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Falling off the rails? 6 tips for a smooth transition to your new accounting system

The next time your company undergoes an accounting system switch, will it make your team soar or fumble?

Of course, we dream of success and no one predicts failure when taking on a big project like this, but there is something to be said for expecting the unexpected when technology is involved. We’ve all heard stories and seen firsthand tech migrations and implementations that were painful to experience. We’ve seen the bad ones that left finance teams in the dark, went way over budget and scrambled up timelines.

We’re here to help you avoid such scenarios. We’re often called in as an implementation starts to go astray, to get it back on track. So we have lots of lessons learned in our back pockets. In those cases, companies realize after the fact that proper preparation could have mitigated the mishaps.

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At RoseRyan, we’ve worked alongside companies that started out with haphazard implementation strategies before they brought us in as well as companies that put seasoned finance aces at the helm from the get-go.

We’ve helped entrepreneurs outgrow the habit of keeping receipts in a shoebox, and we’ve assisted small finance teams as they adjust to QuickBooks rather than relying on a jumbled mess of Excel spreadsheets. And we’ve brought companies up the tech ladder to solutions like NetSuite, Great Plains, Microsoft Dynamics, and we’ve spoken up for the finance side when a transition to a larger ERP system is in the works.

We’ve stepped in at various stages of these switchovers, sometimes right at the beginning to help guide the way and sometimes in the middle, to pick up the pieces of a project that has gone awry or to offer heavy-lifting during a messy transition.

We’ve seen what can go wildly wrong and what can go just right. Here are the key takeaways for ensuring your next upgrade is smooth sailing:

1. Be realistic about the system you need.

Does your startup look in the mirror and see a muscled-up enterprise? Some dreamy, smaller businesses get caught up and buy solutions that have lots more capabilities than they can handle any time soon. We’ve seen some that pulled the purchase trigger based on unproven sales forecasts. You want room to grow, but you also don’t want to take on a pricey, honking system that you lack the resources to maintain.

Your trusted advisors who know how companies like yours run can skillfully help you make the right call.

2. Conduct some reverse engineering.

If the finance team is increasingly using manual methods to get the reports they need, then change is certainly in order. Would a new system get you closer to real-time information? Could it vastly improve productivity? Can you currently drill down to understand how a particular product is making money (or isn’t)? When the company starts losing visibility, it’s time to look for something more robust and powerful.

A big but: Many times, companies have vague goals and end up with a system that does the exact opposite of what they had hoped for—and users spend more time fiddling around with it than doing actual work, and they struggle to gather the information they need. Before plunging ahead with any new system, give careful thought to what you want out of it and work your way backward.

Who will be wanting the information that comes out of it? The CEO? CFO? Department managers? Compliance and auditors? Build your system with the outputs and users in mind from day one, and you’ll come as close as you can to a seamless implementation.

3. Have finance lead the charge as much as possible.

A common issue is IT’s steadfast claim on any new technology project that comes into the company. We’ve come on board post-implementations long after IT claimed ownership of a project and neglected to get input from the people who will be using the system day in and day out. The result was absolute frustration. At one company, an inventory manager was overwhelmed by a new system that could not help her manage 4,000 SKUs. If she had been asked to give input earlier, she could have preserved some valuable time and avoided agony.

IT surely needs to be involved, but depending on the makeup of the finance team, the controller will need access and editing capabilities from the beginning and a say throughout the process. Finance should operate as a partner with the IT department, not against it and not as a subordinate.

4. Ask the right questions.

Turn to colleagues and trusted advisors who have gone through recent implementations for the questions you should ask your vendor. They can help you express your pain points and determine how you can make things easier for yourself—and your team. So much of a successful tech implementation relies on good communication—everyone involves needs to understand each other, and trusted advisors can help facilitate the conversations to make that happen.

5. Keep your eyes on the clock.

Timing is everything. Many teams aim to make their switchover at fiscal year end—it’s the least expensive and least distressing way to go. However, timelines do often get stretched if whoever is managing the project is inexperienced and not held accountable as the months go by. We have helped companies pick up the pieces of implementations that got off track—including situations where the company lost out on free support from their vendor because so much time had passed. Build in accountability at the start.

6. Raise your hand for help.

If accounting-system switches were an everyday occurrence, finance teams would never get anything done. Thankfully, they’re few and far between. Experts who are more accustomed to transitions than your team and who stay up-to-date on the latest software and know the ins and outs of popular systems can help you make the right decisions and train key players.

They’ll test out the system, shooing away any bugs, and stand in the shoes of finance users. They know the full capabilities of the system and ways it can be customized (for instance, NetSuite can be easily tweaked for customizations, more than many users realize).

Come up with a solid plan, and make room for the unplanned. Hold the project leaders accountable for meeting deadlines (you’d be shocked how often we’ve seen this not happen). The fact is, having to go in and massively fix something later is much more expensive—in terms of costs and time—than getting it done right the first time.

Figure out the right path to take and the smart people to take along with you as early as possible, and you’ll get to your destination efficiently.

Suzy Buckhalter is an accounting problem-solver when it comes to helping fast-growing companies gain efficiencies and grapple their full financial picture. Hear how she helps companies rein in their out-of-control chart of accounts in this webinar.

Ron Siporen, a consultant on the RoseRyan dream team, has over 30 years of experience working with startups, and he has been a successful business owner himself. He loves to help companies clean up problems and scale up for growth. Read his blog post on the rookie mistake that can doom a startup.

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