I got a call the other day from a client I hadn’t spoken to in several years. His company, a manufacturing firm in North Carolina, was doing great, with growth in the double digits for the past three years. He thought he needed help deciding whether to upgrade from a basic accounting package to an enterprise-level solution.
While it’s easy for business owners to think they need something more robust, there needs to be some kind of needs analysis to figure out the best solution, whether it's a new system, custom programming or a simple refresh.
Discover Your True Needs
To determine whether your company needs a new solution, consider the following questions:
Question 1: How are your employees spending their time? Technology enables companies to not only streamline processes, but also create more efficient workflow and reduce data entry. If your employees are spending a lot of time on data entry, creating manual reports or using static Excel files, it’s time to think about finding a system that will integrate those functions.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money bringing in an efficiency expert or analyzing detailed time sheets. Start by spending the day with your accounting department and anyone who integrates with accounting. Observe what’s going on, and have a conversation to find out what each employee is doing every day, week and month. Determine what could be made more efficient, asking, “Why are we doing things this way?” The answer will give you quite a bit of insight into your software capabilities and processes, shedding light on what works and what you need for the future.
Question 2: What are the limitations of your current software? If your current software doesn’t give you an accurate picture of your day-to-day business, it’s time to look for another solution. If simple tasks like accessing data, sharing the data with multiple employees, or creating and analyzing reports are too difficult to produce and manage, consider something else.
Some other issues to consider when evaluating the limitations of your current software include:
- Is it flexible? Does your current system have the flexibility and scalability to meet your growing needs? Are you nearing capacity?
- Is it reliable? Is your system frequently down?
- Is it affordable? Maintenance costs are constantly increasing; is your current system unsupported?
- How is the functionality? If your solution isn’t keeping up with current industry trends and technological advances, you’re missing out on important functionality that could help you grow your business.
Question 3: Have you automated everything possible? The old adage is true: Time is money. If you or your staff spend valuable time moving information manually from one system to another, it's time to stop. Technology makes life easier; and your goal is to reduce personnel tasks by integrating office applications. This results in saving time, improving accuracy and employee satisfaction and increasing agility.
If you are on a simple financial package, you certainly don’t have the advantage of a higher-powered solution. Evaluate your needs and research your options.
Don’t be afraid of an integration project. Perhaps your software meets many of your needs, but is it talking to your inventory system? Finding software or a services company to help you integrate the two systems may be well worth the investment.
Change Is Hard
Business owners and entrepreneurs may like change, but it’s a different paradigm for your employees because they must work with something new. Many organizations decide not to upgrade or change systems because of the perceived impact on their business. This is a shortsighted view, but you won’t really know until you take stock of what you have and what you need.
Improved performance from a new system will have an impact on your organization that can be frequently translated into decreased costs and increased earnings, stemming from improved customer service, quicker turnaround, a reduction in the number of days for accounts receivable and higher inventory turnover. Consider your alternatives and find the best solution that fits your needs.
Marjorie Adams is president/CEO of AQB, a business process & software consulting firm that improves the efficiency of client accounting departments. The firm specializes in QuickBooks integration and conversion projects. She is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.
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