This article was originally published for ACCA In Practice on 16/11/2020
With an ever increasing choice of apps available for accountants, it can be hard to know how to begin in your search.
But just as you have a process for preparing accounts and tax returns to help you consistently deliver a good quality service, there is a process to go through in researching apps to help you find the right apps for your practice.
This article will outline what that process is and why you should follow it.
Step 1: Understand and define your requirements (fact-finding)
This is an essential first step of your research process. It seems pretty obvious but if you get this wrong then you’ll cause yourself problems down the line.
Step 1.a: Prioritise areas to improve
There might be a variety of areas of your practice that you want to improve, so the starting point is to get down these areas. Here’s some examples:
- Accounts and tax production
- Communications (internal/external)
- Credit control
- Document management
- Practice Management (Jobs)
- Proposals and engagement
You’ve got finite resources, so next you need to prioritise these. Try to determine your top 3, and set a date that you want the area sorted by, so that you have an outline plan.
Step 1.b: List & categorise requirements
Next, take the top problem and start scoping what your requirements are. Make a list of the requirements, including explanations where necessary, and this time categorise them by whether they are essential or desirable.
In getting that list together it is useful to consider the current problems in your process, as well as what is working well. The latter is easy to ignore because it’s not a problem now, but if you’re looking to change providers then it’s important to consider how those elements will work in a different system.
Process mapping can also be helpful here, as it forces you to consider what is happening and why, and therefore can highlight key requirements.
Step 1.c: Structure requirements
Structure your list of requirements by breaking down the overall area into smaller elements. This is useful for keyword searches in the research process.
Here’s a simple example using ClickUp. It’s easy to create, edit, add to, and collaborate on, which allows other people to contribute to the requirements if you’re working in a team.
The purpose of this is simply to give you a recorded scope of features you’re looking for, to help you assess and evaluate software.
It also provides a place for you to record information about each software. In the example above I followed a 3 step approach:
- Does it appear to have the feature (checkbox)
- How good is the feature (rating)
- Notes on the feature (text box)
This could be repeated for each app you were evaluating.
Step 2: Conduct Requirements-Lead Research
Now you have your requirements you can start targeted requirements-lead research. This can be broken down into a two steps:
Step 2.a: Shortlist Solutions
Your first task is to get a shortlist of options.
Ask for help
What you’ll probably want to do at this point is look for shortcuts. And of course the easiest thing to do is to ask someone else for a recommendation, perhaps on a Facebook group.
Be careful here, because recommendations are only useful if the recommender has understood your requirements. If they haven’t then you could get sidetracked and waste time.
If you submit a FREE support query to us then we will always ask for detailed requirements.
Search for Apps
We have filters including:
- Integrations (accounting and non-accounting)
We also have a filter for price, but I would not recommend using this immediately, this is something to consider after assessing features.
Search for App Information
The aim of this element is to further shorten the shortlist, by reviewing key information, including key features, without spending extensive time on research. This can be done using a combination of the app’s directory listing, website, and help centre articles.
The app directory listing will provide a quick overview of the product, key info, and key features. Aside from functionality it’s important to review things like support channels and availability, plus implementation support.
Usually apps are reasonably good at presenting high level features on their main website as well. But you might have to try key-phrase searches in their help centre or blogs to identify some features. If you can’t find information about a feature, it’s reasonable to presume it doesn’t exist.
Use our comparison tool to compare features of apps.
At the end of this stage you should have a shortlist that you want to evaluate.
Step 2.b: Evaluate
At this stage you’re committing yourself to evaluate features and functionality in detail. This is going to be more time-intensive.
I would suggest you start with the apps that on the surface appear to meet the most requirements from your initial research.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many options you should consider. But I would advise on evaluating at least 2 or 3 options.
Reach out to the app and arrange a demo, providing the salesperson with your list of requirements so they understand what you want to cover. This will typically last between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
If they skirt around your requirements then it’s likely the software won’t meet them as you want, but there may be some compromises or workarounds, so be open to those – it’s unlikely the software will do everything you want, in exactly the way you want to do it.
If you’re happy with what you see and hear, take out a trial and play around with the software to test out the functionality and integrations. Then go back with any questions you might have.
It’s important to document your research so that you can come back to it and compare solutions.
Finding the right apps for your practice is no easy task, but by sticking to your plan and following our process you’ll get to the right result for you faster.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out this on-demand webinar.