Over the past few weeks we’ve put a spotlight on specific departments in your business to discuss how enhanced and expanded IT capabilities can arm those teams with the capabilities they need to be successful and thrive, increasing their productivity while maintaining their size and budget. Today we will examine — the accounting department — where automation and scalability can streamline common processes, increase productivity and introduce cost-savings.
We frequently see many similar inefficiencies within accounting departments. Many tasks are still done manually and are heavily reliant on paper. Many people may also be involved in billing and payroll processes, making these processes take longer while simultaneously allowing virtually no change management or version control. Because the basic functions of the accounting department have not changed over time as much as most other business units, processes have become long-entrenched and change is hard to implement. But this is in contrast to the outside world, which expects more and more technological capabilities (online invoice billing and payment, account tracking, automatic account or service updates, and mobile applications and account access).
Deciding Your Approach
From a holistic business perspective, accounting efficiencies should add value that benefits the entire organization, while lowering costs associated with transactions that provide little value to the company (that is, transactions that must be completed, but are inefficient or time-consuming and don’t contribute to company growth). To do this, you’ll need to understand where your accounting group should be focused:
- Capital requirements for your business strategy
- Cash flow management
- Business reports
- Value-added service for clients
Also essential is to determine (from an accounting perspective) who your client is. Often we find that your accounting team’s clients are actually company employees (payroll) and business leaders (forecasting, reporting, etc.). Accounting’s interactions with external customers are mainly focused on invoice payment, which obviously is important to the organization but not specifically where growth is developed or achieved. The customers themselves also don’t place much value on the actual transactions, preferring just to complete them as quickly and easily as possible.
Having identified where accounting efficiencies should target, it’s time to implement new technology. But selection and implementation shouldn’t be handled just by accounting, nor should it just come from IT; it is crucial to have a “champion” within the accounting team, as well as a key advocate from elsewhere in the business. Your accounting champion will be your inside expert who understands the department’s pain points firsthand and is able to drive change, understand current and new processes, and define a better way to overcome challenges through technology. The business advocate is someone from company leadership who will shape the direction of change, determine priorities, and define what the new accounting workflow will look like and how to get there. This should be a person outside of accounting who has the authority to set new directions and goals, and has a clear picture of where the business is going, such as a C-level executive or vice president. This will be critical as the change management component is significant in these situations.
The Role of IT
Of course, the support of an IT team will also be invaluable when integrating new technology to scale your team’s capabilities and automate important but time-consuming tasks. IT will be aware of the current systems and capabilities, and can determine if new components can be added or if an entire system overhaul is needed. But does your IT have all the capabilities you need in order to gain the most from new accounting applications and processes? They may not have a firm understanding of the business as a whole or its objectives, or they could lack a full view of available accounting solutions. Additionally, your IT may not be aware of all industry-specific regulations and security implications related to the proposed changes. It is likely that to aid the business as a whole and take advantage of the latest and greatest new technology, you will need some outside help from an IT services organization that specializes in connecting business goals with technology.
From Tedium to Triumph
There is no magical application that will transform accounting into a set-it-and-forget-it automated system, but when focusing on ways to automate and streamline minor transactions to save time, the accounting department becomes essential to the growth and scalability of your business. Outside assistance may be necessary, but between the right IT support, your accounting champion, and your business advocate, you will be well on your way to efficient accounting processes that add value to the whole organization.
This series on utilizing technology to empower your team will continue next week with a focus on the IT department. Don’t miss it!