Jules Carman, Head of Digital Transformation, Accountancy, Sage
How can accountants navigate the maze of technology that faces them during digital transformation initiatives – not to mention when to make the move? That’s the question which many practices use to start the process of transformation, but as we’ve seen over this series, it should actually come after a thorough cultural assessment and gap analysis. You need to understand the needs of your staff and the areas for improvement before you begin reviewing solutions.
Once you’ve completed those stages, it’s time to apply what you’ve learnt with technology. Firms will reap the rewards of data insights, predictable and prescriptive trends, larger client portfolios, recurring revenues, technologies such as AI and blockchain, if they start to make changes now – the question is, where to begin, and how to choose?
The IT market is growing at breakneck pace, and there are a thousand vendors competing for your digital transformation dollar. With that in mind, there are three key principles to bear in mind as you enter the fray.
- Enhance what you already have
Don’t rip and replace if you don’t have to –try to complement existing systems where possible. Any digital transformation project should prioritise business continuity, staff experience and customer service. With those goals in mind, by implementing technology that integrates quickly with existing solutions, you can maximise the chance of a smooth transition and a positive user experience.
So, for example, a rip-and-replace option would be scrapping your database and starting from scratch with a shiny new collaboration system. However, that cliff-edge strategy is likely to cause teething problems for staff and customers. Instead, you could think about how integrating the existing system with the new technology rather than scrapping it, allowing you to gradually shift usage over.
In other words, compatibility with existing technology should be a key consideration during digital transformation projects. Companies that insist on rip-and-replace should be treated with caution – it might turn out to be the right approach for your business, but it shouldn’t be your first instinct.
Change is a gradual process. Be sensitive to the impact that new technology will have on people’s day-to-day lives and give them and the company time to adjust – and assess whether you have the right skill sets in place to manage the new technology.
- Ignore the pie in the sky
Ensure that you choose a technology provider that focuses on practical reality and is dedicated to serving the profession for the long term. The world is full of Silicon Valley wannabes peddling the next big innovation, and they’ll all tell you that their particular software gizmo is the wonder fuel your company needs to achieve its goals, but the chances are that there isn’t a quick fix for issues that are worth addressing.
Rather than the whizz-kids, look for the old hands – the companies that have lived through a few IT innovations and have the experience to know what goes into a successful transformation. They should also be aware of what’s coming up on the next few years that you’ll need to be aware of.
You don’t just need technology, you need the expertise to help you build an implementation that works for your individual challenges. A quality IT deployment isn’t an overnight job – it takes time, care and the kind of insight that comes with long experience. Make sure you work with a partner that can bring that level of individual attention and understanding to the table.
Working with an experienced IT provider will also help you to cultivate realistic expectations of your own organisation. Every business has growth goals, but it can be hard to know how to make the jump in reality. IT providers with deep experience can help you to map out that process in the best way for your operating model. For example, it might be the difference between buying wide-reaching enterprise-grade ERP straight out of the gate and instead starting by investing in really good, usable accounting software and then working on from there.
- Whole-life partnership
Finally, remember that digital transformation is an ongoing process and select technology partners that will work with you beyond the installation date and understand your strategic goals. This is partly about making sure your new solution comes with comprehensive post-sales support, but it’s more than just that.
As we’ve seen, digital transformation is essentially a virtuous circle – cultural assessment followed by gap analysis followed by investment, and then rinse and repeat. The best investments will lead naturally to the next cultural assessment. Now that we’ve solved problem A, what’s problem B, and how can our partners help us address it?
That philosophy should inform your decisions about which technology to purchase. It’s important to buy the right software for the job, but you also need to think about how technology fits into the company’s more long-term vision. There’s nothing worse than a white elephant. IT purchasers need to make sure that they consult with other business departments and ensure that the tech they implement and the partners they work with will work for the company over time.
In short, technology purchasing needs to be informed by the whole of the business, not just the CIO’s wish list. When digital transformation is driven by the holistic needs of the company and serves employee and client needs alike, success will be that much easier to achieve for everyone.