How to start automating in accountancy (an intro to automation, part 3)

by
Keir Thomas-Bryant
August 23, 2022
A desk upon which is a notepad with the handwritten words "Kickoff meeting"

Welcome to the third of our five-part guide to automation for accountancy practices and finance professionals.

In the first part we looked at the often-overlooked intangible benefits to introducing automation. In the second part, we looked at how somebody can become the automation advocate within their practice, in preparation for introducing the new technology.

In this third instalment we look at some pragmatic steps required for the implementation of automation.

Here’s what we cover:

Choosing where to start with automation

There’s many areas of an accountants workflow that can be automated. As just some examples, it can be applied to:

  • New client acquisition, including preparing proposals and engagement letters.
  • Ongoing project and task management, including reminders of crucial dates.
  • Data entry, including the goal of abolishing paperwor (as much as possible).

Some of this can be applied by clients, too, which can create efficiencies for the accountant further down the line.  

But while always looking for areas to improve and automate is a good thing, an accountancy practice is unlikely to succeed if it attempts to tackle every pain point at the same time with automation.

So, how do you choose where to start?

One way to examine it is through a technological lens. What tech are you currently using, and how can it be augmented with easy automation?

In other words, don’t aim to reinvent the wheel. Aim to improve what you’re already doing in an evolutionary way.

Explore your accounting software’s app store, for example, for new integrations. Any technology should integrate fully with what you already have, so check to make sure.

Another focus area is bang for your buck. How much time or other resources will be saved by implementing automation? Surely those that save most time should be your first port of call?

With AutoEntry the results are clear. One user reported that hours of data entry are reduced to minutes. Another said the time taken to process paper documents was reduced by 80%. An accountancy practice using AutoEntry estimated productivity increased by as much as 90%.

Finally, don’t forget when looking at automation that the goal isn’t to remove client contact points. For example, automating proposals and onboarding of new clients saves significant time and effort. But clients still require a personal touch. Indeed, this will probably be your own expectation. Ensure this is built into any new process.

Creating an accounting automation project

Projects are more than a list of items that need to be done.

Changes you expect to achieve by implementing the project will need to be detailed, and this should lead directly to the creation of milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Some project management methodologies define client and contractor roles, and while this might sound absurd when implementing automation within your own team, borrowing this structure makes more sense than it might seem. You can take on the role of a consultant who’s brought in to implement the technology. Creating this distance between business-as-usual and the changes you seek to make can be useful to create perspective.

None of this is to say that the project needs to be complicated or on a large scale. Feasibly, it could all be handled by one individual. But as we’ve already discussed in previous instalments of this series, getting buy-in from colleagues is necessary because automation is likely to affect their processes.

The project could involve separate phases. For example, if you’re automating data entry with a tool like AutoEntry then phase one might be implementation within your own team and processes. Phase two might be taking this out to clients and implementing automation amongst those who are receptive to technology improving their processes. Phase three could be introducing automated data entry as an onboarding option with all new clients.

All this requires some degree of planning. One thing is certain: A try-it-and-see approach rarely succeeds when it comes to revolutionising working processes across a business.

Making use of support for automation

Put simply, there’s no need to go it alone.

If you’re implementing a widely-used solution then there’s likely to be a significant amount of support—everything from helplines and documentation provided by the vendor, to forum discussions used more informally by users seeking to address common issues.

If you know of anybody else who’s implemented the automation technology then, obviously, now’s the time to put their number on speed dial!

There’s a whole body of experience out there, so ensure you make use of it.

One option to be considered early on is to use a thirdparty to help you implement automation. These teams bring expertise and experience, and thus can make for a quicker process from start to finish. They will have encountered every problem or issue before, and will have the solution at hand.

As with any kind of external service, a third party might involve upfront expense but is very likely to save money in terms of time saved further down the line. They’re also more likely to do a good job, with less potential for failure, and are more likely to create lasting structures that will endure.

Automation: Setting expectations and being prepared

Any automation you introduce can succeed only if it fits with your existing skills, organisation and processes.

Furthermore, it must align with whatever business model you may have now—and in the future.

With the time freed-up by automation your practice may wish to examine additional service offerings, such as outsourced finance director—something which is coming into focus with the rush towards MTD ITSA and the increased record-keeping requirements for businesses.

In other words, whatever automation is introduced must be aligned with this direction of travel. This might involve planning beyond merely automating processes, and could affect or even inspire bigger discussions.

On a more practical level, you’ll need to ensure costs and time are set aside for things like training. There may need to be extra effort put into meetings to discuss the changes with staff.

If the changes impact clients than this also needs to be factored in. Even if the changes are positive, clients may resent the sudden introduction of a different way or working, or different expectations from you.

AutoEntry—the first step in any automation journey

Accountants worldwide have embraced AutoEntry as the first and best step on their journey to automation.

It’s the fastest way to capture, categorise and publish your financial documents through to your accounts software.

Its effect on accountancy practices is revolutionary, and is considered a vital tool in light of the looming MTD ITSA deadlines.

Sign-up for a free trial to see how it can benefit you.

Conclusion: Starting with accounting automation

It’s entirely possible the use of automation software within your practice can arise organically. As discussed in the last instalment of this series, once you’re able to show the results then it sells itself. Colleagues will need no convincing.

But while there may be eager anticipation to start the automation journey in your practice, some forethought and planning can prepare you in the best way possible.

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