The A to Z of implementing automation in your firm
Jon Jenkins Director, Just Add Tech Ltd
Automation. The accountant killer or the accountant’s new best friend? Ultimately the decision is yours.
Automation is a process or procedure that is carried out with minimal human assistance. It is getting those small monotonous tasks and jobs completed on auto pilot. Or to put it another way, getting the computer to do what you or your staff do not want to do, consistently, without moaning, on weekends, without taking a holiday or being off sick and not expecting anything in return.
It does not have to be complex. Setting up automated email reminders for overdue invoices is a simple example. Most accountancy software does that now so turn it on. There you go first one in the bag. Simple.
Whilst perhaps not for discussion here some other areas that are worth considering are as follows:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – more than 80% of executives believe AI leads to a competitive advantage (Journal of Accountancy).
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – has reduced audit and contractual processing times from several months to a few weeks (Forbes).
- To stay competitive, small businesses and accountants must be aware of how the accounting world is rapidly changing.
How do I automate?
Automation is mindset. You can have all the tools but if you cannot see how things plug together or the best workflows to optimise efficiency it does not matter as you will not reap the rewards. In fact, it will make your life harder. You are only ever going to be as good as your imagination. Become a child again and start wondering. I wonder if………… So, stop take a step back and look at everything you do with a fresh pair of eyes. If you cannot see the wood for the trees, ask people you work with. They are always a fountain of knowledge when it comes to ideas of how to improve their lives.
The great thing is you do not need to be a programmer to make automation work for you. There are so many ways to automate what you are already doing using tools you already pay for that it does not need to be complicated. Some examples would be:
- Use Microsoft Bookings to arrange meetings. No more email ping pong.
- Use Microsoft Teams for instant messaging, video chat, sharing docs/files.
- Using two screens instead of one is a massive time and paper saver.
- E-signing for getting documents signed and stored without the paper and chasing.
- Bank feeds for automating the bank reconciliation.
By doing some or all the above, you are setting the tone for any new clients of how you operate. You are placing yourself as an expert in the field of technology and not just accountancy. Who better to work with than an accountant who is a master in business efficiency?
Look at the software you already have and go back to the vendor website or account manager. Talk to them about what the software can do. You will be amazed how many small things you have missed. Software is constantly evolving, and you must allow for this in your work.
For those of you that want to dive deeper and potentially help your clients with automation there is a rapidly growing suite of tools to help. Again, you do not need to be a programmer or IT wizard to work this stuff. You just need imagination, patience, and a learning mindset.
Using the tools below you can connect thousands of software applications yourself. No degree in engineering required.
- Zapier – the easiest way to automate your work. Connect your apps and automate workflows. (Zapier)
- IFTTT – every thing works better together. Make your work more productive. (IFTTT)
- Microsoft Flow – take care of what’s important. Automate the rest. Save time and effort with UI flows, a robotic process automation (RPA) capability. (Microsoft Flow)
Automating the right way
Around 1.5 million jobs in England alone are at high risk of some of their duties and tasks being automated in the future. (Office of National Statistics)
Embrace it or lose it. Rather than waiting for the inevitable, accountants are placed fantastically well to become the masters of this new destiny.
If automation is not improving the service or product that you are providing, then leave it. Prioritise the things that will add most value to the client experience first not the things that will save you time.
Automation is a process driven to have more time but what if the problem is poor client service. Automating support tickets does not fix that underlying issue it just makes it go faster. You need to diagnose the cause not purely treat the symptoms.
If you understand this and can implement it then this potentially offers a new service line to offer to clients.
When everyone is done automating the hell out of their processes and procedures and everyone can provide clients with what they need before they know they need it, what is going to set you apart? Your people. Personal relationships, empathy, and rapport. You cannot automate that. If you choose cost reduction as your primary motivator for automation, then good luck to you.
Automation should give rise to more time to produce better work, more time to service clients and more time for yourself, family, and friends? How is that working out for you? Why? 83% of accountants say clients demand more from them today than they did five years ago (Sage Practice of Now).
Something must be wrong. Perhaps we have not even scratched the surface of this automation thing yet. Automating the right or wrong things will make or break you or perhaps even the industry.
When should I automate?
Automation is as simple or difficult as you want it to be. Do not get swept away in all the hype. Start small but just start. Begin with looking at those areas you could be better. What are the bottlenecks in the business and how can you alleviate that? You do not have to get the light bulb to flash or music played when someone goes to the toilet just because you can.
There is a trade off with all this automation in that you swap old tasks with managing and monitoring the technology and software that completes those tasks but that’s fine provided overall you save time and resources to put back into your relationships.
Save time provide more for clients, charge higher fees, have less clients, provide a greater service, sleep better, make a difference that is why you are an accountant right? If not, then automation and the new age of accountancy is not for you. It is also not the right tool if you are purely looking to hoover up as many clients and work as possible. Using automation to do that is just harming the industry. The quicker you work and the louder you shout about how easy your job has become means clients demand lower fees. The skill is taken out of the work at that point and it just becomes a race between who can be the most efficient. You are selling to clients buying on price and price alone.
Where is the long-term reward in that for either party?