Choosing an application stack for your firm is a topic that is often overlooked, and frequently approached completely wrong. Let’s start with a definition in plain English.
Application Stack/App Stack/Technology Stack/Tech Stack: The software and tools used in your particular business or on your clients’ accounts.
Horizontal Stack: The stack used across your firm – frequently implemented with many clients.
Vertical Stack: The stack used for particular verticals, industry specializations, or to solve very specific client needs.
So, where do you start when deciding to implement new technology? Here are seven key steps you need to take:
Step 1: Define the problem. Do I have an efficiency problem, a process problem, a people problem, or a technology problem? To figure that out, I create process maps, descriptions of duties of personnel key to the process and an assessment of their qualifications to perform those duties, and I outline the current systems in place. Generally, after reviewing these items, I am able to tell what the underlying problem is.
Step 2: Define an efficient process. Without documenting an efficient process that can replace the current problematic process, there is no good way to vet technology. I like to use tools like LucidChart or Microsoft Vizio to map the processes visually. This way, I am often able to eliminate or merge steps to create a streamlined process.
Step 3: Create a needs, wants, a ‘sexy’ features list and a budget. I always break down my lists into these three categories. I put together what the software has to do to fit in to my process, nice to haves, and sexy features that do not affect the efficiency of the process. When I define a budget, I look at how many man-hours it would save, and the cost of what it is replacing.
Step 4: Research. Take that beautiful list you just prepared and search. Start with your core accounting system’s marketplace to ensure what you’re looking for integrates well. This is mandatory for any app I select. After I exhaust the list on the marketplace, I will Google if there is anything else out there. During this process, I am redefining my needs, wants and sexy lists as well. I note all of the features in an excel sheet, along with the price.
Step 5: Test. Demo. Play. Break things (or at least try your hardest to).
Step 6: Decision. Compare features, price, usability, and the opinions of everyone you made try the tool.
Step 7: Implement. This step could be a whole other article in itself! I’m just writing about finding the right tech stack, here. My quick notes are: focus on change management, over communicate, train, document, and overestimate timelines.
The horizontal app stack within your firm is the best place to start. Make sure you are vetting and using tools within your own practice before you try to implement new tools for your clients. Look at technology your team can use on client accounts and focus on generic tools you can implement across your client base like Xero, Bill.com, Gusto or Hubdoc to name a few.
Once you are using great technology across your firm, then you can shift your focus to your vertical app stack. There are great resources out there to help you implement vertical stacks.
Do not spend your first two years implementing every sexy app that people are buzzing about. Focus on solving problems, not creating more!