In a detail-oriented profession like accounting, it can be difficult to transition to a more hands-off approach after you’ve been responsible for all of it in the first place. If you have to review something to ensure it’s done right, why not just do it yourself in the first place?
But with the evolution of technology, there are massive efficiencies to be through tools like accounting automation. Just as spreadsheets replaced the pen and paper approach, norms are changing—and that’s a good thing! Adapting to new tools can greatly improve outdated processes and increase revenue opportunities.
But more importantly, automation is changing the accounting industry, and there’s no getting around it. Eventually, automation will be the differentiating factor between firms that are able to achieve scale and those that won’t survive to see another day.
All that said, it’s not enough to merely say you’re going to embrace automation; you have to know how to do it—including what to avoid. We’ve pulled together 7 of the most common pitfalls to steer clear of when adopting accounting automation, and they’re all here in this article. Take a spin through them, and be sure to reach out to us if you have any questions or thoughts related to automation at your firm!
You might also like to grab a copy of this ebook: Who Benefits the Most From Automation at Your Firm?
Avoid These 7 Common Automation Pitfalls
1. Inadequate Planning
Your firm has a process and a change to that process can mean friction as you try to figure out how to best make things work. At a certain point, you hit a groove where everything feels like muscle memory...introducing a change big or small can throw you off of that rhythm!
Automation can work only as well as it’s implemented. You should have a plan in place that takes into account who will be affected, their current workflows, and the eventual outcome you want to achieve. Start with an end goal for what you want automation to achieve for your firm, then plan backwards from there.
And don’t forget that planning includes appropriate communication, as well! If you don’t communicate effectively with other partners, you run the risk of them not wanting to adopt the new technology and insisting that they continue the practice of doing it all themselves.
2. Poor Communication = Poor Buy-in
Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for life. Give a man a fishing pole with no communication, he’s probably going to wonder how it solves his hunger.
Communication is key when adapting a new technology. If the partners don’t buy in, you risk having yet another software that’s ignored despite the massive potential efficiency gains. Clients, CPAs, and the firm as a whole can greatly benefit from implementing automation, and letting people know how will make them feel more invested.
To maximize the return on your investment in accounting automation, talk to the people who are most affected by the change. By taking the time to understand their workflows, you’ll understand their pain points and how the technology can address it.
By taking the time to address how accounting automation will benefit everyone’s workflows, you’ll guarantee buy-in. And then once the system is implemented, your firm will hit the ground running, which will prevent any delays in rolling everything out and make sure you’re benefiting from day one.
3. Resistance from Accountants
You’ve communicated your decision to other partners, everyone’s bought in, and you’ve implemented accounting automation. Now you get to sit back and watch your firm become hyperproductive, right?!
Not quite. According to an MIT study, almost 70% of the money spent on the use of technology to improve performance goes to waste. To avoid this, you’ll have to ensure everyone continues to buy in beyond the first day, week, or month of using a new technology.
We’ve all heard people argue against change using the logic that the old way worked fine. And sure, manually categorizing and reviewing every transaction will still get the job done. But there’s a reason these new technologies exist—to make your life easier!
Continue to follow up with your team of accountants and get feedback on their experience. Remember the plan you had, and reiterate the benefits of automation. This is a tool that can win back so much of an accountant’s time by making the most dreaded, menial tasks a thing of the past! But it may take time and communication for accountants to realize why the old way of doing things is being left behind.
To be fair, there will still be growing pains, but thinking that these growing pains will last forever is just one of many misconceptions around accounting automation.
4. Resistance from Partners
For some partners, the cost is the only immediate impact of a new technology that they care about. A new software doesn’t automatically generate new revenue opportunities, so the path to increasing profitability needs to be shown to them.
The value of an accountant doesn’t come from their ability to do the smaller, basic tasks. Taking back that time with automation allows them to focus on higher-level tasks. These are the specialized tasks that only accountants can do and generate the most revenue.
Frame the adoption of accounting automation as exactly that: an opportunity to have the same workforce focus on the tasks that generate the most amount of revenue for the firm. The partners might not see that on day one, but if they buy in they’ll see the impact on every P&L after.
5. Lack of Flexibility in Your Workflow
Another reason that we often settle into our habits and keep things the way they are is because we believe it works. You know—if it’s not broken….
Your firm has many moving parts, and as soon as something changes the workflow, you run the risk of a process failing. Finding the opportunity to make a change can be difficult with so many deadlines to work around.
You also have capacity planning models based on the new system. As soon as you rock the boat with a new technology, there can be inconsistency in output as your firm reaches an equilibrium. Hopefully, that inconsistency is in a positive direction, but again, growing pains happen.
Once you reach that desired equilibrium (which doesn’t take long when you have reliable resources and support), the benefits are massive. Without being open to change and allowing time for trial and error, you’ll miss out on opportunities for significant growth. Other firms can gain a competitive advantage over your firm by adopting the technologies you won’t risk trying because of the rigidity of your workflow. Don’t let this happen! Pick a time that allows you to experiment with your workflow, try new things, and challenge the way tasks have always been done.
For most firms, that might be summertime after the busy season has passed and before the back half of the year hits.
6. Failing to Shift Firm Focus
The point of automation is to take away the tasks that aren’t a good use of time. And the beauty of that is an influx of available time. Now that you have this free time, fill it with what’s most valuable to you!
This is easier said than done, and if your firm doesn’t have a plan for what to do with the newfound time and energy, you’ll risk implementing a new technology without any of the gains. Stick to a plan by identifying the tasks and responsibilities you want to tackle via automation beforehand.
Be open to adding new services such as Client Advisory Services (CAS). Not only is this a new way to make revenue, but it bolsters your relationship with your clients. A business will consider changing the accounting firm it works with if they’re getting basic accounting services. But you can become an invaluable part of a client’s team if you’re providing insight and advice to help them master their financials. You can even open up to adding fractional or virtual CFO work to your lineup of services.
Implementing accounting automation will free up your time, but shifting firm focus will make you money.
7. Lack of Implementation
Once you’ve started working with accounting automation, don’t just leave it alone! Make sure you’re maximizing your return by ensuring everyone is adapting to the new technology. Getting familiar with these tools takes time, and if people aren’t going to buy in even after they’re expected to use automation, you’ll have an uphill battle of making it work for your firm.
Follow up with those using the technology to ensure they’re putting it to use. You can even hold people accountable to changing their workflow by setting routine check-ins and monitoring how much work gets completed via automation. With time, they’ll realize the benefits so long as they continue to work accounting automation into their routine.
Automation is a Tool to Grow Your Firm
There are short-term hurdles to implementing accounting automation. You’ll need to create a plan on what automation will accomplish for you, communicate the decision with everyone at your firm, and continue to follow up to guarantee everyone is using the technology. That is, so long as the partners and your accountants have bought in.
The benefits of introducing accounting automation to your firm are long-term and can open up brand new growth opportunities. At its simplest form, you can scale your operations up by taking the basic, menial tasks that eat up an accountant’s time completely out of the picture. But better yet, you can use this time you won back to work on introducing new services like client advisory. These are brand new revenue opportunities made possible by having a bulk of your business completely automated.
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the most common pitfalls to adding accounting automation to your business, you’re well on your way to transforming your firm. You might also be interested in checking out some of the biggest obstacles that prevent firms from achieving true scalability. Take a look at our data-based ebook: Overcoming the 5 Biggest Obstacles to Growing Your Accounting Firm by clicking below!