Change might be a constant but that doesn’t make it easy. This blog explores the challenges firms face with change and tech deployments, and gives top tips how to overcome them.
The pace of change in business has never been this fast and it is not slowing down either. Accounting firms understand this sentiment better than most. Whether it’s the rise of cloud-based software, legislation like MTD, and trends like cryptocurrency or ESG, accounting firms constantly have to adapt and evolve.
Change might be a constant, but that’s not to say it’s easy—especially when implementing new technology.
We all like what we’re used to. We get comfortable with processes, tools, and ways of working. Unfortunately, this means that firms often struggle to onboard new systems—even if doing so will increase productivity and performance.
This is an issue I’m all-too-familiar with. If there’s one area I know well, it’s project managing tech deployments. During my decade as an accountant, I focused primarily on digital transformation, helping my mid-size firm transition from desktop-based systems to cloud-based software. I then left to join Xero, where I was responsible for helping their portfolio of accounting partners successfully implement (and make the most out of) the platform.
Today, as Head of Customer Success in the UK, I’m supporting our customers as they deploy Silverfin. My focus is on ensuring that the process is successful in terms of a smooth migration, uptake and delivering value. I speak to customers daily about their implementation projects: their goals, challenges, progress, and what they’ve learned throughout the process.
My experience has given me a unique insight into how accounting firms can successfully implement tech change. In this blog, I’ll shed light on the top challenges that firms face when embarking upon tech deployments before offering up my top tips on how to overcome these common hurdles.
Top team challenges impacting tech deployments and how to overcome them
Generally speaking, firms face four major challenges: time pressure, a hesitant team, a lack of proper planning, and project managers who unintentionally act as their own bottlenecks. Let’s dig into each of these in more detail.
Accountants are always up against the clock. They’re constantly working against a deadline, whether having to file a client’s accounts, calculating payroll, or conducting a myriad of other time-sensitive responsibilities.
So when you announce you’re going to roll out a brand new tech system, your team might say they simply don’t have the time to get to grips with the software. This is understandable—but it’s missing the point.
Project managers need to emphasise the bigger picture. Yes, implementing a new system will undoubtedly require some short-term time investment. However, when it’s successfully up and running, the software will save them time over the long run. They’ll be able to create working papers in just a few clicks rather than a few hours. They can then spend this extra time on advisory work—or rather, on having meaningful conversations with their clients.
Reinforce the project’s main aims and give your team time. It’s important that you allow them to devote time during normal working hours to the new project, rather than expecting they’ll somehow fit it in on top of their already time-pressured day job. Be conscious of the impact this will have on business as usual (BAU) and plan for a potential reduction in billable hours. Most importantly, ensure everyone understands that while your team might have to take a step back in the short term, they’ll be taking two steps forward in the long run.
A hesitant team
Remember that tech change is ultimately a people change. It doesn’t matter how many innovative features a new system offers if your people don’t know how to use it—or are unwilling to learn. So before embarking on a complex tech deployment, project managers must get everyone on board.
Take the time to do the upfront work, as this will pay huge dividends further down the line. Invite team members to ask questions or raise concerns. Explain the project’s ultimate goals and sell them on the ‘promised land’ (how much better their day-to-day work will be once the new system is properly up and running). Don’t chastise colleagues who seem determined to object. Instead, understand why they have reservations before reiterating how the system will ultimately benefit them.
Make it clear you’re by their side—it’s a journey that everyone’s going on together. Answer queries, welcome feedback, and collaborate throughout.
Lacking a clear plan
Many teams charge ahead with change projects without a clear plan. They don’t know which processes they want to change or how. They have a vague idea that they need to move with the times, but the details are woolly at best.
These projects are inevitably doomed to fail. Without clear goals, employees will simply revert to their old ways of working as soon as they hit a bump in the road.
Ensure you have a clear plan in place before you begin. Dive into what your team is struggling with, identify specific software that will alleviate these pain points, and determine your success metrics as well as what life will look like afterwards. This will give you a clear picture of what you’re aiming for.
Follow these three key steps when creating a plan for tech change.
1. Establish a project team
Getting the team right is critical. You need to have the right representation, which usually encompasses everyone from technical or subject matter experts, to end users, to executive sponsors. Your team should include a cross-section of anyone who’ll be impacted by the new software. This will ensure you address all stages of the process change, not just what managers believe to be the problem and solution.
Determine accountability from the start. Identify who’s responsible for what and when each step needs to be completed. Give your team a sense of ownership over the project. This way, you’ll change the narrative from “we’re forcing this change upon you” to “you’re changing your own ways of working for the better”.
2. Set clear deadlines and goals for pilots or testing
For any project to be successful it not only needs to achieve its defined outcome but it needs to do this on time and on budget – so deadlines are vital. It’s advisable to run a pilot or test the new system within one area or one team before a wider deployment. That way you tackle any initial blockers up front but can also demonstrate the value to other teams in order to get them onside. You should have a defined schedule for the roll out of pilots of the new system. It’s best to select your more innovative, forward-thinking clients for this pilot or testing stage. They’ll likely be more willing to get involved in supporting progression underpinned by tech than your more traditionally minded clients, who may not be comfortable with change.
3. Ramp up
After you’ve rolled out pilots and ironed out any kinks in your processes, you can then ramp up your efforts to include other clients. Determine clear milestones on usage metrics, customer satisfaction, and so on. However, know that these metrics will likely adapt over time depending on how your project progresses.
Project managers must not be the bottleneck to success
Last but not least, make sure you’re not unintentionally acting as your own bottleneck. This is something I struggled with when I first started. Project managers often feel like they have to do everything themselves—after all, they’re ultimately in charge of tech deployments. If things don’t go as intended, they’re the ones to blame.
However, by taking on too much responsibility, you could unintentionally hamper your chances of success. Delegate tasks to other team members. Don’t think you have to do everything yourself—provide clear briefs, set deadlines, and trust others to do their job well. As a project manager, your job’s to ensure everything runs smoothly. Getting lost in the details might mean you miss the bigger picture.
Bonus tip: work with tech vendors willing to support your transformation
I’ve outlined how you can overcome internal hurdles: time pressure, a hesitant team, having no clear plan, and project managers unintentionally acting as their own bottlenecks. But we also need to remember that it takes two to tango and the same is true for successful tech deployments. That’s why it’s crucial to select the right vendor.
Leading software providers, like Silverfin, work closely with their customers throughout the implementation stage. They provide key materials to get teams started, train your super users, check in regularly to troubleshoot any implementation problems, and are always available to answer any questions. They are also willing to share their experience of how to ensure your deployment follows best practice they’ve seen with other customers.
In other words, they are your tech deployment allies and should want to be an extended member of your team – one who has a vested interest in the success of your project. So pick your vendor carefully to ensure that they will partner with you for success and be right there beside you throughout your project.
To learn more about how Silverfin supports customers throughout the implementation stage, speak to a member of our team today.