It all started when I joined the accounting department at a midsized SaaS data analytics company in Chicago.

I had previously worked in audit and financial reporting at much larger companies, and was excited for a new opportunity to make an impact in a smaller accounting department. I knew that joining a smaller organization meant that I wouldn’t have all of the latest technology, and that certain processes wouldn’t be as established. I was ready for all of that. And then I used Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Now don’t get me wrong — Microsoft Dynamics GP can handle pretty much any accounting situation a company could encounter. It’s been around for a long time and has been the backbone of many large, successful organizations. But it’s not, by today’s standards, good software, because every time you want to get it to do what you want, you have to hire consultants. That’s just the nature of the beast. Since Great Plains was founded in 1981, there have been more than a few groundbreaking technological advancements that change this dependent way of operating.

What else is out there?

I started to research other options. I thought that surely there had to be a better solution for my company. But there wasn’t. Not a single mid-market accounting system had been developed in the past 15 years. Netsuite was founded in 1998, and Intacct in 1999. Microsoft Dynamics has a wide array of solutions, but none of them are truly cloud systems.

Technology has changed unimaginably since 1981, but the vast majority of that progress has occurred in the past 5-10 years. With the latest cloud system architecture, you can create software that wouldn’t have even been conceivable in the 1990s. For example, the concept of having a “thin” general ledger was originally created as a means of splitting computer resource intensive processes into multiple places, to allow companies to close quicker. That’s not an issue anymore.

And there’s something important that we accountants have gotten too comfortable with: The user interface in accounting software generally ranges from mediocre to practically unusable. As it stands, the highest rated accounting software programs are those that can technically satisfy an organization's needs. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can have software that we actually enjoy using.

The connected economy

Another key consideration in the evolution of accounting software is the exponential increase in the number of software programs used by the average company. Everyone wants to take advantage of the best of breed solutions geared toward their business needs, and sometimes the decision-makers in purchasing don’t incorporate the accounting department into the selection process. They obviously should (which is enough for at least an entire post on its own), but in any case, your accounting system needs to be able integrate well with a lot of different systems.

Being able to integrate your accounting software with a variety of third-parties sounds difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. As long as you can map the pertinent data from a transaction to the related dimension in your general ledger, you can integrate. If the third-party is a cloud system, that integration can often be seamless (real-time, no batch import or cycler that runs every hour). Seamless integrations mean that 10 systems can feel like one.

The way forward

There is an incredible opportunity the accounting industry to build world-class accounting processes and increase the value of the accounting department, and the progress has been great so far. The profession is no longer viewed as an exercise in compliance. But the recent advancements in cloud systems architecture, the proliferation of great cloud applications, and a multitude of other advancements in computing technology, give us the chance to entirely change the paradigm of being stuck in the month to month processing cycle.

Accounting is integral to effective strategic planning, but what can you do if it takes all month to close the books? It takes time to ensure employees are paid accurately, collect accounts receivable balances, manually update complex spreadsheets, and run other critical accounting processes. By automating the routine components of these processes, you can spend that time analyzing financial results and helping management decide what to do next. Technology enables us to spend more time as trusted advisors and truly elevate the accounting department within our organizations.