Not withstanding all of the marketing literature to the contrary, the selection, installation and operation of accounting software is not easy. In fact, it can be one of the most frustrating experiences any company will ever undertake. The time wasted in the selection of a system that will be replaced is of minor consequence when compared with the staggering loss of productivity and profitability growing out of the chaos precipitated by an ill-suited accounting system.
The road to a successful software selection project requires a solid foundation, detailed information gathering and analysis, a step-by-step approach to selection, installation and implementation, patience, cooperation, dedicated and constant management and finally a little bit of luck. The key to all of these activities is a plan built upon a realistic assessment of your organization's strengths and weaknesses, including your ability to organize and manage what could become a lengthy and complex undertaking.
The selection process itself can be divided into any number of specific tasks and more detailed activities. Given the limited nature of this article we will discuss only the most significant steps.
- Educate yourself
- Define your objectives
- Justify the decision
- Organize yourself for success
- Organizational analysis
- Preliminary needs definition
- Preliminary needs analysis
- Detailed needs definition
- Detailed needs analysis
- Evaluate finalists
- Final purchase decision
- Installation and implementation
- Post implementation management
Any project of this magnitude and critical importance can fail simply because you get off on the wrong foot. If your objectives are not based upon what's practical for you as a unique group of individual people, everything that follows can carry with it a fatal flaw. If the benefits you attribute to the project are unattainable under any set of circumstances, it's very likely the project will fail to achieve its objectives, and might fail altogether.
Your first task is to take no direct action. Instead, spend some time educating yourself so that the decisions you make as you proceed will be based upon realistic facts, not dreams or the marketing hype of industry leaders. There are any number of articles that discuss accounting software and software selection. You should try to read and assimilate as much of this information as possible. The more you read and learn about the potentials that can be released through an effectively deployed management information system, the greater will be your chances of achieving your objectives. In the end, the decisions you make, and the way this project is organized, should be yours and yours alone.
Define Your Objectives
Define your objectives in detail before proceeding further. These objectives could be quite simple or they could become quite complex depending upon the need for changes in the organizational structures, processes and personnel that will surround the new system. Remember one very important truth. Accounting systems accomplish nothing by themselves. They require people to operate them efficiently, and organizational, operational and strategic plans that support them and which they in turn support. If your company isn't organized for success, nothing will happen, no matter how much you pay for software.
Justify the Decision
Just because you define a set of lofty objectives, doesn't mean these objectives make sense in the first place. The investment in a new accounting system, no matter whether it costs $295 or $295,000, must generate some measurable return, just as the investment in any other capital asset. The decision to switch accounting systems has the potential to increase productivity and profitability, but only if the system selected fits within the context of the organization's goals, objectives and abilities. If the system doesn't support the organization's strategic or operational objectives, or proves to be far too difficult to install, implement or use on a daily basis, then it isn't the right system.