It won’t come as a surprise that here at Bill.com, we’re big believers in the many benefits that automation offers accounting firms. Automation can make a huge, immediate impact on a firm’s efficiency as well as open up the options for new revenue streams, such as offering automated bill pay services.
And what was once a trade secret that some firms used to their advantage is becoming the status quo. In fact, Gartner estimates global enterprise software spend to hit $556 billion in 2021, a 10% year-over-year increase. So If the words “That’s the way we’ve always done things” crop up in your conversations when it comes to manual processes, it may be time to rethink that perspective. If your firm isn’t one of the many looking towards automation, your competition likely is.
But automation isn’t just about signing up for a trial and calling it a day. There are processes, people and many factors to make the switch successful. In this three-part series, we’ll lead you through the stages that have helped our customers find great success in automating their processes—from identifying needs all the way through eliminating future hurdles—in three stages: Plan, Pilot & Pivot.
Plan: Understanding What Processes to Automate and Why
Change for the sake of change is nobody’s friend. Like any investment you’re taking a chance on, the planning stage cannot be skipped. And, since change management is often the hardest part of getting your staff on board, it can seem daunting to take that first step. Luckily, getting to that point does not require a huge, complex process that takes years to implement.
All it takes is a good plan.
Instead of retrofitting an overnight solution to fit your firm’s existing infrastructure, you need a measured, customized and strategic approach.
Step one of this process is to take frank, analytic stock of your firm’s weaknesses and needs. The focus should be on:
…where the organization is not currently meeting its full growth potential. A whopping 94% of firms told us that automating more of their bookkeeping tasks would help them grow their business.
…where employees require additional support. From reducing errors to mitigating the risk of fraud—in addition to the client-support benefits already mentioned—your team of accountants will contribute more value, higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction and productive contributions when they’re properly supported. Ask them what pain points most urgently need to be solved for; changes should be made in service of, not in spite of, the busiest of bookkeepers with their boots on the ground.
…where communication can be improved across the firm. There are countless steps in any process that can be automated in order to move things faster, from onboarding, project management and approvals to requesting documents and reconciling financial statements. Even if the process itself can’t be fully automated, certain steps can.
…where your clients’ needs can be better met. The marketplace has fundamentally changed, and new client demands are emerging for value-add services like cash flow analysis, business modeling, tax planning and risk advisory. Now is the time to ensure your service strategy—and the technology that fuels it—is designed to meet your clients’ future needs. (Hint: Accountants unburdened by double data entry are already better poised to meet them!)
The above will help you identify the different stages of implementation and assess where your firm is currently, as well as where you’d like to go. But, even after looking clear-eyed at the present, planning for the future—not just the future success you’d like to see—is critical before moving forward.
Stress Test Your Automation Plans
This is especially true with automation which, while undoubtedly beneficial, has far-reaching ripple effects into every area of your organization.
Each change, big or small, has implications across the firm, affecting established systems, clients and staff – sometimes in unexpected ways. Understanding and anticipating them is the best way to ensure you can manage them.
Failing to plan for these changes is a step firms skip over too often – and can lead to all-new issues down the road.
Picture your firm as a house with a leaky roof. It’s easy enough to ignore when the sun is out – but by the time the downpour begins, it’s too late. Placing a bucket under the leak can prevent damage and flooding in the short term. But researching contractors, evaluating tool options, inspecting the cause of the leak and considering impacts to other rooms in the house always lends itself to a more responsible, more permanent solution.
Build a plan that goes deeper than the automation technology
Don’t develop tunnel vision during the planning process. Instead, consider adding these to your checklist as you take stock and determine your approach:
Work backwards. Have a clear end goal in mind and figure out a roadmap to that point from where you’re currently standing – including smaller incremental goals to meet along the way, and clear performance indicators to measure against.
Develop change management plans to include employees in the decision-making process, work with them through any growing pains or frustrations, and as a source of continued, firsthand feedback.
Prepare for growing pains. Speaking of growing pains, work them into your plan instead of just knowing they’ll come and planning to tackle them on the fly when they do. Now is the time to plan how you’ll invest in everything from decreasing employee anxiety about automation and dips in productivity during retraining to the longer lead-time it might take your staff to re-order their priorities and acclimate to doing their jobs in a new way.
All of the above will work together to help you create a tailored, actionable plan. Not to mention, it can help provide a method to what some at the firm might assume is madness – adding transparency into the allocation of resources and team priorities into the work required to automate processes and satisfying business drivers that both long-term solutions and quick wins have been accounted for.
Being aligned with your firm’s needs is also crucially helpful for the next stage, PILOT, which will help in making the jump from deciding why, how and when to use automation – to learning how to use it well.
This is the first of 3 articles in our 3 Stages to Automating Your Firm Series aimed at helping accounting firms take the steps necessary to implement automation in their firms. Check back for articles part 2 and part 3 soon. Or, if you’re ready to get started with your automation journey, see how Bill.com can help. Start your risk-free trial or request a demo today.