The advancement of technology in the accounting industry is presenting forward-thinking firms with the chance to completely change the way they operate. Modern systems and apps are letting accountants achieve far more, with a lot less. But for all the opportunities being presented, one big, new challenge has surfaced. How can you navigate the endless and constantly evolving ecosystem of apps? How can you assess and select the options that are right for your firm? To save you time and help you make the right choices for your firm, I’ve compiled nine steps to selecting the best accounting solutions that will deliver return on investment for you.
1. Identify Your Major Blockers and Opportunities
Begin by asking yourself, “What’s wrong with my firm’s workflows and processes,” rather than, “What new technology can I implement?” Take a look at what actually needs solving and what isn’t running as well as it could be. Think inefficient processes, occasions where bottlenecks often appear, or areas that are OK, but could still be done better — such as client onboarding.
By identifying these inefficiencies first, you will be implementing the right technology that will help you fill those gaps. Doing the reverse can waste time, money, and energy — and you risk breaking workflows that might already work.
2. Set Your Priorities
Addressing all of your firm’s problems at once isn’t feasible, so you need to address your biggest workflow issues first. Focus on your top strategic priorities.
This diagram of a full-service accounting firm shows services provided to clients and the workflows needed to support the firm on the left and right. In between is what bridges the gap between servicing and supporting — client management and communication.
Using this diagram as a guide, rank what infrastructure components are most important to your firm. The categories you need depend on your size, type, and focus. For example, you may not do tax or time tracking, so they can be eliminated from consideration. If your highest margins coming from advisory, then small business and practice intelligence categories might be your top priorities.
3. Look at the Options Specific to Your Top Priorities
Beginning with your top priority, start exploring solutions. This outline of the Accounting Technology Ecosystem by Accountex provides a view of apps you can consider, sorted into categories.
You should also look at review websites such as Intuit’s apps.com, Xero’s app marketplace, or getapp.com. Any new app that you consider should integrate with the systems you’re currently using, so where applicable, pay attention to the database of add-ons for any of your current systems.
4. Put Together a Shortlist
Now that you understand your top problems and have a sense of the solutions that exist, you should explore the vendors and understand which ones are worth shortlisting.
To stop yourself from spending too much time on this step, set a limit for each evaluation. By doing this, you force yourself to see the entire landscape while not over-investing on any particular vendor. This will also keep the process moving.
5. Decide What’s Most Important
Once you have a shortlist, you should formalize criteria to evaluate your options.
Determine exactly on what you’re looking for — the characteristics that are most important to you and your team. Decide on three to five criteria that you’ll use to evaluate your shortlisted technology.
- System switching cost
- Product training
- Customer service
- Workflow fit
6. Weight Your Criteria
Assign a weighting for each of the 3-5 characteristics you chose, based on how critical they are. The combined points you assign should total 100 exactly. And ideally, you don’t want your criteria to be evenly weighted.
For example, you may weigh 4 criteria with points of 40, 30, 20, and 10 points. This step allows you to develop an equation for a qualitative analysis. This will make your final decision a lot easier, and free of bias.
7. Score Your Options
Now you can properly assess each shortlisted option. This involves giving a score for each, in each of the evaluation criteria. A Harvey-Ball style analysis works exceptionally well for this step — in which each app is given a score between 1 (poor) and 5 (excellent) for each criterion.
If one of the categories you’re assessing is price, you would give the cheapest option a 5 and the most expensive a 1 in that area. For ease-of-use, you could look at customer reviews and give the solution that appears to be the most intuitive a 5, and the most complex a 1.
When you rate each app against the other shortlisted options, and force yourself to have different scores for each, it will be much clearer to settle on a winner at the end.
8. Calculate Your Scores
To calculate your scores, use a metric that takes into account the weighting you used. This free technology prioritization template will help you with this step.
In practice, if you chose three criteria (X, Y, Z), weigh them (Wx, Wy, Wz), and score them across two vendors (Sx1, Sy1, Sz1 vs. Sx2. Sy2, Sz2 respectively), your comparable scores would be:
- Score (vendor #1) = Wx * Sx1 + Wy * Sy1 + Wz * Sz1
- Score (vendor #2) = Wx * Sx2 + Wy * Sy2 + Wz * Sz2
Identifying your overall winner — the highest score — will be easy, and you’ll know what option is your best fit.
9. Trial Your Winner
With a best solution identified, you must trial the product to determine whether it truly is the right fit for your firm. If two options are close in scores, you should try to test them both. Does it live up to your expectations? Will it solve your problem? If not, look at the second best option and repeat.
Technology for accounting professionals has radically changed over the last decade. This evolution is presenting you with game-changing opportunities for efficiency improvements and automation. If you can follow a process to navigate through the sheer number of technology options to assess what is right for you, your firm will reap the benefits for years to come.