Be like Bob: How to find great accounting software

By Team bluQube

When an organisation sets out on a review of their accounting software, it's typically for a small handful of reasons...

 

It could just be time to change, wanting to understand what's new in the market since their last implementation. In some other cases, the organisation has been let down by their supplier and that relationship has fallen apart.

However, in the majority of situations, the often long overdue review comes about when the business has outgrown its current software and it's no longer fit for purpose. With the problems often manifesting in the form of manual data entry, re-keying of data between increasing business systems and clunky processes that rely on offline, paper-heavy steps. All of which leads to inefficient use of staff time and inaccurate reports that take so long to collate they're out-of-date before they're even finished.
 

Meet Bob: A Finance Director struggling to cope

Bob is a Finance Director at a large multi-entity retail and distribution operation that was grappling with a finance system it had long outgrown.  He and his team were struggling to sustain the confidence and trust of the business and the board and were regularly let down by manual processes and severe business bottlenecks, including; Confused man at a laptop

  • Systems that were unable to talk to each other
    Their CRM system, ordering system and finance systems all stood in isolation.  As a result, it was a full-time job within the finance team to manually reconcile the finance system and ensure data was as up to date as possible.
     
  • Management Reporting to the board was late and inaccurate
    With reports due to the board on working day 5 of each month, Bob and his finance manager would always have to work full weekends to wrangle the information together in time.  Even then it was often delivered past the deadline, and with frequent caveats and missing information caused by data issues.
     
  • An inability to see a clear picture of performance
    With too much effort being put into managing disparate systems and ledgers, it became impossible to ever find time to step back and take a wider view of the business as a whole and identify areas that required attention.  

 

 

Bob implemented a new finance system

Constantly feeling like they were falling behind and bogged down by heavily manual processes, the finance team and wider business were becoming demotivated and unhappy.  Bob himself was at breaking point.

Eventually, Bob was able to implement a new finance system that revolutionised their business processes and lead to some significant changes:

 

1. No more manual re-keying

All systems were integrated, using web-service interoperability. This meant that information was passed automatically without timely rekeying and data was reconciled in real-time, without error.
 

2. Management reports were delivered accurately and on-time

Intuitive and powerful software meant that management reporting became a simpler, quicker process.  With fewer steps involved Bob was able to invest time in considering what the information was telling the business, and the best way to present recommendations for change.
 

3. A happier and more motivated finance team

With more available time to proactively direct their efforts to more effective work, debts were chased in on time,  creditors were managed efficiently, and staff were able to identify further process improvements.
    

 

How do you find a finance system like Bob? Man with thumbs up

A swift change to the right system worked wonders for Bob and his business, but not all finance systems are created equal. If you're struggling with the pains of an overstretched finance system like Bob was and are considering a review, what should you look for, and what should you watch out for?

 

Real data sharing

If your finance team is bogged down with manual data re-keying and disparate systems, working with accounting software that can share data back and forth with the rest of your business systems should be a must on your list of requirements.

While many suppliers will say their system enables integration, that integration can come in many forms. These days, true web-service interoperability is really the only way to go, which works in real-time, sharing data in 2 ways and freely connects systems regardless of supplier.  

Watch out for...

  • A restriction on systems
    The traditional IT-Industry ruse was to only allow their systems to integrate amongst themselves, meaning you get tied into a full suite. Great news for the supplier, but not such great news for you.

    True interoperability works in real-time regardless of supplier, meaning you can integrate a new finance system into your existing tech stack rather than fork out for multiple systems at once. Then when things change down the line, you're free to choose best-of-breed systems, happy in the knowledge they will all connect together.
     
  • Anything other than real-time
    As we said, integration can come in many forms, but in the modern world, anything other than real-time just won't do. What many suppliers will call integration turns out to be a manual export and flat file upload.
     
  • Duplication of data
    With traditional batch processing and flat-file upload forms of integration, you're simply taking a copy of data held in one system and adding it to another, resulting in business-wide duplication.

    Not only does that increase the severity should one system be compromised, but only muddies the view of where data is held, which in turn brings about new compliance issues. In contrast, modern interoperability doesn't duplicate your data but instead allows systems to securely read the information in other databases, so that it can be accessed for reporting.

    
True cloud hosting

Line drawing of a laptopWhen cloud first came on the scene, there were many misinformed questions around security. Often arising from simply not being able to see the server down the hall. In reality, cloud offers you economies of scale when it comes to security. You get cutting edge security systems that would be unfeasible to manage in-house, with the cost footed by your supplier.

Despite the vast opportunities for security and tech, if you were still on the fence about cloud computing, no doubt the recent shift to a remote world has convinced you. Cloud accounting software enables easy, yet highly secure access to your system from any location and any device via nothing more than a web browser.

Watch out for...

  • Anything other than true cloud
    While cloud hosting is the norm these days, don't assume that all cloud platforms are the same. What may be sold as cloud, is in reality an on-premise solution with the servers simply located in your suppliers' premises rather than your own.

    If a system requires clunky hardware and antiquated VPNs or remote desktops to access it, it's not true cloud. With an increasing demand for fast, seamless remote access, this will only slow you down.
     
  • Lack of service
    There's a reason why the term cloud is interchangeable with the acronym "SaaS" - "Software as a Service", you should be able to expect a certain level of service included.

    Things like regular software and hardware upgrades that keep you at the forefront of modern tech, alongside regular penetration testing, security checks and dedicated data centres, all included in your subscription fee.

    What's more, with a true cloud model, this should all be happening behind the scenes, taken care of by your supplier, with minimal reliance on any in-house IT resource. Therefore, alarm bells should be ringing if you're getting anything less, or the supplier puts the onus on your internal teams instead.


Intuitive, user-friendly software

Line drawing of a mobile phoneWhile in the past, finance systems tended to be endless grey boxes and text-heavy screens, the surge of usability in personal tech has had a knock on to our business systems. These days, accounting software should be bold, clear and intuitive.

Combined with modern automation that reduces manual steps and electronic processes that reduce paper, you'll have faster access to the information you need, allowing you to focus on real finance rather than having to be a systems expert.

Watch out for...

  • Boring, grey screens
    If a prospective finance system is grey and clunky, not only will you struggle to motivate your team to use it, but it should also be a warning sign that the supplier just isn't keeping up.
     
  • Misleading demos
    Far too often suppliers will give dashboards and home screens a facelift, designed to wow you at the demo stage, but when you dive deeper in to the system, those more granular screens will look 20 years out of date. Don't remain passive when receiving a demo, throw unexpected requests at the supplier and ask to see the areas of the software they weren't planning on showing you.
     
  • Processes that require manual intervention or offline steps
    While a prospective supplier may have ticked all the boxes on your requirements checklist, be mindful of what that process really looks like in their software. Be mindful of processes that can't be carried out end to end within the software itself, relying on offline steps or manual intervention.

    Don't settle for anything less than fully digital processes, not only will this provide an effective, electronic audit trail, but it'll also ensure your business continues operating as normal in a remote working environment.


Great accounting software without the tech headaches Graph increase

While all this talk about the intricacies of finance software can sound complex, the best thing about modern software is that you don't need to be a tech whizz to use it.

Be sure to ask the right questions now during the system review stage and you'll ensure you won't have to worry about them again. The complicated tech stuff remains behind the scenes for your supplier to take care of, while on the front end you simply get great accounting software that empowers you to focus on the finance tasks at hand without any of the tech headaches.

 

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