Making Sense of the Technology Matrix, Part 1: Narrowing the Field

With the advent of cloud accounting, a new era of vertical specific applications has emerged, some specific to small business verticals and, more importantly, others specific to accounting professionals and their unique workflows. While variety provides opportunity, time and time again, accounting professionals tell me they are “app’d out” and can’t navigate the vast sea of applications, due to the limited available time they have, the lack of knowledge of what systems exist and the uncertainty to know where to begin.

In this two-part series, I’ll introduce you to 10 steps you can use to narrow down the field of apps to those critical to your firm, while ultimately picking a winner for the problem or process you are looking to solve.

Step 1: Look at what bothers you and your team. Technology is only as good as the processes it stands on. Start by looking at processes that are most broken: those that are inefficient, create bottlenecks or take longer than you think they should. Alternatively, you can focus on those that have the most opportunity for improvement. A classic example in a firm is onboarding; it works, but it could always be done better. Always start with “What’s wrong with my firm’s workflows and processes?” and never with “What new technology can I implement?” If you start by identifying inefficiencies in your processes, you can then implement technology that will help you fill those gaps, so always determine and develop standardized processes before looking at systems. Do this in reverse and you might waste time, money and energy, as you break workflows that might be working perfectly well.

Step 2: Determine your infrastructure priorities. There are many processes that exist in a firm, so addressing them all at once doesn’t make sense and isn’t feasible. Create a plan of attack, one that focuses on the key strategic priorities of the practice, while addressing the biggest workflow issues that exist today. To assist, here is a simple, yet complete infrastructure diagram we built at Karbon of a modern, full-service accounting firm.

On the left are the services provided to clients. On the right are the workflows needed to support the firm. In between is what bridges the gap between servicing and supporting. Depending on your firm size, type and focus, many of these categories aren’t needed. Don’t do tax or time tracking? Then eliminate them from consideration. Are your highest margins coming from advisory? Then small business and practice intelligence categories might be your top priorities. From the diagram, rank order which infrastructure components are the most important to you. This will give you a roadmap on which technology buckets to consider and in what order.

Step 3: Review the collective set of available technologies for each given priority. Published by Accountex USA (and updated regularly), the accounting technology landscape provides a comprehensive view of the apps to consider by technology category. Using your prioritized roadmap, find your #1 ranked category of interest on the landscape and review the apps listed to get acquainted to the competitive set.

Step 4: Check to narrow the list to only those that integrate to QuickBooks®. As an accounting professional, your keystone application is QuickBooks Online. Any new app you consider must integrate with it, or you will be required to re-enter data between the two systems (which defeats the whole purpose of adopting cloud accounting).

Leveraging the full set of apps in your first category of interest from the accounting technology landscape, eliminate all apps that don’t integrate with QBO.

Step 5: Do a cursory, time-boxed evaluation of all the vendors of interest. There is only so much time in a given day or week, and while technology exploration maybe a hobby for some, it doesn’t pay the bills. Through the steps above, you should now understand the problem you are trying to solve and have a sense of what you need. Based on that, explore the vendors you have left to understand what differentiates them from one another, and which one might be the best choice for your short- and long-term requirements. However, you need to set a limit of time to do each evaluation. For example, maybe you have a two-hour block free on a Friday afternoon and have eight vendors to review. If so, then give each no more than 20 minutes to draw your initial conclusions of whether they will be a good fit. By doing this, you force yourself to see the entire landscape, while not over-investing on any particular vendor.

From the steps above, you will be able to narrow your efforts to solve for the key processes that drive your firm, while minimizing the time required to narrow down the field of applications to only the critical few. It is a sea of applications out there, but only a handful need to be reviewed for the given problem you are trying to solve.

Editor’s note: Look for Part 2 of Ian’s article very soon.