insight magazine

Corporate Calling | Summer 2019

7 Steps for Assessing Your Company’s Technology Needs

Here’s what to consider when trying to position your organization to capitalize on new technologies.
Tina Golsch, CPA, MBA Enterprise Finance Services, Boeing

All we hear about lately in accounting and finance is how new technologies and different software and applications are going to reshape our finance departments, functions, and organizational roles. While this is proving to be true in many ways, and as exciting (or frightening) as that may be, a lot needs to be considered before implementing a new enterprise-wide technology besides the trendy acronyms — think AI, CRM, ERP, IoT, ML, RPA — being thrown at us daily.

It’s great that we have more tools available to us today than ever to help drive our organizations forward, but as strategic as we must be with our business finance decisions, we must be as strategic with our technology choices. So, as you’re likely to be tasked with evaluating the state of your organization’s technology and how it can be improved to drive better business performance, here are some points to consider that will help you put your organization in a strategic position to take advantage of any new technologies your organization decides to pursue.

Think about the pain points first. Sales pitches and marketing copy will make you think every new technology will solve all your business woes. Just because a technology sounds good doesn’t mean you need it. Listen to and document the pain points of your technology users. What are the great ideas you or they have that just aren’t feasible with your existing solutions? Can this new technology help those ideas be realized? Also consider the time and resources that are expended month after month on manual tasks or supplementing existing business processes because your current technology does not fully support your needs or allow for automation.

Avoid groupthink. Every company, even though it might be like others in some respects, is unlike any other because of its processes and human capital. Therefore, each company’s technology needs and requirements differ dramatically. As you assess the pain points identified in your organization, dig deeper into how technology may make your processes more efficient. Pay particular attention to the processes that require a lot of time from your users or cause delays over and over again. Generally, the more users impacted and the more repetitious a process, the more leverage you will gain from technology that automates those processes.

Anecdotally, there will always be tales of technology problem areas in your organization, but as a finance leader, you are in a position to assess which technologies are going to touch the most people and help drive organizational and bottom line improvements.

Mind the pace of change. You’ve likely heard several times now that the pace of change will never be slower than it is today. That doesn’t mean you should rush through a technology change in an attempt to keep up. While it might be tempting when looking at new applications to implement everything immediately, this can overwhelm and exhaust both your users and your IT team. Organizations can only absorb a certain amount of change in a given time and you want your users to accept and be excited about the new application. Further, maintaining roadmaps identifying when applications were implemented, upgraded, when they might be in danger of obsolescence, the number of users impacted, and what benefits you could gain from upgrading or changing can help provide a framework for identifying which applications or technologies should be prioritized by your organization. Knowing when major upgrades are supposed to happen to which technologies is key to successful implementations.

Think long term. Your roadmap can also help you identify other relevant criteria in your technology timeline, like, is this an application that you plan to keep only two years, or is it something that you will need to maintain for 10 years? Knowing this will help determine the level of investment and development appropriate for the lifespan of the technology. For instance, if you are only going to support an application for the next two years because another change is coming down the road, does it really make sense if it takes a whole year to fully customize, develop, and implement? If you intend to keep the application for 10 years, are you going to be able to update or customize areas to adapt to any foreseen (or unforeseen) business changes?

Define your business and technology requirements and ensure you have the right stakeholders involved. Specifying all your organization’s requirements is imperative to ensuring that you are looking for and selecting the most appropriate technology. Discovering midstream during implementation that an application cannot fulfill a key business requirement can throw your whole project off plan, impacting users’ enthusiasm and morale and creating unnecessary costs and delays.

Account for customization. If customization is a forbidden word when it comes to technology, skip this step. Otherwise, it is critical to determine if customization is necessary and then whether it can be done by your own developers or if it will be led by the technology’s vendor. In either case, internal resources with the skills and expertise to guide the customization and resulting business processes are integral. Again, think long term and consider whether necessary future updates, patches, or operating system changes from the vendor could cause issues with your customizations.

Another thing to consider prior to starting a new technology development project, especially if your organization has engaged in significant automation and customization efforts to reduce manual effort, is whether the human talent for those business processes still exist internally. Who is going to ensure the technology is functioning without errors or respond when troubleshooting is necessary?

Strategize your data conversion. Changing ERP, CRM, tax, or other software solutions, or moving from physical data storage to digitized cloud back-ups, might require vast data conversions that could leave you feeling like you’re rewriting history. If this is the case with your company, know ahead of time how far back you need to go, the level of detail and accuracy required, and how you will protect the data in case something goes wrong in conversion. When planning for a conversion, try to bring over only as much data as necessary. If you must tie back transactions for the last five years, for example, recognize ahead of time that it will require significant effort and resources and will impact your implementation timeline.

From prioritizing which applications are most critical to update, to ensuring successful implementation that remains on schedule, on budget, and within the originally defined scope, considering all these items will help you when assessing your current and new technology needs. Better, you’ll come away with a framework for smooth, surprise-free upgrades that leave you and your company future-ready.

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