The opportunity in accounting automation is there for all to see. It’s likely you already know that, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. For those that don’t, let’s look at why automation is, and will continue to be, so prominent in the industry and, if you need help getting started, how to automate your accounting firm.
How Accounting has Changed With Technology
For many, automation in accounting is a foregone conclusion, and the wheels of change are very much in motion. That’s not to say it’s there to replace accountants and bookkeepers altogether – but it is here to stay.
What’s interesting is that accounting technology is now more so a necessity than a luxury. In years gone by, those that automated their accounting practice were seen as progressive, somewhat pioneers. Now, legislation changes in almost all countries require firms to implement technology as standard. Accounting technology is no longer the extraterrestrial threat some once feared. It is now the bridge between firms and a new digital era for the industry.
This is why firms are now exploring how they can automate their processes or, in some cases, at least improve their existing accounting workflow. Alongside its time-saving potential, they now recognise technology as an essential accounting asset.
If you’re still on the fence about technology, check out our feature on accounting automation. It’s a good place to start before you even have to think about how you introduce it at your firm.
If you feel you’re ready, let’s take a look at how to automate your accounting firm.
Align new tech with business objectives. When adding new technology, you’re signing up to a continuous contract. That’s why it’s essential that the software you’re implementing is a long-term investment and not a temporary fix. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in a lengthy contract with software that’s redundant.
Applying ‘The Factory’
With so many parts to accounting, finding a clear starting point can be difficult. That’s before you even consider all the types of technology available and where they fit in. This complex, at times overwhelming, moment is why many automation projects fail to get off the ground.
To help to keep things simple, we’ve broken down the work accountants and bookkeepers do on a daily basis. We call this ‘The Factory’. Like the accounting cycle, this format bundles together various components of your workflow, so you can focus on multiple tasks through a broader lens.
The six stages of The Factory are:
1 . Client onboarding and billing
There’s a lot of admin to do at this stage. Whether you’re updating personal information or sending out engagement letters, onboarding a new client takes time. But there is a huge automation opportunity here. You can use tools that reduce the need for manual data entry and the number of potential human errors. In turn, this speeds up the time you’d spend on these minor tasks. It also allows you to have a better understanding of a new client’s business, making it easier to define pricing (and update it later).
2 . Gathering transactions and raw materials
This stage involves pulling together the client’s documents, like purchase and sales invoices and bank statements. It can be an inefficient and time-consuming process if done manually. But there are solutions out there that can halve the time you’d normally spend on this kind of work.
At this stage, your firm is processing the information and making sure it is all reconciled. This is where you can use accounting software like Xero and QuickBooks Online. They provide a central location for your accounting data, further removing the need for manual processing and reducing the possibility of human error.
4 . Quality and assurance control
Once you’ve reconciled the information in your accounting software, you still need to check the data for errors. Much of this quality control takes place behind the scenes. There are data quality tools available that automatically flag any potential errors.
5 . Verification
The verification stage involves pulling together all supporting documents, such as bank statements and creditors reports. Compiling this information manually can be challenging. You can improve it, though, with technology like automatic bank feeds. And, instead of clients dropping off documents themselves, you can store their information in the cloud.
6 . Client deliverables
Client deliverables are about completing the tasks you’ve been entrusted to do. This encompasses everything from year-end accounts, to financial management information and business forecasting. Clients don’t need to see everything that goes into this process; all they need to see is an excellent end-product.
How to Implement Automation at Your Accounting Firm
We hope ‘The Factory’ is a useful way for you to organise and visualise the various parts of accounting. By breaking it down into stages, you’re able to hone in on specific areas. This is particularly useful when looking at how to automate your accounting firm.
Besides ‘The Factory’, we’ve also built a six-step process, explaining what to consider when buying accounting technology. Wherever you’re looking to add automation, follow this step-by-step plan to ensure a successful roll-out.
• Step one: Evaluation
Before you do anything else, you must evaluate the needs of your business. How many employees do you have? What are your goals? How might accounting software help you reach those goals? How will software connect with your existing processes, like time-tracking, website and project management? When answering those questions you’re able to map out what you’re looking for, ruling out what you don’t need in the process.
• Step two: Research
Make a list of the problems you want to solve, then find out which software is the best for that. For example, if you want to reduce the time spent manually entering data into spreadsheets, then look for reliable data extraction tools.
Scour the internet, confer with colleagues and other businesses to find software that ticks your box. What aspects of their software do they find the most beneficial? What are some of the drawbacks? What were the greatest challenges with implementation and integration? Ask your industry, and they’ll answer.
• Step three: Selection
Develop a must-have list. You want to choose software that helps you and your team work more efficiently and save time in the process. It must be secure and safe for your database. And you must have the necessary security and authorisations. It’s at this point where you need to consider all things that may enable or prevent a product from succeeding.
• Step four: Piloting
The majority of software providers offer a free trial or demo. These trial periods give you a clear sense of whether a product is fit for your firm. Most providers allow you to try out their product with fake data, so there’s no risk of you disrupting normal business operations.
• Step five: Assessment
It’s time to reflect. After testing, determine if the software really meets your needs. How does it compare with the system you’re currently using? Will it save you time? Money? Does it make you more efficient? It’s also important to gauge how your team found the experience. If you don’t have the buy-in from those using the product day in day out, it’s unlikely to be a worthwhile investment.
• Step six: Implementation
This is the final and longest-running phase of your action plan. It can be the difference between a successful and failed software purchase. Rollouts require you to assign roles and responsibilities to designated staff members. Who will be using the software? Who will you train to use it, and who will train others on it? This phase requires ongoing communication to get you up to speed. So it’s important to have a dedicated customer service team who are willing to guide you through the process.
The Role of the Accounting Automation Expert
It’s worth mentioning a certain someone when talking about the tech buying process. As the industry embraces technology, change has paved the way for a new type of employee at accounting firms.
These people go by many names: cloud accounting specialist, digital expert, advisory manager, cloud champion and so on. They are passionate about technology and its potential, and it’s their job to find the right fit for their firm, then see that purchase through. From evaluation through to implementation, these professionals own the rollout process.
If you have the capacity, resource and patience, then a digital specialist is an invaluable asset for your firm’s accounting automation process. All the above – whether that’s going out and identifying automation software, onboarding staff or working out how it all connects – is down to them. This doesn’t always necessarily have to be an official role. You can ask those more in tune with technology to explore the available options. Either way, having this type of person at your firm allows you to stay in touch with the digital side of accounting and all its changes.
On the face of it, knowing how to automate your accounting firm may seem far from straightforward. There’s so many processes in accounting and bookkeeping that can be automated, and there are a lot of software providers out there. Finding the perfect fit for your firm takes time and deep evaluation of the product’s capabilities in line with your goals. Then there’s the challenge of getting not just your staff onside, but your clients too. It is a multi-layered process.
We’ve tried to simplify that process for you here. By splitting out the accounting workflow, you can move between the various components, stage by stage. With that simplified framework, you can then apply the six-step implementation process to one specific area. This narrows your focus around the type of work in question and the software available to assist that work.
Now you know how to go about automating your accounting firm, it’s time to put it into practice. This is where it comes down to you, your firm’s goals and, ultimately, your tech preferences.
If your firm already started using technology but you’d like to take things further or ensure you’re making the most if, check how to improve your current accounting workflow.