A few short years ago, it was a given that large businesses had a clear stronghold over small to medium sized ventures. But thanks to the explosion of cloud-based technology over the past three years, we’ve seen a powerful equalizing effect. Small and medium-sized businesses that adopt and strategically use cloud-based technology are now effectively competing with much larger regional, national (and even international) competitors.
The accounting profession is no exception to this phenomenon. In fact, the early adopters of cloud-based technology are now at the forefront in transforming the accounting profession as a whole. Their strategic approach to technology adoption has given them an enormous competitive advantage by lowering delivery costs, enabling real time data flow, and giving them the ability to identify value added opportunities more quickly than their traditional counterparts.
The good news is, these critical advantages aren’t restricted to early adopters. And that becoming an app centric firm and taking a strategic approach to cloud-based technology is easier than you might think. How can you reap the benefits of new technology?
By following the same process you take when recruiting a new hire.
Recruit Your Technology
Your next hire shouldn’t be another bookkeeper or administrator. It should be an app and one that’s API enabled so it can integrate seamlessly with your other “new hires.”
Just like your customers and clients, technology demands a relationship, and the successful (or unsuccessful) partnerships with apps and new technology can make or break a practice. It can be helpful to view potential app partnerships in the same way you view recruiting efforts within your firm. Ask yourself, what do you need the technology to do? When does it need to be done? What level of review is required for this work? It can also be helpful to write out an actual role description, in the same way you might as you’d begin the hiring process. You might start with a particular function or a process in your firm that isn’t meeting benchmarks or ROI goals. Then go out and recruit in the form of research, recommendations and reading reviews.
Best Practices to Follow as You Recruit Your Next App
- Get into the habit of including apps in the list of possible options in conversations about adding new workflows or staff members. Could an app do the job instead? Take a step back and process map your ideal workflow (try gliffy.com) then slot in apps where possible.
- Recognize that change is difficult and will require great communication. You might have to have some uncomfortable conversations to recruit new technology effectively. Making sure that key parties are aligned on the importance of integrating new technology is critical to success.
Insist on Teamwork
As you vet potential apps, one of the most critical components (just like potential employees) is determining how well those apps work together. The good news is that the rapid advancement of API functionality means that truly cloud based apps are constantly working hand in hand; passing data among one another.
Previously, the transfer of data was reliant on someone physically moving the data, whether it was keying in data from a time card into the payroll system, or entering billing information into an Accounts Payable system. This manual movement of data was, and continues to be, an expensive, time consuming challenge in a world of ever diminishing resources, which is why API enabled apps are so crucial to improving efficiency.
Best Practices for Effective Teamwork
- Keep lines of communication open about your new technological recruits. Remind your staff that technology is not taking over their jobs, but instead alleviating the routine and mundane tasks, freeing up their time to identify valueadd opportunities for you and your clients.
- Be a great teammate for your clients. For example, if your app ecosystem works well for franchise restaurants, focus your efforts on growing your business with franchise restaurant clients by recommending effective app solutions. There’s nothing stopping your central Oregon firm from becoming the leading advisor and provider to independently owned dentists across the country if your ecosystem of app solutions fits their niche.
Make Room for Training
Like every new recruit, Apps take time to learn, understand, and implement. The most significant benefits will come with proper training and implementation. And like new recruits, particularly those straight out of college, their functionality and value improves every single day as you integrate with other apps.
How can you help with the learning curve?
Ideally, you’d pair a new recruit with a more seasoned employee to show them the ropes and you should do the same with new apps. The most successful firms employ specialists to master new apps, train your team on the benefits, and on board your clients as opportunities to add value are identified. This person’s role is not to know every single app, but to build a core ecosystem for your (and your clients’) back office processes.
Best Practices for Training
- Remember, practice makes permanent. Don’t “launch and leave” when it comes to introducing new apps. Establish regular touch points and keep the conversation going.
- Realize that your clients need training and hand holding as much as a new employee. Instead of allowing your clients to revert to their known behaviors when it comes to apps and technology, develop on boarding and training resources to help them adapt and move forward.
A True Competitive Advantage
The explosion of new apps means that small and medium sized businesses can tap into enterprise level processing capabilities. For example, in September 2015, Receipt Bank processed more than 1 million receipts, supplier bills and credit notes in an average of 226 minutes or less. In 2015, TSheets helped more than 12,000 companies process 200M hours in payroll, cutting their payroll processing time from five minutes per employee to one minute.
Rather than building your own infrastructure to provide such capacity, firms of all shapes and sizes can tap into these global providers.
As you establish ROI, rigorously measure your new technology’s performance. Your app partners should be lowering your cost of doing business. Hold them accountable.
The phrase “game changer” gets bandied about a lot in the business world. Taking a strategic, recruiting style approach to building a cloud-based, API connected app ecosystem can be a literal game changer, transforming your business and leveling the playing field. With clear app based strategies, any accounting practice can effectively break down traditional barriers to entering new marketplaces and verticals, eliminate geographical limitations, increase their capacity, and minimize costs related to recruitment and infrastructure.