Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have seen the ads for accounting systems on TV. They weren’t glamorous and employees outside of finance didn’t use them. Back office meant no one but accountants used systems.

Now, the pandemic has forced employees to pay attention to their financial backbones. They can’t just drop off an expense report with an envelope stuffed full of fading receipts and rely on Accounts Payable staff to process their reimbursements.

But, how do you know what’s right for you?

My decision points on platforms hinge on a few items:

Are you in the service industry or do you sell tangible items? If you have tangible items, look for a robust Purchasing module that has some inventory and item tracking. If you’re in the service industry, don’t waste the money on extra modules because you think you might “bundle” services like walking dogs AND feeding dogs. The setup is going to take a lot of time for very little value.

I’ve been using online banking services for a while now and this is a tough one. Bank reconciliations continue to cause headaches for staff accountants. Automated matching between bank and General Ledger can reduce clicking and ticking tremendously on thousands of transactions. This efficiency is dependent on not only the accounting software, but the banking software. Many banks still limit their automation to CSV downloads, requiring manual uploads into the reconciliation module. It’s better than red pencils and reams of paper, but sometimes, I’ll admit, I go that route!

Do you need to track employee time? If you already have an outsourced payroll system from one of the nationwide leaders, build up their existing functionality to get better reports. Don’t reproduce it in a General Ledger unless you’re looking for granular detail of revenues by employee. Also, look for a service from your payroll provider that offers General Ledger interfacing – either automated or downloadable. Once setup, this can save your accounting staff a lot of time and create consistency as your company adds staff.

Do your staff travel? Look for mobile apps that can interface via built-in APIs to provide convenience as your employees sit at the airport and scan in their receipts.
How much access do you want your company managers to have? Are they managing budgets or just receiving reports after the fact? Do they need to approve bills or is your purchasing/payables centralized?

Over many years of implementing and utilizing Enterprise Resource Planning systems, I’ve sat through trainings for modules that I know my company will never use, but were purchased anyway. Whether it’s from overestimating a company’s growth or believing a system will magically solve every bureaucratic headache, over purchasing can waste money and deplete employee morale with unnecessary tasks. Sometimes, there’s a solution that’s already working and doesn’t need to be replaced.

Once you’ve thought about these questions, the next part is getting bids and selecting the right package. Make sure you have the right people who will use the system on board for that part – a poorly chosen system will have a lasting impact.