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MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING / TECHNOLOGY

Smart ways to tap accountants’ business process acumen

 

By Sabine Vollmer
October 18, 2013

It’s not unusual for organizations to run into problems when they implement business solutions.

Some organizations cannot launch the software at all. Others struggle with cost overruns or lose revenue because a software malfunction, inadequate training, or improper configuration leads to business interruptions, said Bob Gaby, CPA/CITP, CGMA, principal of Arxis Technology, California-based technology consultants who specialize in accounting system solutions. “There’s been a lot of failure.”

While business solutions implementation, or BSI, which is a building block of Big Data, has its challenges, there is a way to avoid disasters at the launch of the software and afterward, added Ebonie Jackson, CPA/CITP, CGMA, a strategic management consultant at Health Care Regulatory Consultants and former financial leader for Owens Corning, a U.S.-based manufacturer of building materials.

“The IT person is the technology expert,” said Jackson, who along with Gaby is a member of the AICPA BSI Task Force, which helped develop recommendations for accountants to get involved in BSI, work that has been largely dominated by IT and computer experts.

Accountants are business process experts, Jackson said. “We’re great at measuring. But a lot of times we find ourselves the last to know” when an organization plans to implement business solutions software.

Some accountants have taken on a larger role, but it’s a minority, Gaby said. Many accountants don’t understand what is required for a successful business solutions implementation, how the project should be structured, and the critical requirements for success, he added.

For accountants working inside an organization, “it’s either outside their comfort zone, meaning they don’t have enough experience to understand what role they should play, or they’re just too busy. It’s not important to them,” he said. Accountants in public practice “may not recognize the opportunity for additional revenue and to add value to the services they are providing their clients,” he added.

Keys to a successful BSI

Pitfalls await organizations implementing business solutions software every step of the way, Jackson and Gaby said. Real-world examples include poor business unit or departmental preparation, failure to implement an adequate communication strategy, delays in responding to recorded errors, inadequate end-user training, and failure to test the end-to-end processes.

But accountants can get involved in BSI according to their competencies and help prevent the pitfalls. Some examples include:

Design and development. When organizations establish how the software system will be sourced, structured, and interfaced with users, finance can help make sure the system collects the proper data and offers the tools to create the dashboards, key performance indicators, and reports needed to run and manage the organization.

Finance can also analyze costs and benefits of different software options and help an organization determine whether the system should be developed internally, purchased, or outsourced.

An organisation’s external auditor can validate that the implementation methodology will provide what will be required for the next annual audit or reviews and that proper consideration has been given to internal controls and the segregation of duties.

Testing and quality control. As the system is being built and configured, accountants can help test the system’s usability, performance, and functionality in different scenarios. Proper testing can avoid unpleasant surprises after the launch.

Acceptance and launch. When organizations determine how to launch the system in a production environment, finance can help assist with mapping and tracking the steps to go live in accordance with defined requirements.

Adequate training that helps all users switch to the new system is an important step to ensure a successful launch.

Maintenance. Once a new system is operational, accountants can help monitor its performance and make sure the people responsible for troubleshooting and fixing problems are accountable to a supervisor.

Sabine Vollmer (svollmer@aicpa.org) is a JofA senior editor.

A new white paper developed by the AICPA Information Management and Technology Assurance (IMTA) Business Solution Implementation Task Force provides an overview of business solution implementations and information on the role that CPAs can play to help ensure these initiatives are successful. The paper is available to IMTA members and Certified Information Technology Professionals here (member login required). A preview is also available.

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