Blog|6 min

The 3 Stages to Automating Your Accounting Firm—Part 2: Pilot

Jeannie Ruesch, Director, Marketing

In the first post of this three-part series, we discussed the importance of a plan when introducing automation to your firm. This week, we’ll explore the second phase of implementing automation at your firm—PILOT, or the actual implementation and course-correcting process—and why it’s so crucial to success.

You’ve decided to automate a key part of your business. You’re armed with your plan and your shiny new software purchases. You’ve done your best to ask the right questions of the right shareholders. And you know that now isn’t the time to fall asleep at the wheel and trust autopilot to somehow get your business where you want it to go.

Phase Two: Piloting Your New Automated Process

Acting on the plan you put so much thought into creating may sound easy, but it’s even easier to get stuck in planning mode. The time has come to implement real customers with real data and real workflows across parts of your organization.

But… how?

When it comes to taking on something new, figuring out the ‘next step’ can be just as daunting as taking the ‘first step.’

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered! All you have to do is remember the 5 W’s.

WHO are the people impacted by automation solutions at your firm?

Remember that change isn’t easy, and that—even though it will eventually benefit them—there will be growing pains for your staff, your clients and you. During the planning stage, you should have included commitments to ongoing training and professional development. Follow through on that schedule even when things are busy at the firm, and consider making supplemental options available to employees interested in additional support.

Furthermore, the pain points encountered by each staff member won’t be the same across the board; their preferences, usage and needs will vary. Reach out across the firm (even through anonymized polls or surveys, if necessary) to ensure you’re addressing not just the needs of the loudest few voices at your firm, but the needs of all those affected by changes.

WHAT is working with our new automated processes, and what isn’t?

Seats should be made available to employees at the decision-making table when the idea of automation is first introduced – but the discussion can’t end there!

A continual feedback loop is important. Not only do these ongoing conversations provide leadership with insight into what is and isn’t working, it can be a valuable chance to set expectations, help employees prioritize (especially while they’re experiencing the expected productivity dips that come with learning a new software) and maintain transparency into the firm’s health, future, needs and progress.

Likewise, it can help pinpoint any issues or growing pains in real-time, rather than leaving it up to trial-and-error as to which link in the chain needs attention. That way, if something isn’t working, you can eliminate it early – before the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in and you have one more problem instead of a new solution.

WHEN can we expect to see results from our automation efforts?

As important as it is to develop a plan, it’s equally important to react to that plan – to follow through with regular checks against goals and planned milestones or change course as circumstances change. Put numbers and benchmarks against these goals as much as possible. It’s one thing to hope for increased employee engagement because of automation, but another to be able to see that improvement through survey data, employee performance reviews and improved retention rates.

Results won’t happen overnight...but just because you can’t expect to see changes on day two doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work against a timeline. Ensure you know both how and when your firm can expect to see results. Any lofty end goals should be the product of multiple, smaller incremental goals. That way, progress will be easier to track in real-time, and course corrections can be made to your living plan before any issues become unmanageable.

WHERE are additional needs appearing in our processes?

You already know that automation will bring change not just to one process or service, but to every area of your organization. The early days of implementing a new software is the perfect time to take the pulse on those changes – not just to prevent problems, but to proactively identify evolving needs. When planning first began, your firm’s two biggest pain points could have been bill pay and ledger reconciliation…but approval workflows could easily snag the top spot once new systems are in place.

Don’t forget to document these newly uncovered needs (think of them as “new leaks” in the earlier roof analogy) as they emerge. That way, you’ll have a record of how to adjust and where to course correct if needed.

WHY did you automate?

You made the decision to introduce automation to your firm. Don’t keep it to yourself! Beyond current employees, there are client and employee recruiting advantages to discussing why your firm chose the automation route, what benefits it’s created, and how your implementation is progressing.

While accounting as a profession has earned a reputation for being change-averse, don’t be so quick to say the same about accountants – especially the new graduates emerging into a post-COVID job market after a 2020 that sent screen time through the roof. For new graduates on the job hunt, automation and other flexible solutions are necessities, not just perks, as they consider their options.

Clients, too, are on the lookout for automation-driven benefits. In a recent survey, when clients were asked what they would change about their accounting firms, 27% said they wanted more familiarity with the business and its industry. Luckily, when accountants are freed from manual tasks, they have more time to get sharper on emerging issues, technical accounting changes and industry trends. They also have more time to analyze their clients’ information and offer perspective and advice on business or financial trends.

Clients are looking for these services: survey data shows that buyers identified strategic advisory services including revenue growth and business modeling (65%), budgeting (46%), tax planning (38%), risk management (38%) and advanced KPI reporting (35%) at the top of their wish list.

But if you don’t tell them what you can offer, how will they know to ask? Some accountants may be psychic, but their clients likely aren’t.

Hopefully, all of the above will empower you to learn as much as possible as you implement your new solution(s) and start on the path to achieving your firm’s goals. The more you’re able to learn, the better – because the next phase, PIVOT, is all about putting action behind that learning.

This is the second 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. Read part 1: plan or check back soon for part 3. Or, if you’re ready to get started with your automation journey, see how can help. Start your risk-free trial or request a demo today.


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