If you’re like most firms looking to implement a new back-office accounting platform, you shortlist vendors, get demos, select the best fit, sign the contract, and then sit back thinking your job is done. 

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. 

No matter how stellar the vendor or how much information you shared with them regarding operational structure and feeds, they can only do so much on their own. Your active participation throughout implementation is needed for true project success. 

“It’s a joint effort,” says Erin Hulse, founder of Deviate Consulting, a firm specializing in financial software selection and implementation consulting for family offices and other businesses. “Every family office and wealth management firm is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to workflow processes or setting up system parameters. Vendors and clients must work together to get it right.”

In the following interview with FundCount, Hulse shares her advice for family offices and wealth managers looking to invest in technology so they can ‘get it right’ when it comes to implementation.

FundCount: What is the biggest misconception companies have when implementing new accounting and reporting software?
Erin Hulse: Companies consistently underestimate how much time is required on their side to prepare for a new system and manage implementation. Back-office accounting software is highly specialized and can be complex. While the software vendor plays a major role in implementation, they can’t perform magic – the client must be actively involved as a partner for the project to be a success.

FundCount: What are the most important issues to consider?
Hulse: Time and focus are critical considerations. In other words, even if you assign a project manager and a support team, those people still have their day jobs. Unless priorities are adjusted, it’s easy for implementation to get pushed to the side due to vacation, maternity leave, and more pressing business demands. People are busy – it’s never a convenient time to implement a new system.

FundCount: How do you select the best team and make sure they have the time and focus needed?
Hulse: Start by evaluating current staff. Who will be working on the project?  Do they have the skills needed for the different phases of implementation? Is there a strong project manager to lead the team and act as the point person? Are they up to challenge? What tasks can be reassigned to other employees to make sure the team has time in their schedule to accommodate the demands of this new project?

FundCount: What should a firm do if they don’t have the right talent in-house or if current staff don’t have the bandwidth to take on additional work?
Hulse:  After purchasing a system, it’s understandable that a firm might not wish to add to the cost of the project by hiring consultants for implementation. But consultants can save time and prevent costly errors – earning their keep in the long run. That’s why it’s important to be realistic and budget accordingly for implementation so the project can be done correctly, even if it means hiring outside talent. Skimping on resources is only likely to backfire.

FundCount: In addition to budgeting properly, what else should a company do to prepare for a new system?
Hulse: Make sure you understand the vendor’s data requirements and how the data needs to be formatted. Then get your data house in order. Accurate data is crucial to the integrity of financial reporting, and it’s up to your company, not the vendor, to provide this information.

Most firms think their data is cleaner than it is, and then run into issues when asked to upload past capital cost statements, balance sheets, or investor information, for example. Don’t underestimate the time and effort needed to get your data ready. New firms don’t have historic data, so implementation is somewhat easier, but it’s still important to take a close look at the data you have to make sure it is accurate.

FundCount: Where does communication fit in the software implementation process?
Hulse: Communication should start early in the project within the firm itself. Identify the problem you are trying to solve, set clear objectives upon which success can be measured, and engage team members so there is consensus from the get-go.

Communication is equally important in discussions with the vendor. Oftentimes there is a disconnect between what a company thinks the software can do, what it actually does and what the company really needs. If expectations are not aligned, the end result will only frustrate everyone involved. And remember that no matter how good a system is, it won’t do everything. There may be some manual processes or workarounds required.

Vendors that offer robust pre-project consulting can tease out issues before they become stumbling blocks. In fact, FundCount is unique in that it is one of the only software vendors that has a highly consultative business analysis process to assesses operational requirements and workflow. In addition to providing the framework for implementation, FundCount’s business analysis helps clarify requirements and ensure everyone is on the same page.

FundCount: Any closing thoughts?
Hulse:  Remember that a vendor can only do so much – it’s a team effort – so your participation is essential. By assigning a dedicated project manager, setting a realistic implementation budget, getting your data in order, and maintaining open lines of communication, you’ll be on your way to a successful implementation.

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