Red Wing Software Interviews Adam Bluemner of FindAccountingSoftware, a company that helps businesses find the right software for their business. Having spoken with thousands of businesses over the years, Adam provides tips and insight on what to look for when searching for a new accounting system.
What are some things businesses should pay special attention to during their initial software search?
The best place to start any project related to switching or adding new business management software is with careful consideration of your own internal needs. The most sophisticated software in the world won't solve your problems if it's not addressing your specific requirements.
When thinking about your own needs, I'd recommend starting with three fundamental questions:
- What's keeping us from operating more efficiently than we might?
- What can we do to positively affect customer satisfaction?
- What do we need to make better business decisions?
The answers to these questions will naturally vary from company to company. For instance, a company who bills 1,000 customers a month can actually save 80+ man hours a month just by shaving 5 minutes off the per order billing process. On the other hand, a firm that works a handful of large dollar contracts a month might achieve an equal pay back by refining their purchasing, time-tracking, estimating, or job costing processes.
After you've targeted the areas where you can really move the needle on efficiency, customer satisfaction, and improved decision making, seek out vendors who demonstrate an equal focus on each of these different areas.
There's no question we are living in a golden age of software innovation. There are thousands of developers hard at work designing software to help companies conduct business more profitably. Companies in every niche will inevitably compete with other businesses availing themselves of these software tools. In the digital age, attempting to compete with them relying on manual processes or even insufficient software is going to lead to some tough sledding. The best vendors are those who are most invested in helping you not only discover the most relevant solutions for your problems, but also those who take the most initiative in ensuring that the solutions are properly implemented.
How can a business streamline the process of building their short list of vendors?
Pretty much every iPhone user I know would tell me that the iPhone is definitely the best smartphone on the market. On the other hand, basically every Android user I know would say the same thing. For whatever reason, when it comes to discussing investments in technology, there seems to be a bit of a confirmation bias in place on the part of users who've already invested. So, I'm a bit skeptical of relying too much on the opinions of peers when it comes to such an important investment. Accounting and business management systems don't get switched over very often. Even experienced users may only have used 2 or 3 different products. That's a fairly limited perspective--especially given the huge array of options on the market.
On the other end of the spectrum, starting with a Google search is likely to yield an overwhelming amount of choices. There are some great websites that aggregate reviews and discuss a variety of solutions, but doing anything resembling a comprehensive review is a daunting task from a time perspective.
There are a couple of sources of expert opinions that buyers can access. Some technology consultancies will have experience with a broad range of different business management software applications. While it may require an investment to access their expertise, they'll at least be motivated by the same goal you have: to find the most relevant solution for your needs. There are also free software matching services available. The company I work for, Find Accounting Software, has been providing free software matching services based on buyers unique needs since before 2000. It's a process I've personally seen work for many thousands of buyers over the years. There are other similar services as well and I'd expect the number of options along these lines will only continue to expand. Starting with a qualified set of vendors who each have the abilities to meet your fundamental functionalities is a good way to make sure you're not missing out on choices while speeding up the review.
Once you've identified a good base set of options, the best thing you can do is set up some conversations with the vendors. Even a 15-20 minute introductory conversation with a vendor will tell you considerably more than hours of reviewing product literature.
What is the best way to determine whether a new system will really work for them?
At a basic level, there's really no need to make a purchase of software wondering what it will look like and feel like once it's been implemented. There's just too much information readily available for that ever to be the case. While every software project is different--and will require software configuration and possibly even customization--most business processes should represent challenges that your vendors have addressed before.
In order to make sure you make a wise system selection, ask the vendors for as much evidence as possible about how they intend to solve your unique business challenges. This evidence can come in many different forms: product literature, solution demos, references from similar existing customers, and so forth. Finally, when the objectives of your software project come into clear view, make sure you are spending adequate time with your vendor plotting a detailed implementation plan to ensure you reach your goals. Don't underestimate the amount of work involved in a software change. It will likely involve preparing hardware, installing the software, transferring existing data into new formats, configuring permissions, setting preferences, designing reports, and training new users. A complete implementation plan should include the who, what, when, where, and how for each of these steps.
How can a business ensure the project stays within budget?
Staying on budget is obviously a critical goal for any software project. I'm going to part with conventional thinking a bit though and suggest that it's not the single most important goal. After all, a project that stays on budget can still fail to generate a positive return on investment. In my mind, that's a larger failure than a project that exceeds budget, but generates a positive overall return on the investment. To me, the ultimate success of a software project is determined by the net results when all revenues and costs are tallied.
That being said, staying on budget is of course still crucially important. Even if you're generating positive long term savings, a budget overrun in the short term can be very disruptive. There are really two main sides to budgeting for new software: licensing and implementation costs. Licensing costs are essentially predictable. It's implementation costs that have a larger opportunity for variance as a project progresses.
The key to managing implementation costs and staying on budget can be found in the project planning phase. I mentioned earlier that every implementation plan should include the who, what, when, where, and how. It’s important for every buyer to make sure this information is specifically documented as part of the statement of work agreement. It’s really the detailed implementation plan that gives real meaning to the line item prices for each implementation service.
Adam Bluemner is the Managing Editor for FindAccountingSoftware.com, a service providing free, no obligation software selection assistance. Over the last decade Adam has spoken with thousands of companies, helping them achieve business success through intelligent software investment. Adam writes extensively on accounting and business software.