One of the challenges associated with implementing software for small accounting firms is finding solutions which meet the needs of the organization. While what constitutes success means different things to different people, I generally find that it means some combination of the following items:
- The application makes the production of work more efficient and lets professionals use their time more effectively.
- The product makes it easy for users to store, retrieve, and communicate information with partners, staff, and clients from anywhere at any time.
- The product makes it easier to accumulate data, bill clients, and evaluate staff performance.
- The application has integration into key applications used by the practitioner
While there are a wide range of solutions used by practitioners, most would consider their key applications to be e-mail, calendar, document management, project management/workflow, practice management, e-mail, calendaring, and any service-specific applications used by the firm (e.g. client bookkeeping software, engagement software, tax software, etc.).
Just as individuals look for a wide range of attributes when seeking a mate, a the definition of “a good practice management application” means different things to different people. There are a wide range of processes systems used to track, manage, bill, and collect fees for accounting and bookkeeping firms, and the processes which work for a small shop which provides payroll, bookkeeping, and retail tax may not work for a large firm which performs consolidated tax returns and international audits of public companies. This concept of finding “the right fit” is problematic for sales people who have never practiced accounting in a firm, and is even more difficult for those who only have limited experience with one or two solutions. If your vendor has real experience and not just knowledge you stand a better chance of partnering with them on successful implementation.
Because of these challenges, effective networking and discussions with other firms are essential when selecting a practice management application. Firms should view demonstrations, ask questions, and check references given by the software publisher. Buyers should supplement their personal knowledge with data from other organizations. Some non-traditional sources of information on products in the marketplace include:
- Other practitioners with similar practices and management styles professional groups (state CPA societies, NSEA, NATP, NSA, AAA, AICPA, etc.)
- Peers in accounting firm networks (e.g. Boomer, CPAmerica, Enterprise Network, McGladrey, Moore Stephens, ThriveAl etc.),
- Publications like The CPA Practice Advisor which use reviewers who have actually practiced public accounting,
- Demos of software products, along with tools like user manuals and training manuals which give detailed information on the features and limitations of the application. Check to see if the vendor has a user group or a LinkedIn group to engage users with real experience with the application. Also request a referral list.
- Online blogs and newsgroups which discuss accounting firm technology and issues such as www.CPAFirmTech.com, www.CPATechBlog.com, or www.DustinWheelerCPA.com, or
- Social networks like LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Twitter. You’d be amazed at the feedback you can obtain by posting a message like “My firm is thinking about picking a new practice management application. Are any of you currently using a practice management application, and do you have any feedback – good, bad, or ugly – about either your current solution or others you have used or evaluated.”