From XU Magazine, 
Issue 29

Prepare your workflows for a digital accounting future

A workflow is a sequence of tasks that processes a set of data. A typical accounting firm will see a great deal of data stream through their practice each day and utilise multiple workflows to organise and make sense of it all.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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With a recent update stating that the MTD for Income Tax (ITSA) deadline has been pushed from 2023 to 2024, there’s more time to take the work out of workflows and start automating the menial tasks that tend to hold back progress. 

Adapting your firm to a fast changing environment is a challenge but one easily overcome with the right tools. We asked our in-house experts at Dext, Katie Hoare and Paul Lodder, to provide insights into refining and customising workflows with automation.

As a person considers developing/refining the workflow for their firm, what are the key considerations they need to begin with?

Katie: Inclusion of the team and good communication of why you’re making the changes and what you’re looking to accomplish. If you include your team in the journey, you’re much more likely to gain their buy in when then trying to implement the change.

Paul: The team needs to understand the benefits of refining the workflow and why it is being changed.  Nobody likes change and so team buy-in is crucial and regular communication/updates ensures that the team stays on board and on track.  They need to understand that there may be some hiccups along the way and that these will be discussed and addressed as necessary.  If the implementation does not go according to plan then be brave and fail fast.  Re-group and move forward.

What software solutions work best for this? Which Free apps? Which Paid platforms?

Katie: I love a brainstorming act for the initial session, and I’ve found the best software for this is Miro - which you can obtain both free and paid access for. Alternatively, if you’re a google suite user, you can use Google Jamboards for this although the functionality is quite basic. I love Asana for project management, once you have your scope complete and want to get up and running with the project.

Paul: Agree with Katie.  Miro is brilliant as you can use virtual post-it notes so that all team members have an opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts.  Giving everyone a voice is important.

What does the “tech stack” need to include (start to finish) in order for a firm to have a complete workflow design?

Katie: If I was setting up my own firm tomorrow I would use -

A quoting/onboarding tool (as I hated having to prepare finger in the air quotes and edit engagement letters)

A data capture tool

An e-commerce platform (because more and more businesses are going on online)

A bookkeeping product - just the one

A quality control tool

Reporting app for management/advisory insights

Paul:  First of all you need to identify what is the problem/pain point you are looking to solve.  Break this down as much as possible so that each element can be separately considered and reviewed.  From there you can then look at what solutions are available which will naturally result in you building a tech stack.  I always started from “The Factory” visualisation that I created which is very much the key element that Katie has referred to. Understanding the workflow and the pain points means you can stay focussed and on track.

Can you recommend the order of approach in which you would implement a solid workflow plan. ie-step by step of what gets implemented when? 

Katie: I would start with automating the area that is currently the most time consuming and which will save us the most amount of time once integrated - often this is the data capture tool if one isn’t being used, sometimes it’s the bookkeeping app, if there are still a lot of manual or spreadsheet based jobs.

Paul: The first step in making your business digital is slow and steady.  When I started the digital discussions with our clients I always started with Dext Prepare integrated with accounting software.  I would discuss with clients and the team that stage 1 was as simple as “Scanning” and “Matching”.  Scan an invoice and match to the transaction on the bank statement - quick and easy with no manual entry and the time savings are seen immediately.

That moved onto “Snapping” and “Matching” whereby I would encourage the use of the mobile app to upload invoices/expenses as this brought in further efficiencies and started the transition to real time recording.

Keeping it straightforward at the start and setting realistic goals gives you time to get comfortable with using the software and will ensure that you are benefiting from all the features in Dext. 

If you are not sure exactly where to start then you could just focus on one particular area like, directors credit card receipts to streamline that process and then once that is working well move onto purchase ledger items. 

By taking it slow and steady at the start ensures that you build a very strong foundation to grow from and will be the stepping stone to then accelerate the digital journey for you and your clients.

How does Dext help automate a firm?

Katie: Our multi platform product can help both at the front end with streamlining your data capture processes - whether your clients do all the scanning or you process them in house, Dext Prepare will take on the grunt work of all the manual entry. We can also automate the quality control of the data itself prior to the accounts and working papers preparation work begins, Dext Precision ensures minimal amendments and adjustments need to be made to the accounts once drafted as you can be assured that control accounts are reconciled, dates are locked, data is accurate, errors have been highlighted and the overall quality of your data is in safe hands. Dext Commerce is our secret weapon for digital sales, it automatically fetches your clients’ sales data from multiple e-commerce and point-of-sale platforms. Then splits out transactions, fees, refunds and reimbursements, line by line. 

Any other words of wisdom on the topic?

Katie: This kind of job feels like something that is never top priority and is easily put off until we ‘have the time’ - the reality is that you never will, so make time for it and invest now in automating your workflows for easy wins and long term gains! It’s an investment you’ll be glad you made.

Paul: Always have somebody accountable for rolling out a new process or implementing a new solution like Dext.  If you don’t have accountability the chances are it will not happen. You need to be able to have visibility of what you are doing.  Visibility helps with buy-in across the team. It needs to be measurable whatever you are doing.  If you cannot measure it, how do you know that you have succeeded?  All three elements are necessary for success.

Why leave it there?

To learn more about Dext

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