Picking technology goals for 2019

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Modernizing your practice with cloud-based accounting software tools is a big but necessary step for accountants who are still using manual processes to complete work with their clients or internal stakeholders in a corporation. As daunting as it can seem, you don’t have to take the plunge into the cloud all at once to make your practice a successful technology-leaning firm. You can take small steps to get there instead.

One of the many surprising lessons I’ve learned in my speaking engagements around the nation is that many accountants are still wary of changing up their processes, and aren’t as familiar with cloud accounting as cloud-based technology companies may believe. First, it’s important to note that if you are hosting desktop solutions, that is not what we are referring to. Cloud software is built, programmed and accessed through the internet. There is no software to download or manually update. That is maintained by the software vendor, rather than you.

Whatever your technology goals are for 2019, overcoming that fear of change and resolving to begin moving some of your data from a desktop solutions onto a software-as-a-service platform could be the most important thing you do this year in terms of ROI — even if you decide to do it with one small part of your process at a time. If you’re already using the cloud in some capacity, this may be the time to take your practice into the future by connecting your data so that information flows automatically and seamlessly from one system to the other.

What makes storing data in the cloud so exciting is its accessibility. Rather than logging in to a stationary piece of hardware on one device, you can view and manage data anywhere, any time, by jumping online to view it, even if that’s through your phone or tablet. Shared data between software applications means better visibility and communication across the board, and adds another level of efficiency to managing your teams and your clients work.

You’re already using the cloud if you store information in Google Docs or Google Sheets, where information is accessible online from any of your devices. If you have a shared calendar, you’re in the cloud. But it’s only when you begin taking a look at other everyday processes that you will begin to see gaps that could be filled with technology to create a faster turnaround for your clients.

Create a map of your processes and take the first steps

When moving forward with your technology goals this year, don’t try to do everything at once — it’s OK to start small. Take a close look at your standard processes, map them out, and decide what would be easiest to automate first. It could be accounts payable, expense reporting, billing or even e-signatures. Many times we think we have to start with the general ledger, but when you want to start small and test processes for efficiency and how to implement change management, it makes sense to begin with ancillary process. Start by making a diagram of all the different processes in your workflow, so you can target which one you begin to automate with cloud technology.

Then, select the process that is most manual in your current workflow, or where you duplicate tasks between people in your office, and that could benefit from automation. Next research what solutions are on the market. Talk to other professionals to see what they recommend. If they’re using similar software, ask them about how the applications integrate with the other applications they are using, what has worked well, and what are they less than happy with.

Now, after you select the one process that you’ve traditionally performed manually, research and see if there is a way you can add cloud applications to this process to make it more efficient. For example, automating the invoicing process can mean that your clients get paid faster. If you can find an online billing and payments process, you can track progress and see all of the payments in one place, and when problems arise, you’ll be the first to know. You can also see what manual time it can eliminate, such as the software sending reminders of overdue invoices, or coding instantly based on past history to post to the general ledger.

Once you’ve tried one tool, measure the time and money savings, and go from there. This doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and use your existing tools. Try using both methods and test their efficiency against one another to see what creates the best results for your business.

Once you have proven out one solution and have implemented it with your clients, then choose the next process in your workflow that you want to automate. One by one, you can start creating an online workflow solution, over time, that you feel provides you and your stakeholders the most value and benefit.. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to do everything at once, be methodical and realistic about timelines. It is achievable, with goals set with deadlines, keeping yourself accountable to transform how you work in 2019 with technology.

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