Selecting Accounting Software Systems – The Personnel Approach

July 25th, 2013 by

Accounting software systems selection can be a tricky process even under the best circumstances.  While most accounting and ERP selection projects get the requirements document (functionality definition) somewhat right, the personnel aspects of these projects fall short in far too many instances and that’s one of the primary reasons why software selection projects never seem to achieve complete success.

Accounting Software SystemsActually failure is an all too possible reality.  What can we learn from this? It does little good for a company to spend $50,000 or $500,000 on new accounting software or ERP software if the people who will be using the accounting software systems cannot or will not operate it effectively.

This article will deal in part with the first consideration, but concentrate on the people side of software selection.  Before we move on, I do want to make just a few points.

  • Do you know what you are doing?  If are not sure don’t move forward until you have acquired the knowledge (or hired it).  The Internet can prove to be quite educational as there are any number of articles (one of which I have linked here) that might help you learn.  You might also use GoogleBlogSearch to identify articles relating to topics you define (accounting software systems selection, accounting software selection, ERP software selection, etc.).
  • If your company is not organized for success (culture, leadership style, business processes and finally business management software) a new accounting software or ERP system will accomplish little if anything.
  • Organizing and managing a software selection project isn’t easy.  If you cannot get a critical mass of people deeply involved in the accounting software selection project, cancel it.

The Personnel Aspects of Accounting Software Systems Selection

What happens if you spend hundreds or thousands of hours searching for new accounting software systems and thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on software, hardware and services and seem to accomplish little, if anything?

While you might be inclined to place the blame on the users themselves, please do not react quite so quickly. The selection of accounting software systems must be based upon three critical decisions.

• Do the accounting software systems do what you want them to do?
• What operating and hardware configuration do you require?
• And finally, do your employees have the ability to utilize these accounting software or ERP solutions effectively?

Accounting Software Systems Selection Projects: The Prime Objective

If your company is going to grow and prosper, you must have certain tools to assist you. One of these tools is information. Companies use information to control day to day operations relating to the production of goods and services. In addition this information can be used to control cash flows. Finally this information can be combined with managerial experience to make sound business decision.

The negative side of this equation is that this information will be of little practical use if the “system” does not operate effectively. The pure accounting processes must be efficient; less the information produced is almost totally ineffective. The real key to the effective utilization of accounting software systems then should be the effective production of meaningful information which will assist businesses achieve their goals.

The Personal Needs Definition

Accounting software systems do not make decisions. People do. If people are not provided with the tools they require to make these critical decisions, it’s very likely mistakes will be made. Some of these decision making responsibilities are imposed upon people by the market in which the company competes. Some are imposed by the owners or managers interpretation of how the business should be operated. However, the methods by which these decisions are made can only be formulated by each individual person, and that is where the software/human relationship becomes so critical.

Each person in any company is unique. That’s our nature. Therefore, the methods by which decisions are made, or tasks carried out, are unique as well. While there are some common steps by which people carry out their job responsibilities, for the most part each person must decide for themselves what they require to be an efficient, effective and contributing member of the organization. It is only under this assumption that we can evaluate accounting software systems, ERP solutions or any software for that matter.

Given all of the above, the critical elements in defining just what accounting software systems should do must rest in part upon the unique needs of each person with whom the accounting software systems will “integrate”. In my consulting practice, I advocate a two step approach to the preparation of a needs definition, and the first step must analyze the needs of individuals.

Each person who will be processing transactions (e.g. customer orders) must be given the opportunity to express their personal needs, for it is these people who will be required to operate the system. Further, each manager who will be making decisions based in part upon the information produced by the accounting software systems must express their reporting needs as well (e.g. Business Intelligence, Performance Metrics, and Exception Management ). It is only after these needs have been recognized that the broader corporate strategic needs should be defined.

The Corporate Needs Definition

If accounting software systems or ERP solutions are to assist companies control their destiny, the system selected must carry out certain responsibilities. These tasks are based upon the nature of the business itself, the mix of products and services sold, and the market in which the business competes.

At the core of these considerations is a clearly understood definition of what the company must do well in order to succeed. If these corporate objectives and strategies are not fully defined, it matters little what accounting software systems are selected for the basis upon which the selection is made is fatally flawed.

A Corporate Self Evaluation

Many accounting software systems selection projects fail to achieve all of their objectives, or fail altogether. While a convenient scapegoat is the hardware or software, the real problem lies not in the accounting software systems, but in the manner by which this accounting or ERP system is operated, and what goes on around it. The way a company organizes itself and controls the flow of information into and out of the accounting software systems, determines to a large degree how successful the accounting software systems will become.

As individual people define their needs, please do not limit their responses to factors relating only to the accounting software systems. Let them express their needs with respect to how they fit into the system, what information they require from other people, where potential bottlenecks may occur, and in general how the manual side of the business management processes should be controlled.

The fact that you are selecting new accounting software systems does not eliminate the need for business process control procedures, and it is these procedures which might have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the new accounting software systems. Please do not forget this critical step.

Human Comfort

Why is it that some people swear by particular accounting software systems or ERP solutions, while others believe they are seriously flawed? The answer is quite simple. One person sees the accounting software systems as a friend, while the other does not. This impression determines to a large extent how effective the accounting software systems will become in real life, and it is for this reason that I place such emphasis upon evaluating personal requirements (Yes, even feelings!) as well as features when working with my clients.

All people, whether they have had computer experience or not, have developed some personal definition of what they consider to be “good” accounting software systems. If the accounting software systems you purchase meets these pre conceived notions, the task of learning and operating the system will be relatively easy. If the system does not make sense to people, errors will be made. One of your tasks must be an evaluation of the degree of fit between your employees and the accounting software systems you are examining during your software selection project.

One thing you cannot do is to impose new accounting software systems on people. They must feel as though their opinion is as important as others, and that the accounting software systems will assist them personally. While you might argue that first impressions can be changed over time, consider what might be happening in the meantime. Any computer system can seem quite a daunting challenge to some people. The operator, whether it is accountant, bookkeeper, or clerk can be suffering in some considerable silence. This suffering might reach the point where the person is willing to consider another job.

No amount of patience, encouragement, or training will reduce this suffering. Mistakes will begin to occur more frequently as well. If the person does not leave, you may have to face the grim decision that their mistakes can be corrected only by removing them from the job. Has this achieved anything positive? Certainly not! If too many critical people in the organization resist the accounting software systems, you can consider the selection project a complete failure. That’s why this evaluation of personal needs is so very important.

Human Abilities

Before proceeding much further, let’s discuss the “who” of this accounting software systems evaluation process. Any multi-user accounting system or ERP solutions will be operated by a number of different people with different job functions and different skill levels. The larger the system becomes, the more diverse these individual abilities become, and the more critical an evaluation of their relationship to the accounting system becomes.

Let’s examine one example. Your company is a large distributor with several warehouses. Perhaps the least skilled person who might be called upon to operate the accounting software systems is a warehouse manager or even a shipping or receiving clerk. Does the system meet their needs? Does the menu structure segregate their input screens into one logical area? Does the language used, particularly Help Screens, talk to them on their skill level? Will the processing methodology make sense to someone with their relative skills and educational background?

This evaluation should be carried out for each group of people using the system. Do many companies realize the importance of this accounting software systems evaluation process? Do many software companies recognize the need to cater to people with less education than a bookkeeper or accountant? The answer to both questions is probably not. Is this evaluation critical? Absolutely!

Training

Our last consideration will be training. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of training. If you want to reduce errors, particularly those resulting from a lack of experience with new accounting software systems, you must invest as much as practical in training yourself and all of your employees. If the investment in training appears formidable, you should not have considered the purchase of new accounting software systems.

Depending upon the vendor or product reseller you have selected to provide your accounting software systems, you will probably have several options open to you. If your system is a large multi-user installation, you might want to consider sending several people to a regional or national training seminar lasting several days. While expensive on the surface, this intensive class room oriented environment will enable these people to develop a detailed knowledge which can be passed on to others. Train the trainer really works.

Demonstration accounting software systems are excellent training tools. An even better one is a training company with your own Chart of Accounts, vendors, customers, and employees. This provides people the opportunity to experience a “real” data processing environment without running the risk that errors will lead to catastrophes.

One last point should be discussed with respect to training. Some people will find it difficult, if not impossible, to make the transition to new accounting software systems, or from one accounting software system to another, perhaps more powerful ERP solution.

While you might wish the accounting system or ERP solution could be installed with minimum problems, this may be your most significant hurdle. If the installation of integrated accounting software systems is the best alternative for your company, what is to be done with those people who cannot, or will not make the adjustment?

You must face the very real possibility some people may have to be replaced. It’s not a very pleasant thought, but do not delude yourself into thinking all people will be as excited about new accounting software systems as you are. Business is not easy sometimes, and this is one of those times. I do not like the idea any more than you do, but changes may be necessary for the good of the company and its employees.

Summary

What do people have to do with the success of an accounting software systems evaluation project? Everything! The accounting software systems will be operated by people, and it is their ability to operate the system effectively and efficiently that will determine your long term success. While the accounting software systems you purchase must have certain features which relate to corporate objections and strategies, please do not forget the needs of each person who will be using the system on a day to day basis.

The flow of information into and out of the accounting software systems must be evaluated as well. New accounting software systems will not replace that function any time in the near future. In addition, people must understand what is required of them in this new environment, must be given the tools and the training to carry out these new tasks, and must see the system as a friend rather than an adversary. In the end, the people side of the equation is perhaps more important than you might have first imagined.

About Charles Chewning

Charles Chewning is the publisher of The Accounting Software Library a FREE accounting software systems and ERP software selection tool that assists users easily and quickly find best suited accounting and ERP products.

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