As accountants, the propensity to participate in the selection of accounting technology applications for clients continues to evolve from a niche service (in the manual to desktop accounting era) to a more widely adopted general skillset (in the desktop to cloud transition era). The combination of accounting knowledge, technology skills and business acumen is increasingly valuable, particularly considering the current environment of multiple core accounting engine vendors and an ever-expanding app ecosystem. So, what role can you play in the successful deployment of solutions that not only enhance the performance of your clients’ businesses, but also that of your firm?
Recent History of Accountants' Involvement in Software Selection
The first major wave of tech adoption in small to medium-sized businesses (1990s to 2010s) was an era where accountants (for the most part) weren’t proactively involved in the selection and implementation of their client’s business systems. The channel to market for software vendors was typically large retailers or computer hardware stores selling boxed solutions to the end customer (client). Accountants and bookkeepers usually only became involved in fix-up tasks once the solutions were installed.
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The next wave (2010 – present) has seen the advent of cloud technology with the internet changing the sales model, enabling a direct purchase from the vendor and the creation of sell-through channels (accountants and bookkeepers) that recommended their specific solution to their small business client base. Predominantly, these solutions continued to be small business and accounting/ bookkeeping systems, largely centred around accessible, real-time data whilst fulfilling the general accounting and basic business operational needs of the client. Accountants generally settled on one solution to recommend, usually the one they had some knowledge of or experience with, and they were reluctant to broaden their recommendation suite.
For the most part, these two eras have seen software vendors focus on the needs of the end user, with less attention being given to the needs of the accountant. However, more recently, vendors are bringing additional functionality to their SMB solutions that cater to the needs of the accounting professional, and the app community is supplying solutions that address specific pain points experienced within firms, such as workflow management, client collaboration, analytics and dashboard reporting.
Some major vendors are also evolving to provide “end-to-end” connected solutions for both the client and the accountant to operate their businesses, while others are extending the “accountant editions” of their software to cater to more streamlined interactions with the client.
Pros and Cons of Getting Involved
Clients need help charting the software landscape, and accountants are well positioned to assist in the selection and implementation processes because:
- They trust you when it comes to all things accounting (which, in their eyes, includes software)
- You understand their business better than most
- You have a vested interest in picking the right system
- When done right, you can create a platform that enables deeper client connection and value added services via access to real-time data
Conversely, some of the challenges you may face are:
- You (or your team) will need to learn how to implement and use various software solutions
- You will need to discern which client software solutions to upskill in
- You must work out a methodology for determining which software is best for the client
- If you recommend software, you will be deemed responsible for supporting the client in its use
- If done poorly, it may crystallize the client relationship
How to Select Software for Your Clients
Software advisory is evolving as a vital service subset of the accounting profession, ideally one in which dedicated, accredited and independent professionals are involved in the review and scoping of the client’s needs before a shortlist of solutions to suit those needs is determined. However, this step is sometimes overlooked, with some accountants and bookkeepers exclusively fitting solutions they have most knowledge of and experience with. Even if the client’s needs are similar to what you have seen with other businesses, it’s important to never gloss over this step as clients need to be involved in the software selection process. The fact that the solution may also benefit the accountant and future collaboration with the client is an ancillary consideration in the eyes of the client.
Beyond the core accounting engine, there are usually some critical functions that the business performs which can be streamlined with software specific to the task. A practical starting point is understanding the processes that have the greatest potential to be systemized. This approach will also enable you to gain leverage from learning applications that handle key areas, such as:
- Receipt and expense management
- Sales platforms, including e-commerce and point of sale (POS)
- Customer relationship management (CRM) and document and job management
- Advanced inventory management, manufacturing, warehouse and distribution
- Analytics / KPI / dashboard reporting
- Advanced payroll, HR, rostering, mobile timesheets
Where to Start
When it comes to recommending software solutions for your clients, a great place to start is by initiating a business systems review. A review of the needs of the client, discovering “the way we do things around here” via a detailed walkthrough of your client’s current business processes and identifying pain points and connection gaps between their current systems. By documenting your findings you will have an objective reference point when shortlisting, interviewing, evaluating and selecting solution providers to solve the challenges identified in the review. You may also discover that you are equipped to deliver the solution required.
While the proactive accounting professional has always been an integral part of the extended team for any business owner, now is the perfect time to be the connector who initiates, facilitates and matches technology solutions with business needs. These solutions must create more value and also enhance business performance, results and fulfilment for the clients we serve.