Automated data extraction is fast becoming a staple in accounting and bookkeeping. As someone who works at one of the industry’s leading providers, you may well expect to hear that from me. But, like so many others, I’ve seen the impact this smart but simple technology has had on our profession.
But that’s not to say everyone is onboard. At Dext, we still meet so many accountants and bookkeepers yet to embrace automated data extraction. Much of that is down to a lack of confidence on how to implement this kind of technology, which creates uncertainty.
If that sounds familiar, then this article is for you – a beginner’s guide on how to introduce automated data extraction at your firm. These suggestions are based on my own experiences, both during my time in practice and working in the wider accounting technology space, most recently at Dext, where I now help others get the most from their accounting tech. I hope you find them useful. I certainly wish I’d had some of this knowledge when I started.
1. Understand and Define Your Goals
There are plenty of non-starter stories when it comes to introducing automation. And so many of those can be traced back to a lack of preparation and understanding.
The key, then, is to better understand your automation needs. There are three ways to do this. First, it’s imperative that you align your tech strategy with wider business objectives. What are the problems you are trying to fix and how might software help you solve them?
Next, ask your team what they want to see. Where are their sticking points? And how do they feel about automating them? Remember, they’ll be the ones using it. Finally, talk to your clients. Try to get a sense of their needs and expectations. And, the key question, are they open to using technology, or will you need to adapt the way in which you work with them in order to accommodate their needs?
A quick word on cost. When adding new technology, you’re signing up to a continuous contract, so it’s essential that the software in question is a long-term investment and not a temporary fix. Think forward and far ahead. You should also decide whether you intend to absorb the costs or on-charge to your clients. Many firms I’ve worked with will do a mix of both depending on the client.
2. Create a Team of Stakeholders
Introducing any form of technology to your business is a team effort. It may start as one person’s fleeting idea, but without the collective buy-in from your employees and clients it will remain that way. A successful implementation leans on the expertise of numerous people. Call together a taskforce of your most engaged and digitally-savvy employees – we often refer to them as cloud accounting specialists, or digital transformation experts.
This group should be responsible for overseeing the early days of your automation journey and beyond. That may involve helping others get up to speed, managing expectations and combating fears. You can also incentivise your wider team with rewards to help ease resistance and increase uptake. You might even want to gamify the process to create friendly competition
The point is, change takes time, but it also takes more than one pair of hands. Bring your best people together to give yourself the best chance of success.
3. Engage Your Wider Team
Change depends on effective communication. In the case of software, that means more than a one-off email. You’re making a significant addition to your firm and modifying the way it functions. If possible, try to build a comms plan with clear milestones. That may include an official announcement, product training, client reviews and regular team meetings to check in on how things are progressing.
The more open you are with your plans, the more likely people are to buy into the project. Work with your specialist sub-team to build and share a strategy that keeps everyone engaged and involved. This will also allay any fears from those in the wider business around their job security. Automation technology is here to make their lives easier, leaving them free to spend time on more interesting work.
4. Keep Your Clients in the Loop
Once you’ve decided on the level of involvement you want your clients to have with your automation tool, pull a comms plan together that lets them know what changes they can expect. It may be that they continue to provide the information as they always have done and in the same regularity. However, you may decide you’d like them to interact with the system themselves and provide the information on a more real-time basis.
If you’re met with resistance, remind them of the ‘why’. It may help to refer back to the value in its purest form: To simplify how they submit financial transactions. You can then build on this by explaining how it helps them save time and stay compliant. And, of course, how they maximise their tax savings with copies of the receipts to claim back all relevant business expenses.
Once they’re sold on the value, you can start to bring them into the process through live training, review sessions and weekly check-ins. It may sound like a lot of work, but you’ll be pleased to hear that Dext offers these client initiatives as part of your subscription.
5. Continue to Monitor and Evaluate
Implementing any type of software is rarely a ‘one and done’ process. There are a number of variables that may force you to reconsider your initial choice. Your firm may outgrow the terms of its current subscription, or even the software’s capabilities. The ROI might not live up to expectations. Clients may not engage with the product as you’d hoped for. The list goes on.
The point is, conditions change. That’s why it’s so important for you or your designated team to keep an eye on your firm’s use of data extraction software. Assess whether it’s doing what it promised to do. And continue to ask your employees and clients the same question. It sounds obvious but change management doesn’t stop at the point of change; it’s a continuous process of fine-tuning.
I do encourage you to also keep up to date with any product improvements, it may be that there are further opportunities to improve your processes and those of your clients by maximising your use of the product.
The advice I’ve shared in this article draws on my own experiences, and the approach we at Dext encourage our partners to consider when sourcing new technology. But there’s much more to this process than those suggestions alone.
To get the full picture, we’ve created an in-depth guide on what it takes to get started with.