How to be an automation advocate (an intro to automation, part 2)

by
Keir Thomas-Bryant
July 19, 2022
Person explaining automation to two colleagues in a business environment

Welcome to part two of our five-part series looking at implementing automation in an accountancy practice, and then taking this out to clients for the benefit of both you and them.

In the first instalment we dug deep into the rarely discussed benefits of automation—such as how it provides instant data, and how this means you can get an instinctive feel for the numbers. This can lead to better relationships with clients, and therefore improved/increased service offerings.

In this article we look at what is perhaps the very first step when implementing automation in a practice: introducing the concept in a way that will move the project forward.

Here’s what we discuss:

  1. Taking the automation message to colleagues
  2. Start small, work big
  3. Collecting the evidence
  4. All projects need an owner and/or manager

Taking the automation message to colleagues

You’ve done your homework and followed the three steps discussed in our previous article: You’re spoken to other people already using automation in their work, you’ve considered how your own processes can be revolutionised, and you might even have given automation a trial with your personal business finances.

You’re a convert. Now all you need to do is convince colleagues of the benefits!

Surely all you have to do is explain all this to them? Maybe you can prepare a PowerPoint presentation and grab 30 minutes of their time?

Hold your horses!

An awesome fact of life nowadays is that there are many technologies vying for our attention. Sadly, this has led to what we might call “recommendation fatigue”, which is to say, we tend to be sceptical when people suggest something new—no matter how amazing. And that scepticism tends to increase proportional to any evangelism displayed by the individual!

This is on top of our natural luddite tendencies, and the fact most of us dislike and even resent changing our working practices.

If the existing way of doing things works, why change it?

That’s a good question. Let’s answer it.

Start small, work big

You need to prove that automation can make a difference.

It’s tempting to try and apply it to everything, all at once. But that’s the wrong way forward because it’s going to generate bad feeling when people feel like they’re forced to change.

You need to prove to people that automation will benefit them. And this is actually very easy to do.

Start small. Choose a task nobody likes. For example, when it comes to automating data entry, if a colleague is working through a stack of client bank statements, ask if you can take a handful of them.

You can then use a tool like AutoEntry to get the data into the system in a fraction of the time it takes your colleague, and very probably more accurately, to boot.

Once done, all you have to do is go and tell the colleague you’ve finished.

It’s as simple as that.

Automation sells itself. You don’t need to. Even if that individual sitting on the pile of bank statements is the most curmudgeonly luddite in the history of the accounting profession, they will not be able to resist asking how you did it. The alternative is to carry on doing the drudge work. And nobody wants that.

Offer to do more work, or other kinds of paperwork, like capturing receipt or invoice data.

Collecting the evidence

Accountants and bookkeepers care about the numbers. It’s right there in the job description!

And while selling automation to colleagues is a matter of showing it in action, there is one more step: you will have to measure time savings and perhaps accuracy improvements too when it comes to automating data entry.

This is where you can finally and optionally create that presentation, or at least an Excel spreadsheet.

What you create can be a mix of qualitative and quantitative data—but it’s advisable to lean more on the quantitative.

In other words, let the measurable results sell the technology.

What kind of results are we talking about when it comes to AutoEntry’s automated data entry?

The Irish Farms Accounts Co-operative reports that, “in many cases, four hours of data entry was reduced to four to five minutes.”

In terms of accuracy, fresh fruit business The Fruit People said: “Providing the document is clear enough to be read properly, the number of mistakes becomes negligible.”

All projects need an owner and/or manager

When the time comes that the business decides to invest in automation, it needs to be done in a structured and orderly way.

It needs to be a project, and that project needs an owner and/or manager. This might be you, or it might be somebody else in the business more experienced in rolling out changes to processes (and you will certainly need to have allies).

In addition to creating a rollout plan covering ideally a six or twelve-month period, the owner or manager of the project needs to create key performance indicators (KPIs), and measure against these.

Adjustments might need to be made down the line. This is perfectly okay, and is to be expected.  

The project may have separate phases with separate owners/managers.

For example, you may decide to roll out automation within your practice initially. Phase two might then be to rollout automation amongst clients. This might be radically different in terms of requirements because you could choose to partner with software vendors, in addition to simply improving client data flows to make life easier for both you and them.

AutoEntry: The key to your automation plans and client happiness

The more of your clients use AutoEntry, the easier data and admin becomes for you and for them—and the more likely they are to stick around!

The benefits are speed, accuracy, clarity, real-time data, and improved processes at every stage.

Sign-up for a free, no commitments trial to see how it can benefit you.

Conclusion: Being the automation advocate

The introduction of automation feels a lot like the introduction of the digital calculator in the 1970s, or the PC and spreadsheets in the 1980s.

It’s inevitable that it will revolutionise the industry. But it won’t be an overnight occurrence. History shows people can hold out for a surprisingly long time with old and inefficient working practices.

Yet for those willing to embrace it, the benefits of better tech have always been nothing less than game-changing. In a challenging business environment, it’s no exaggeration to say that adopting automation right now could make the difference between a practice that succeeds—and one that falls by the wayside.

In the next instalment of this guide we will look at the first pragmatic steps you can take to introduce automation within your workflows—the how, when, and what.

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