We had weekly meetings with our partner and kept on top of our homework assignments, which included tasks like exporting data from our old system, getting it into the proper format and then importing it into the new system.

We also had to decide on things like whether or not to keep our existing chart of accounts and vendor IDs. Both decisions impacted data from other systems, so we had to keep that in mind as we were making them. 

One of the toughest things to work through was getting APIs (application programming interfaces) set up with our other systems so data could be transferred automatically on a daily basis from our payables and CRM into the new system. After a little trial and error to get the systems to talk to one another, we were able to get the APIs working and eliminate some manual processes and data entry.

Since we were being trained as we set up the new software, we were pretty much ready to go once the set up was completed. We are still learning about some of the capabilities of the software as we go, but we are off to an amazing start and have increased efficiencies and reduced our reliance on Excel. 
Don’t be afraid to implement new software, no matter what craziness is going on in your world (including a global pandemic).

Key Takeaways

  1. Don’t be afraid to implement new software, no matter what craziness is going on in your world (including a global pandemic). There is never a perfect time, so when you feel the need to make a change go for it, but make sure you have the capacity to handle the workload.
  2. Look at SAAS solutions in addition to traditional software to meet your technology needs. SAAS solutions have a monthly fee, as opposed to a purchase cost, but SAAS products are always up to date and will have good security and back up processes built in.
  3. No software solution will be perfect, so find the best one and don’t be afraid to adapt your processes to fit the software instead of trying to adapt the software to your existing processes. It’s okay to change how we do things.
  4. Most importantly: find the right partner to help you through the process. The right partner will guide you through implementation and do a much better job of addressing your existing pain points.

 



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