By Robert Risk
Corporate accounting software generally lasts about 10 years before users start getting bogged down with a system that’s out of touch with current needs.
Perhaps your people are using Excel spreadsheets for processes that should be easily automated. Or the company has grown to the point where your existing software can’t keep pace. Or — worst of all — you can no longer even trust the numbers on your reports.
Whatever the clues that your existing software is obsolete, it’s time to upgrade. As you start the delicate process of finding a cost-effective system that will serve your needs now and for several years into the future, here are the critical steps to get you there.
- Take your time. Don’t rush software selection, implementation and training milestones. This is a big-ticket, complex purchase that will impact your organization for the next decade or so. Plan to take at least a month or two in the selection process, and as long as six months for installation. If you don’t go into the process with a realistic timeline, you’ll rush it, stress out your organization and perhaps overpay for an underperforming software system to serve one of your company’s most critical functions. (Or underpay, and have to go through the whole process again sooner than you’d like.)
- Consider enlisting professional help. Your people may only be tasked with changing systems every 10 years, but independent consultants specializing in accounting software selection and installation do it for a living. The challenge can be incredibly time-consuming, involving many of your best people in accounting and IT. You can easily eat up as much as 20 percent of your staff time without expert help.
- Thoroughly review your operational needs. Whether you use an outside resource or handle the changeover internally, make sure everyone agrees how the current system is failing your needs and what your expectations are for the new software. What new technologies will affect this purchase? What does the new system have to do that your old system didn’t, or couldn’t?
- Start window-shopping. Once you know what you’re looking for, start the search process. Understand your price sensitivity and identify which system has all that you need, but few if any of the expensive bells and whistles that you’ll never use. This is when you start demoing products. Also, take this time to scope out the reputation of the vendor and the strength of its technical support. Make sure you feel confident that your leading contenders can provide upgrades and fixes for the next several years.
- Form a review committee. Identify all of your people who will be involved with this system, including accounting and IT people internally, as well as external consultants. Have each team member prepare a needs analysis as a prelude to writing a requirements document.
- Prepare a formal RFP. Your request for proposal should only go to a shortlist of three or four qualifying vendors based on selection criteria, cost and product demos. Your consultant can help you write your RFP.
- Make the purchase, install, use and review. The sale isn’t over until you and all of your accounting software users are satisfied that the new product performs as advertised. Keep tech support on speed dial during these early days, because that’s when confusion, questions and complaints run rampant with even the best accounting software.
By carefully following all of these steps, you are more likely to have a successful upgrade with a minimum of business disruption.