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The Risk of Choosing Accounting Software Based on Taste

Jul 31st 2019
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We’ve all heard children say they won’t eat a food without giving a reason, the same practice shouldn't go for choosing accounting software.

In his book The Future of the Professions, Richard Susskind describes this phenomena as ‘Irrational rejectionism,’ i.e. the rejection of a something with no reason, logic or basis in fact, despite any benefits using the solution might bring. Unfortunately this mindset occurs regularly with accounting firms.

I recently met a tax partner from a national firm (in Australia), who described to me in detail the arduous process used to prepare corporate tax for their clients using Excel.  I suggested he look at one of the many, popular solutions in the market that are more user friendly and arguably more accurate and efficient. His response wasn’t, “They sound interesting, can you give me some detail?’’  Instead, he quipped: “That wouldn’t work for us….”.  His associate looked at me and shrugged.

The real challenge for firms, regardless of size, in this rapidly changing technology driven environment is that irrational rejectionism is the easiest card to play. The concern is that any change is bad and disruptive, so firms just stick with what they know and anything tried and tested is better than a risk, even though ‘the risk’ may bring a better outcome.

There are numerous solutions on the market created specifically for the accounting profession, some have been around longer than others. Regardless, the problem that remains is the unhealthy (and unfounded) skepticism that they work. 

For solution providers that have been in the game for a while, this is even more of an issue. The fact is, accountants’ memories are very long and if a solution didn’t meet previous requirements at any point in time (even if it was only two to three years ago), it is rejected outright upon current suggestion to take it on.

Moreover, no consideration is given to the evolution of the solution. Given that a firm is trying to address a particular issue at a particular time, the mindset that "we looked at it then, it didn’t work for us it so why waste time getting back in?” is not useful. As such, I offer these suggestions to accountants:

3 Tips to Overcome Irrational Rejectionism

Tip #1:  If you are looking to address a challenge, revisit any solutions you looked at a few years ago: Like politics, a week in software development is a long time, 12 months is an eternity so you need to revisit solutions regularly.

Tip #2:  Spreadsheets might be an accountant’s best friend, but calculation errors are like roaches. For every one you find, there might be dozens more you don’t see. These too can often be replaced by solutions that automate processes, especially in compliance activities. Investigate solutions that can automate processes for fewer errors.

Tip# 3: Do not wait for the ‘Magic weight loss diet pill’ equivalent of software solutions, you will end up waiting a long time and forgo benefits in the interim. There is no such thing as the “perfect solution,” if it does even 50 percent of what you and your clients want, get it. After, you can work with the vendor to gain those valuable percentage increases. In the end, they won’t improve their products unless they know what the gaps are.

Final Thoughts

It is understandable that the profession is quick to be wary, dismissive of claims and ideas. We were promised flying cars at one point, but as the 19th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

The above quote is standard in all of my client work when I discuss new technology. The phrase ‘’this is the way we have always done it” is a risky mentality to hold on to. 

Take the opportunity to meet with peers, product evangelists, associations and more to understand what the future holds, what solutions are in the market and meet some of the vendors with an open mind.

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Chris Tredwell
By Chris Tredwell
Aug 5th 2019 06:40 EDT

I couldn't agree more Alan - indeed this isn't just limited to the accounting industry. Going into the procurement process with a blinkered view based on prior experience alone is dangerous. As you suggest, old systems you disregarded in the past could be very different today. Equally, the systems you deemed best in class years ago maybe no longer. Speaking to a cross-section of suppliers as well as your counterparts in other organisations as to how they have solved similar issues is a better way to get a clearer grasp of the best solution to your needs.

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By Michael Abrams
Aug 10th 2019 09:47 EDT

Great points made! Especially #2 & #3.

Excel is a great tool but unfortunately, it does so much a lot of people would prefer to show off their Excel programming skills instead of utilize a more efficient solution. Excel has it's place but it's not the most stable/secure solution for many of the applications for which people deploy it - in my opinion/experience.

Also, whenever I source software I look for something that handles upwards of 75% or so of the way the business is currently operated and I'm willing to modify practices/processes to accommodate the software rather than modifying the software. I try to avoid software modifications like the plague as modifications impact future updates/upgrades financially, sometimes significantly.

Thanks again for the article!

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