Staying on top of technological advancements is critical to success for all accounting firms. As technology continues to advance, new software and technology tools are constantly being introduced to help improve processes, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. We previously discussed some key considerations when evaluating a new technology vendor. However, as well know adopting new technology needs to properly govern to effectively capture the benefits it brings.
That's why we need to talk about change management.
Change management is the process of preparing, supporting, and helping individuals, teams, and organizations in making a change. This can include changes to processes, technology, culture, or even business models. In the case of accounting firms, change management is essential when adopting new technology.
Here are some key steps for adopting change management with new technology for accounting firms.
Identify the need for change:
Before implementing any new technology, it's essential to understand why the change is necessary. This could be due to new regulations, increased competition, or replacing technology that is holding the business back. Start by evaluating your firm's existing technology infrastructure and systems. This will help you pinpoint areas that require enhancement. Look for any gaps or inefficiencies in your processes. Determine if your current tech isn't meeting certain needs. If you find such areas, assess if such are critical gaps that need to be filled. If it is critical, then it’s easy to show the need to make such changes.
An example of why change could be necessary is the increased use of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Automating data entry and utilizing cloud-based accounting software can reduce the amount of time spent on manual tasks. If you’re interested in AI, here’s our previous blog on how technology can help “automate the boring stuff.”
A 2019 Sage study found that 58% of surveyed accounting professionals believed AI would benefit their firms in the future. Accounting firms and accounting departments are having a myriad of reactions to AI and similar advances in tech, and while AI-powered tools can impact the day-to-day, accountants adopting new technologies have an opportunity to drive meaningful changes in an organization or firm.
Also, another way to identify the need for change is through soliciting feedback from clients to identify areas where new technology could enhance the client experience. This could involve asking for feedback on current processes and systems, or exploring new services or technologies that clients may be interested in.
Plan the change:
Once a suitable solution has been identified (i.e., your new technology platform), it is time to develop a plan for implementing the technology. Adopting a new technology in an accounting firm requires careful planning and execution to ensure a smooth changeover. Your plan should include a timeline, budget, and resource allocation.
To plan for the change in your organization, you must start by defining the scope of the new technology implementation. A key consideration is for you and your team to determine what the technology will be used for, who will be using it, and what the expected outcomes are. Also, you must identify the key stakeholders involved in the adoption of the new technology and engage with them to understand their requirements and expectations. As we will discuss, it is important to include communication strategies to keep all stakeholders informed of the change and the benefits it will bring.
A critical step in planning is considering what resources are required to adopt the new technology successfully. If you or your firm is undergoing change management with a new technology, it is imperative to determine what hardware, software, and other resources will be needed, and what the cost of these resources will be. Once you have identified the resources required, you can create a budget for the adoption of the new technology. This budget should include the cost of the technology itself, any necessary hardware or software, and any additional costs such as training, implementation, and ongoing support.
When the budget has been determined, your next step is to allocate resources to the project by identifying what resources are required and distributing them accordingly. This may involve hiring new staff or reallocating existing staff to work on the project.
Finally, you can create a timeline for the adoption of the new technology, which should include l of the tasks required to implement the new technology, such as installation, testing, training, and support. The timeline should also include milestones to help track progress and ensure that the project stays on track.
We briefly mentioned the importance of involving stakeholders in the change management process when you are planning for a change at your organization. Stakeholders are those who will be impacted by the change, including employees, clients, and vendors. It's essential to involve these stakeholders early in the change management process to get their buy-in and address any concerns they may have. This could involve providing training, support, or even incentives to help them adjust to the new technology.
By identifying stakeholders, change managers can engage them in the change process and take their needs, concerns, and expectations into account, which can increase the chances of success for the change initiative. When stakeholders are engaged in the change process and feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed, they are more likely to support the change initiative. This can lead to greater stakeholder buy-in and cooperation, which can help ensure the success of the change initiative. Also, change managers can use stakeholder analysis to identify the communication needs and preferences of different stakeholder groups. By tailoring communication to the specific needs of each group, change managers can ensure that stakeholders receive the information they need in a timely and effective manner.
Overall, identifying stakeholders in change management is an important step that can help change managers better understand the impact of the change, communicate effectively with stakeholders, gain stakeholder buy-in, and mitigate risks and challenges associated with the change initiative.
Test the new technology:
Before rolling out the new technology firm-wide, it's important to test it thoroughly. This can include running simulations, conducting pilot tests, and gathering feedback from early adopters. The process of testing allows you to identify any issues or challenges that may arise during the implementation process. Issues that can arise could be technical issues, usability issues, and even resistance from employees who may be hesitant to adopt new technology. Also, testing permits you to mitigate risks associated with the new technology by identifying and addressing potential problems before they become bigger issues. This can help to minimize the impact on your business and reduce the risk of costly downtime or other problems.
By testing the new technology, you can build confidence in the system and the people who will be using it, which can help to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the new technology and understands how to use it effectively. Testing new technology is critical for effective change management because it helps to ensure a smooth and successful transition to the new technology.
Implement the change:
Once the new technology has been thoroughly tested and all stakeholders are on board, it's time to implement the change. This should be done in a phased approach, with clear communication and support provided throughout the process. Phased rollouts are a popular approach for managing change and introducing new technology in an organization.
To begin a phased rollout, you must first define the scope and objectives of the rollout including what specific features of the technology you want to introduce, who the target audience is, and the expected benefits and outcomes. Next it is important to assess the readiness of your organization for the technology change, identify potential risks and challenges, and develop a risk management plan before planning out the rollout phases. When you break the rollout into manageable phases, you must consider the involvement of other business units, departments, and user roles within your organization.
To begin the implementation process, a group of pilot users must be selected. The pilot group will be the first users, who will eventually expand to larger groups and then finally the entire organization. These users are the champions of change management within an organization and play a critical role when it comes to adopting a new technology. Testing and validating the new technology with the pilot users, gathering feedback, and making necessary adjustments before moving on to the next phase allows for an easier transition for the next group of users. By involving pilot users in the change, organizations can create buy-in and support for the change among key stakeholders. This can help to reduce resistance to the change and increase the likelihood of success.
Ultimately, it is important to keep in mind that the success of a phased rollout depends on effective planning, communication, training, and ongoing support for users.
Evaluate the change:
After the new technology has been implemented, it's important to evaluate its effectiveness. This can include gathering feedback from stakeholders, measuring the impact on processes, and tracking key performance indicators. This evaluation can help identify areas that need improvement and inform future change management initiatives.
By analyzing the data collected, it becomes easier to determine whether the new technology is meeting its goals and metrics. Another way to evaluate change is by comparing the data to the baseline established earlier to see if there have been any improvements. Evaluating change with a new technology requires a disciplined approach to data collection, analysis, and iteration. It's important to establish clear goals and metrics, and to be willing to adjust the technology as needed to achieve those goals.
Right-Sizing Change Management for Smaller Firms:
Smaller firms also need to adapt and evolve to stay competitive and thrive in the dynamic business landscape. However, change can be challenging for small firms with limited resources and smaller teams. This is where right-sizing the process of change management becomes crucial.
Smaller firms often have fewer layers of bureaucracy and can make decisions quickly. This agility can be leveraged in change management to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Unlike large firms, smaller firms can pivot and adjust their change plans more easily. The change management process should be flexible enough to accommodate adjustments based on the firm's size, structure, and culture. It should also allow for quick decision-making and course correction as needed.
Also, smaller firms typically have more limited resources, including time, budget, and manpower. It's essential to optimize these resources and use them judiciously during the change process. Change initiatives should be scoped and planned realistically, considering the available resources. Smaller firms may need to prioritize and focus on the most critical changes that align with their strategic objectives. Resource allocation should be carefully planned and monitored throughout the change process to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Often employees wear multiple hats and play diverse roles within their organization, especially in smaller firms. Employee engagement becomes even more critical during times of change. Employees need to understand the reasons for the change, the benefits, and how it aligns with the firm's vision and goals. Communication should be clear, transparent, and frequent to keep employees informed and engaged. Smaller firms can also leverage their close-knit culture to foster open communication, involve employees in the change process, and seek their feedback and input.
Change management is essential when adopting new technology for accounting firms. By following these key steps, firms can ensure a smooth transition to new technology, improve processes, and stay ahead of the competition. By involving stakeholders early on, providing support and training, and monitoring the implementation closely, firms can maximize the benefits of new technology while minimizing disruption.