When the world changed in 2020 and workers were sent home to do business just as they would have at the office, professional services firms — like accounting firms — became virtual overnight. It’s safe to say that this situation is decidedly more “unique” than most. Offices were empty, lights off, and businesses started to operate exclusively via the power of the internet for collaboration, communication, and business operations. For some it became their biggest advantage and for others, their largest liability depending on the digital transformation decisions they had made.
There is no one size fits all approach — no single, authoritative blueprint — for managing a virtual accounting practice, so you’ll have to consider all decisions within the context of what you’re trying to accomplish to make sure you’re always headed in the right direction. Having said that, there ARE a few basics for effectively managing an accounting practice that has gone virtual that you’ll absolutely want to be aware of moving forward.
The Virtue of Anytime, Anywhere Access
By far, the most important step that you can take to effectively manage your virtual accounting practice involves giving your employees anytime, anywhere access to the information they actually need to do their jobs in the most efficient way possible.
More often than not, this will require the use of an intelligent information management platform like M-Files — one built with mobility, flexibility, and scalability in mind.
Think about it like this: in an era where more people are working remotely than ever, your employees should have the ability to be just as productive in their own homes as they could be in the office. But if information is still siloed off in various departments and repositories and applications, this isn’t just difficult — it’s downright impossible. Likewise, failing to have a system in place that gives you visibility into document changes, that helps avoid duplicate files and that stops information sprawl hurts your goal instead of helps it.
But with the right information management platform by your side, you are in the best possible position to accomplish all of these things — essentially all at the same time. At that point, all of the barriers that used to exist are broken down entirely and your employees can finally work smarter, not harder — no matter where they are or when they need to do it.
Automate, Automate, Automate
Another one of the best ways to effectively manage your virtual accounting practice involves automating processes whenever possible. This is another area where an information management platform like M-Files will have a huge impact on operations.
When it comes to business processes, 60% of occupations could save 30% of their time with automation. Some of these tasks that could save time include generating sales leads, approving paperwork, and processing documents. Every minute that your employees are spending on mundane, manual administrative tasks is a minute that they’re not focusing on developing those important relationships with your clients. These tasks may be important, yes — but they can also be automated with the right tech-based solution.
This in turn frees up as much of their valuable time as possible so that they can focus the majority of their attention on those jobs that actually need them.
Superior Workflows for Superior Results
Another one of the best practices that you’ll definitely want to follow involves making the flow of information across your organization not just easy, but seamless.
If people within your business are going to truly communicate and collaborate with one another, they need access to all of the same information at the same time. But if Department A and Department B are using two different solutions and there is no way to move critical data and insight from one platform to the other and back again, they’re essentially working with two totally different sets of tools.
They may work well individually, but they lack the ability to become that cohesive whole you need them to be. This is yet another way that an information management platform like M-Files will prove its worth, almost immediately. Not only can information flow freely across your enterprise, but organizational leaders also have total insight into who is changing what, when and even why.
Pricing Your Services the Right Way
Finally, one of the critical ways to effectively manage your virtual accounting practice involves making sure that you’re pricing your services correctly in the first place.
Pricing impacts just about everything that you’re doing — from the amount of money that you’re able to bring in from clients over time to the amount that you’re able to pay your staff. Your financial structure — and your pricing model — must be set up in a way that allows you to make a profit. If it isn’t, you need to adjust, and you need to do it sooner rather than later. By driving efficiency with an information management platform, you’re able to do more with less and thus offer more competitive pricing or stretch your profit margin a bit further.
“Relationships with strategic vendors are increasingly key to business performance.” – Gartner
As a business, one of the most important relationships is the one you share with your vendors. Your vendors have varied expectations based on their exposure to different business practices. You must offer support to your vendors in order to meet these expectations, overcome operational challenges, and nurture a long-term business relationship.
A vendor portal is the answer! It can improve collaboration and help you build stronger business relationships by enabling:
Streamlined Operations – Enable your vendors to access relevant information, monitor and respond to orders, and generate timely invoices with the help of a self-service portal. Open communication between you and your vendors will streamline your supply chain and accelerate your operational processes.
On-time Payments – Pay your invoices without any delay. You can negotiate payment terms before placing an order and refer to them throughout the process to stick to the agreed-upon rules. In case of anticipated delays, you can notify your vendors in advance with the click of a button.
Business Innovation – Keep your vendors in the loop about any changes in your business activities and operations. Include them in the brainstorming process for new product development and use their expertise to your advantage. A good vendor will understand your needs with respect to the industry requirements and help you reach out to new customers.
Expectation Management – Make your interactions more transparent by setting your pricing and delivery expectations in advance. A dedicated portal will help you hold yourself and your vendors accountable to the agreement. It will also enable you to provide quality lead time to vendors for your orders and maintain an honest projection of your needs and goals.
Dynamic Information Tracking – Eliminate potential errors and increase accuracy by empowering your vendors with real-time access to the latest information from your database.
Extended Access to Information – Provide your vendors with extended access to operational information, including purchase orders (POs), PO flips, invoices, and relevant reports. You can provide your vendors a direct path to the portal, irrespective of the time zone they are operating from.
Maintaining strong relationships with your vendors is undeniably crucial, however building those connections can prove to be daunting. Implementing a vendor portal can provide a channel for open communication and can help drive collaboration and continuous process improvement.
Use your vendor portal to engage with your vendors, explain your needs, set benchmarks, provide uninterrupted access, improve transparency, make timely payments, and ensure your vendors’ loyalty and support.
Leading change ain’t easy. This is especially true when it comes to getting people to use new technology. Statistics show that almost three-quarters of IT projects fail and the numbers are even worse in maintenance, where 90% of CMMS failures happen because the software was underutilized or not used at all. We don’t want you to be a statistic.
That’s why we invited water resource manager and project management professional, Devon Aaroe, and wastewater treatment operator, Gordon Mielke, to share their experience with the Fiix community. In this webinar recording, they share their unique perspectives on their organization’s change management journey from paper to digital and beyond.
Watch the full recording to get new ideas, answer questions you are trying to solve, and learn (or re-learn) best practices regarding leading change. You can also download and listen to the audio version of the webinar using the embedded link below.
Devon Aaroe, water resource manager for the City of Dawson Creek, first realized the difficulties of leading change when their attempt at implementing a document control software crashed and burned due to lack of buy-in.
Relying on the lessons learned from their first attempt, Devon wanted his team of operators, like Gordon Mielke, to own their Fiixmaintenance management system.
As a manager, your job is managing the people, and their job is managing the facility. First, it needs to work for my team, and then I’ll make it work for me. – Devon Aaroe
With the goal of improving reliability and uptime of their municipal water and wastewater facilities, Devon and Gordon worked together to ensure their CMMS selection and implementation was a success.
Creating a sense of ownership
Buy-in. A simple and often overused word that can be extremely difficult to achieve and even harder to force. For Devon, this was critical for his CMMS project.
It’s got to be as intuitive as Facebook or Instagram, it just has to work. Don’t give me a thick binder of written instructions on how to use it. – Devon Aaroe
Devon understood that ease of use was not going to be enough to create buy-in though. He wanted to also involve the people who were actually going to use the system in the decision-making process.
So, Devon did the preliminary CMMS research and narrowed down their selection to two front runners. He then provided free demos of Fiix and a competitive CMMS software to all of his operators and asked them to play around with both. All operators unanimously chose Fiix.
When I sat through that selection process it felt awesome. It was really nice to be able to choose. I wanted it to be less than 3-clicks to get anywhere. – Gordon Mielke
Pro Tip: Create opportunities for users to have input on decisions to create a sense of ownership and excitement for the project.
Setting realistic expectations
Devon advises framing software implementation as a project. A project has a start and end, with targets and timelines. Projects also have project teams, allocated time, resources, and budget to complete. He cautions that successfully implementing software is not something you can do off the side of your desk.
Devon’s project team included a senior operator who came back from retirement on a 6-month contract to add over 1,400 assets and create over 400 SMs. An admin, a planning manager with project management experience, and his champion, Gordon.
Devon set clear expectations with senior leadership and operators that it was going to be hard. They allocated a one year timeline and managed the project with regular check-ins.
It will initially cause more problems than it solves, but in the long run, it will save time and money. – Devon Aaroe
Pro Tip: Implementation can’t happen in a vacuum and will take time and effort. Be honest with yourself and all stakeholders regarding the time and budget required.
The importance of a champion
When faced with change, it’s common to expect a few early adopters, along with a few early detractors. Gordon was one of those early adopters. He’s techy, had previous CMMS experience, and immediately saw the potential of the software.
Gordon would regularly bounce ideas among operators in the lunchroom and assist peers with any questions or struggles. Devon decided to grant Gordon admin access so he could quickly implement changes and build the system to work for the whole team.
He could help me live as an operator, see what I can’t see. – Devon Aaroe
Devon also points out that a champion may actually be the person who is constantly coming to you with problems and looks like a detractor. That’s really a sign that they’re engaged but the system is just not working for them. By trusting them to have more influence in the development, they can become a new champion.
Pro Tip: Identify your champions early and support peer-to-peer influencers by giving them heightened responsibility.
Building positive momentum
During the first 90-days in particular, it’s important to start getting some small wins. Even if it’s as simple as solving login and password issues. Building an attentive feedback loop of small incremental changes to make big changes over time.
Devon provided access to training but he also held weekly team meetings to ask; what are the things that are working well, what are the things that are not working at all, and what do you need in order to do your job? Gordon would often provide feedback on behalf of his peers that Devon could elevate to Fiix for a solve. Devon would close the loop in their weekly stand-ups by always reporting back on what was done, or not done, and why.
The back and forth between us and Fiix was huge. In my previous experience there was no communication between the software developers and the people who were trying to implement the software. – Gordon Mielke
Pro Tip: Schedule frequent check-ins and build positive momentum with an attentive feedback loop.
When the users take over the software and they’re using it everyday, it’s no longer a project. Everboarding is the idea that learning is constant. Not a one-and-done onboarding event but instead a continuous process.
Fiix is a part of our onboarding and training but also a part of our ongoing performance management and one-on-one process. – Devon Aaroe
For the City of Dawson Creek, veteran users train new users on the program to sharpen their own skills over time. The team also tracks effort to determine how much of each person’s time is spent on preventative maintenance v. emergency maintenance.
Pro Tip: Integrate your CMMS into your training and performance management processes to encourage continuous professional development and reinforce the maintenance program.
According to a study by IBM, 24% of data breaches are caused by human error. Some of these breaches are the result of phishing attacks or poor device protection, while others are the result of routine document mismanagement. In other words, a large chunk of data breaches is the result of specific human behaviors. So, what if there was a way to eliminate human error from the equation?
That doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t create, edit, and share documents. They would. But rather than use time to think about good data archival or sharing practices, they could focus on their core tasks and work that requires human interaction.
So How Did We End Up in a Situation where Humans Are the Weakest Link?
To really understand how we got here, we have to go back to a time long, long ago — before computers.
Before computers, we had a file room full of paper folders and a file clerk to manage the archive. This clerk, this person, knew where everything was and what it related to. This person knew which personnel could access which information. And they had their own systems and methods for making sense of everything that’s there.
When we introduced network drives and folders, we brought the file room into a digital space, but we left out the clerk.
So now it’s up to staff to control and govern information. And this is precisely where the problem lies. Businesses need an information controller, and luckily with modern technology, this controller doesn’t have to be human.
Remote Work Calls for Even Better Control
Now that work is increasingly remote, the need for control over how documents are found, accessed, edited, shared, and stored is bigger than ever. It is much harder to holler at a colleague to ask about a document now that you no longer share the same workspace.
And because people are people and will resort to the path of least resistance, it is vital to enforce good document management practices. Personal file-sharing solutions can lead to data leaks. Sharing documents as email attachments cause versioning chaos. And saving duplicate versions of a document makes it impossible to know which version to trust, or where all these duplicates are stored. And this all will happen if you don’t provide easy-to-use tools to automate and guide document management protocols. These versioning and duplicate document problems can be a nightmare for compliance strategies, for example — all of which could be avoided.
Information Management as the New File Clerk
One way to control how staff behaves is to create protocol and procedure, and train staff on the importance of informationsecurity and proper information management.
However, another way is to leverage technology and specifically information management technology to automate how people behave and interact with information. With this approach, staff doesn’t have to think about good data archival or sharing practices, and instead they can focus on their core tasks and work.
Information management not only provides governance for sensitive content, but it is the bedrock solution that mitigates how staff interacts with information. And when the system automatically manages the information the way it’s supposed to be managed, it means that staff doesn’t have to make decisions or think about how to manage a document, or where to save it. Instead, they can focus on their core task.
In short, these systems set the parameters for how staff stores, accesses, shares, and manages documents and other content according to established company standards. Organizations can do this with the help of features that set up retention policies, automate editing and approval processes and other workflows that support business processes. User and access rights can be easily controlled with metadata, and version control and audit trails become easy and automated.
Product filters operate in the background on e-commerce sites to streamline the customer journey. These filters allow users to pick and sort the products they are searching for by using filter options, such as color, size, style, and pattern. This helps to save time and allows customers to control their buying experience.
Did you know that a similar experience can be achieved by applying data extraction tools to software applications?
Most applications today are equipped with the capability to ingest key content from documents, but a robust extraction tool goes beyond that – allowing applications to auto-capture content, compare confidence levels, and make informed decisions.
A data extraction tool effectively extracts and converts content into useful electronic information from large batches of structured and semi-structured documents. Furthermore, it leverages new-age technology to enhance accuracy by learning from previously processed documents and providing visual indications of data inaccuracies, allowing users to make corrections accordingly.
Using multiple extraction engines, a software can capture and process incoming documents, extract data with precision, and carry out digital voting, or comparison. This is based on the confidence levels of the extracted data processed in each engine and eventually the most accurate data is populated into the system.
Invoices can be captured from different channels and introduced into the workflow
Invoices are then processed through multiple extraction engines
The tool then compares the extracted data and executes automatic voting functions on the backend
The most accurate critical data is populated onto a rich user interface for viewing
Preconfigured validations make it easy for users to post an invoice in ERP
Implementing a voting concept, for invoice management, can empower business users to be more efficient, productive, and compliant with regulatory requirements.
Leveraging the appropriate extraction tool, based on business needs, can help users to efficiently manage huge volumes of data and streamline content-based processes, thereby promoting the overall success of the organization.