How members in business marry new technology with legacy systems

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The limitations of legacy systems often put the brakes on efforts to modernise business processes. Here AAT members in business share how they approach the problem.

One of the biggest challenges of bringing new technology into the finance function is making it work with the older, more established systems and processes that you have in place. For many, it won’t be possible to start from scratch and create new systems and processes from the ground up. In that case, it needs to work with the legacy systems that you have in place.

Any technological enhancements also need to work for the business and provide real value to the organisation in order to deliver a return on investment. Finance leaders need to make a strong business case to free up the funds necessary to invest in software and implement it effectively. 

We asked accountants in business how they combine modern and legacy systems, what a successful business case looks like, the common objections and the best approach to tackle them.

Sometimes, the old ways are necessary

Clare Elliott FMAAT, CFO, ILUX

We use Xero as our accounting software and Fathom, which links with Xero, and you can get your metrics and drivers through there. I use that to review what’s happening in the business and I try to use them for forecasting as well. But we actually still use spreadsheets to put together presentations and graphs. I still think that spreadsheets are amazing for forecasting. We also have a piece of bespoke software, which does all of our workflows for our technical team. That does generate statistics and reports, so we use that to set targets and monitor our metrics as well.

Working with a standalone piece of software on your desktop or server felt really clunky. To update it, you had to wait for the providers to come in and help you and would typically always go wrong. You had to leave half a day to do a simple update. So switching to the cloud has been fantastic. You don’t even need to think about your software anymore.

Xero isn’t great as an accountancy package compared to the approach that I’ve used before. or other systems, but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

At the end of the day, new software is an overhead and that has to be a consideration. I used to work in a printing company, which was very much paper-based, but sometimes it’s very difficult for a piece of software to replace a piece of paper. You need to really understand what benefits it’s going to bring to your business. If it isn’t bringing benefits, don’t invest in it.

You have to prove the efficiencies, and speed of information it can bring to the table as well; getting your month-end reporting done more quickly, you can create dashboards. We have a dashboard that the other two directors can look at whenever they want. Our cash position is more up to date nowadays than it ever was before.

Directors just want to know what the situation is. Can we make a decision on this? Can I get a new person? They want quick decisions. They don’t want the nitty-gritty details, they trust you to do that. They just want to know that snapshot. Especially in a small business, it’s all about moving fast and making those really important decisions.

Focus on the ‘P’s to get the investment you need.

Neil Lawrence FMAAT, head of accounting, Hamilton Boyd Group

Finance has become a data-driven centre, which includes communicating with the wider organisation, both in reporting and streamlining processes (automation or becoming more adaptable, for example).

We need to ensure that enhancements provide extra value for the needs of the department as well as the needs of the company. This could be through time-saving, enhancing your team’s skills, or saving money. Even something that may be seen as a negative by the decision-makers must be presented in a positive way (replacing a system with one that costs more will cut time spent on making reports, for example).

When making a business case, be aware of any implications that any proposed changes may have on other departments by consulting with them on the initial phase. This helps anticipate any questions that may arise from the decision-makers.

Focus on the P’s:

  • Prepare: Understand where you are and where you need or want to be
  • Plan: Work out what you need and how you will get there
  • Present: Get appropriate agreement from management
  • Procure: Obtain the resources you need (time; software; staff)
  • Produce
  • Pressurise: Stress-test your new process or system
  • Publish: Once completely satisfied, train staff and release

When this works well, the way Finance is viewed by the rest of the company will change, and the skills and exposure both you and your team will get will only improve.  And that can only enhance everyone’s view of the business.

You must tackle the reluctance of staff to change

Sanjiv Bhali, senior project accountant, A2Dominion

We need to streamline our processes. Technology must keep up and evolve with new changes. The problem is that finance teams are used to utilising legacy systems and are resistant to change.

How do you make the business case? Identify the current purpose of the legacy system and the processes used. Can these processes be streamlined and accelerated and are there new processes as the organisation grows?

Identify what new system is required to fulfil these changes and evaluate the advantages of achieving this, including preparing common design and functional design documents and presentations.

The common objection that you get is where individuals are hesitant to use new systems because of change. The best approaches are to consider all the needs of the users and provide an adequate training plan to deliver to the users to fulfil their needs.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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