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Getting Serious about Accounting Software Selection

Mar 2, 2008
Most companies only look for new accounting software when they have to. This usually means the company is in a crisis situation or management senses one coming, and yet, the evaluation and selection process is approached in a very casual way.

Here's where the problem begins: Management tends to assign the task of finding new accounting software to the person who seems most qualified to handle this complex project -- regardless of their background. If someone has the time and knows more than other managers, that's usually enough to put them in charge. Unfortunately, these de facto 'software experts' often know very little about the software selection process. This puts the company at risk and sets up one of their most important projects for failure!

To be upfront, accounting software failure is never the fault of the software. Most of the systems on the market today can accomplish basic common objectives. A problem arises when a company buys a particular accounting software system without really understanding what it can and, more importantly, cannot do.

The question is: Why would otherwise intelligent and capable executives allow this to happen? Here are several reasons:

* The person(s) in charge of the evaluation/selection process doesn't have the needed experience and doesn't know what to look for
* The company buys the salesman rather than the software
* A company's needs are not understood in great enough detail
* It's not understood how to do proper due diligence on product capabilities
* Corners are cut due to time and/or resource limitations

But the one, all-encompassing reason that accounting software selection fails is that the people in charge don't know what they don't know!

The Essential Software Selection Steps

But your software initiative doesn't need to fail. Here are four essential steps to help ensure success. (If any of these steps is skipped, the risk of failure increases dramatically.)

1. The Software Champion. Identify a capable person to head the project. Make sure this person has experience evaluating accounting software and the necessary management support behind him. He must know the company operations, have some IT skills and have good management skills. If this person doesn't exist within your organization, get outside help.

2. Process Mapping. Get the entire operations staff to sit down and map out all discrete phases of their operation. Include how data is collected, all sequential processing steps/decision points, the required information to be collected and what reports are needed. It is essential to identify all inter-departmental transactions, along with current bottlenecks and challenges. Your end goal is to look for ways to improve workflow so that data is captured and moved through the system in a way that maximizes available resources. Digging into these details before you start looking for accounting software will help you avoid wasting time looking at systems that are not a fit for your organization and keep you in control of the evaluation process.

3. Intelligent Reference Checking. When you've established your accounting software shortlist, don't rely on references that have been using the software for many years. Ask for references that have installed the system in the last 12-18 months. And, to compare apples to apples, make sure you speak to references that are in your industry and are about the same size as your company. If you're working with a reseller, check them out just as carefully as you would the software.

4. Proof of Concept Workshop. Most demos just give you a brief glimpse of the software. To really know how the program works, you have to go much further. Once you have a qualified shortlist, ask for a "proof of concept" workshop. Using carefully prepared scripts covering all key aspects of your operation, work with the vendors during a one-to-two-day workshop so you can fully test the system and see how it will perform in your environment. Although you will spend some money to do this, it's cheap insurance. Without the workshop, you really don't know what you're buying.
About the Author
Sheldon Needle is President of CTS, a leading publisher of independent accounting software reviews and ratings. Get your free Accounting Software Selection Kit and Smart Shortlist(TM) Consult by visiting

http://www.ctsguides.com/accounting-software.asp
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