- Most CAs will be involved in process of transitioning to a new finance system.
It is people who make or break the implementation. Selecting the right project team and engaging with stakeholders is absolutely vital.
A follow-up process can deliver important learnings for future business projects.
During their careers, most chartered accountants will be involved in transitioning to a new finance system. The process can be fraught with difficulty and a business can be damaged if the implementation is not managed well.
“The impacts are more than just financial,” explains David Paynter CA, General Manager Corporate Services at Cricket Tasmania. “Poor implementation affects the credibility of your finance team. If colleagues are frustrated and forced to use workarounds, they could lose faith in you and your team.”
On the flipside, implementing a finance package effectively can dramatically improve organisational efficiency, and enhance a finance team’s relationships across the business. “A new finance system should be an enabler,” says Paynter. “If you introduce it well, then you can save your colleagues time and give them access to new insights to help them succeed. It’s a good feeling when you make people’s working lives better.”
Related: Guide to implementing a finance package
The Chartered Accountants ANZ Tasmanian Corporate Advisory Panel advise how to implement a finance package in this guide.
Selecting the right technology solution should start with a needs analysis, to identify existing gaps and opportunities for improvement. A clear understanding of user needs is absolutely vital. Once a finance package has been selected, there are five steps to ensure success.
1. Start with people
When introducing a new finance system, it is a mistake to focus only on the technology, says Paynter: “Actually, the people side of these projects is most important. In the planning stage, you need to get a mandate from your senior leaders and you need to engage the end users too.”
Securing ‘buy-in’ from senior leadership starts with identifying who the key decision makers and influencers are in your business. You then need to explain how the changes will impact their business unit, and give them the opportunity to provide feedback.
It’s a good feeling when you make people’s working lives better
Engagement with end users is also essential. At the start of the project, identify who these people are and ask: What are their needs? When should change occur? Where do the users sit in the execution plan?
“It can be tricky when you have an end user who is resistant to change,” says Paynter. “Talking with them during the project can make all the difference. To begin with, find out what they think are the shortcomings of the incumbent system. Provide a little extra consultation up front and you might even persuade them to be a project champion.”
2. Build a project team
The project team should include a project sponsor (often the CFO or CEO) who will advocate for the project during its life. You also need a decisive project manager with an unshakeable focus on deadlines and milestones. The project manager should be prepared to aknowledge any negative noise from stakeholders and follow up to ensure that concerns are addressed.
Selecting talent for the project team often involves blending external specialists with in-house staff. External contractors bring industry best practice knowledge. Existing in-house staff bring corporate knowledge. Involving your in-house team means you retain product knowledge long after the finance system is launched.
Governance is also vital for the success of your project, according to Paynter: “The governance structure needs to include clear paths of escalation for decision-making. And the project sponsor must commit to participating in steering group meetings.”
3. Document all your testing
A staged implementation can work just as effectively as a ‘big bang’ approach. Systems that interface with the organisation’s general ledger can be managed at a later date if you have workarounds or budget/time constraints.
When it comes to the testing phase, documentation is your best friend, says Paytner. “If your testing is documented, then it provides reference points to reverse actions that fail. Also, a well-documented training manual to assist users during training is important. This should cover necessary details, cheat sheets and process pages, without being too lengthy.”
During testing, it is important to involve some of the people who will actually use the end product when it goes live.
Related: More resources for members working in business
Read a wide selection of guides for members, all written by members working in business. These practical Business Insight papers tackle many challenges commonly faced by finance teams and finance managers.
4. Launch …and refine
When it comes to implementation, timing is everything. Although the finance team is at its busiest at the start of a new finance year, this is usually the optimal time to introduce a new finance system. Think of it as a little short-term pain for long-term gain.
During this stage, the project manager and project sponsor should ‘walk the floors’ of the organisation to interact face-to-face with end users. This provides the opportunity to reaffirm positive messages about the change and nip any concerns in the bud.
Any finance system is an evolution, so always remain open to ongoing feedback and refinements. If resources allow, establish a help desk service. If budget doesn't allow, train up ‘super users’ or ‘product champions’ who can help colleagues to troubleshoot common issues.
“When everything comes off as it should, implementation is a satisfying time,” says Paynter. “Celebrate success and acknowledge the efforts of the project team.”
5. Learn for the future
During any business project, hurdles arise. Clever solutions will be found. Lessons will be learned. Implementing a finance system is exactly the same.
After the launch, a robust post-implementation review should be documented, outlining what worked and what didn’t. During this review, the project team and end users should be invited to provide feedback. All these learnings can be recorded and will help guide future business projects.
This article is based on information and insights from the Chartered Accountants ANZ Tasmanian Corporate Advisory Panel.
Andy McLean is a writer and content marketing consultant. www.andymclean.net