Smart ways to tap accountants’ business process acumen
It’s not unusual for organisations to run into problems when they implement business solutions.
Some organisations cannot launch the software at all. Others struggle with cost overruns or lose revenue because a software malfunction, inadequate training or improper configuration leads to business interruptions, said Bob Gaby, CPA/CITP, CGMA, principal of Arxis Technology, California-based technology consultants who specialise in accounting system solutions. “There’s been a lot of failure.”
While business solutions implementation, or BSI, which is a building block of Big Data, has its challenges, there is a way to avoid disasters at the launch of the software and afterwards, adds Ebonie Jackson, CPA/CITP, CGMA, a strategic management consultant at Health Care Regulatory Consultants and former financial leader for Owens Corning, a US-based manufacturer of building materials.
“The IT person is the technology expert,” said Jackson, who along with Gaby is a member of the American Institute of CPAs BSI Task Force, which helped develop recommendations for accountants to get involved in BSI, work that has been largely dominated by IT and computer experts.
Accountants are business process experts, Jackson says. “We’re great at measuring. But a lot of times we find ourselves the last to know” when an organisation plans to implement business solutions software.
Some accountants have taken on a larger role, but it’s a minority, Gaby said. Many accountants don’t understand what is required for a successful business solutions implementation, how the project should be structured and the critical requirements for success, he added.
For accountants working inside an organisation, “it’s either outside their comfort zone, meaning they don’t have enough experience to understand what role they should play, or they’re just too busy. It’s not important to them,” he said. Accountants in public practice “may not recognise the opportunity for additional revenue and to add value to the services they are providing their clients,” he added.
Keys to a successful BSI
Pitfalls await organisations implementing business solutions software every step of the way, Jackson and Gaby said. Real-world examples include poor business unit or departmental preparation, failure to implement an adequate communication strategy, delays in responding to recorded errors, inadequate end-user training, and failure to test the end-to-end processes.
But accountants can get involved in BSI according to their competencies and help prevent the pitfalls. Some examples include:
Design and development. When organisations establish how the software system will be sourced, structured and interfaced with users, finance can help make sure the system collects the proper data and offers the tools to create the dashboards, key performance indicators and reports needed to run and manage the organisation.
Finance can also analyse costs and benefits of different software options and help an organisation determine whether the system should be developed internally, purchased or outsourced.
An organisation’s external auditor can validate that the implementation methodology will provide what will be required for the next annual audit or reviews and that proper consideration has been given to internal controls and the segregation of duties.
Testing and quality control. As the system is being built and configured, accountants can help test the system’s usability, performance and functionality in different scenarios. Proper testing can avoid unpleasant surprises after the launch.
Acceptance and launch. When organisations determine how to launch the system in a production environment, finance can help assist with mapping and tracking the steps to go live in accordance with defined requirements.
Adequate training that helps all users switch to the new system is an important step to ensure a successful launch.
Maintenance. Once a new system is operational, accountants can help monitor its performance and make sure the people responsible for troubleshooting and fixing problems are accountable to a supervisor.
Related CGMA Magazine content:
“Three Ways to Obtain Meaningful Data That Supports Quick Decisions”: Manufacturers often aren’t prepared to take advantage of available data to quickly implement good, quick decisions. Antiquated systems often are a barrier to efficiency. Three key considerations can accelerate savvy decision-making.
“Three Reasons Finance Should Focus More on Business Intelligence”: The finance function is well-positioned to take the lead in helping businesses harness the power of business intelligence. Donny Shimamoto, CPA/CITP, CGMA, breaks down the reasons finance should jump at the chance to learn more about business intelligence.
—Sabine Vollmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.