Implementation Requires a Steady Hand
Updating accounting technology is not a job for the CFO
One of the byproducts of an ever increasing competitive landscape as well as the continuing rise in the cost to originate, is the demand for timely, granular reporting; which, more often that not, older technologies or off-the-shelf financials solutions struggle to produce efficiently. While it may be possible to pull information out of generic or legacy accounting programs and use complicated Excel worksheets to run the numbers, there can be a lot of problems with this approach, not the least of which is that it often takes way too much time and effort.
For instance, when an origination firm is trying to determine which loan officers to keep, which to promote and which to let go, the accounting department needs to be able to drill into the general ledger down to the branch level and further down to the level of the individual loan officer. Most software in use today can’t do this effectively, which is why more companies are switching to new technologies that can.
This is where many lenders face the most risk of having a problem. Software implementation is an involved process and putting the wrong people at the helm as a company navigates through it can lead to problems. Perhaps the worst person to put in charge of your next new accounting software implementation is your CFO.
Why the boss shouldn't lead...
On the surface, this may seem like a ridiculous thing to suggest. The Chief Financial Officer runs the finance department and in almost every case this executive made the decision on which new accounting technology the company would implement. Why then would we expect this business leader to step aside when it comes time to implement? There are actually a number of reasons.
At the top of the list of reasons why the CFO should not lead the implementation effort is that there simply isn’t time. Readers know that CFOs are professional executives who fully understand time management and are dedicated to prioritizing what’s most important. That is true, but there are a great many things that are “most important” to this company executive.
CFOs are constantly pulled in many different directions, and while the best of them find a little bit of themselves to spread across all of their priorities, that’s not enough to ensure a successful software installation. To achieve that end, consistency is key.
In successful software implementations, weekly status update calls are used to help everyone stay on track. If the project leader is not present during these calls, the project begins to break down. This is true even when working with leading companies and deploying the best people to the project. The leader must be present and involved, consistently.
The second reason why the CFO is not the best choice is the level of day-to-day involvement with the accounting department’s software and processes. Most of the CFOs analyze reports that have been generated by their teams and lead the company based on the reported results achieved thus far, given the goals and direction provided by the CEO. They are not down in the trenches posting transactions or pulling data into spreadsheets.
The overriding goal for the software implementation is to ensure that the new tool allows accounting department personnel to continue to work effectively as they have previously, while eliminating manual workarounds that their old accounting software couldn’t handle for them. All of the new additional functions the software brings should ultimately be as simple as pressing a button or two, but to get there it's essential to understand as many details as possible about what the accounting department is doing today. CFOs often just don’t know.
Accounting software is not as complex or involved to implement as an LOS, but failing to set up the configuration correctly can still reduce the benefits the new users will receive. Consequently, the accounting software implementation team wants to understand how the staff approaches their tasks, whether that be initiating a data import from the company’s payroll provider, sending branch level financial results to branch managers or anything else they do during the course of their working day.
The third reason the CFO doesn’t make a good project lead has to do with accountability. Sure, CFOs are accountable to their CEOs. They are not accountable to third party software developers. That relationship works the other way. That can make it difficult for a software provider to ensure that the work on the client side gets done according to schedule.
The software implementation team provides as much support as it possibly can, but there are still tasks to complete, decisions that must be made, meetings that must be attended and milestones that once reached require approval. By the time an executive gets to the level of CFO, they are no longer accustomed to accepting timelines from outside partners and feeling responsible for meeting them. In many cases, the CFO is actually an owner, making it even more difficult to drive them to results.
For these reasons alone -- although some companies present unique challenges that provide additional reasons -- the CFO, who certainly being involved from an oversight standpoint, should not be the lead executive on the client side during the new accounting software implementation phase. This now raises the question of who should.
Who should lead?
The metaphor "it takes a village" absolutely rings true for software implementation projects. It takes a dedicated group, with the right lead point, to make it happen.
Planning for any type of successful project requires a lead person to act in a project manager type role. Software implementation is certainly a case in point. Even in simple implementations, there are many aspects of the software that must be properly configured in order to allow the company to work as efficiently as possible. If this is not accomplished, then the efficiency gains that a more powerful software provides may be offset by the lower productivity that comes with unnecessary changes to the previously established process.
To ensure this happens, there needs to be an individual in charge who has the time to focus on the job of managing the project, who has the day-to-day experience with the old system to know what processes need to be tweaked and which must be overhauled, as well as having a position in the chain of command that will provide incentive to meet timelines and keep the project moving forward. Lenders may find that the Controller is best equipped with all the skills necessary to drive the most successful implementations.
The Controller’s role sits at a perfect balance in which their time is best spent overseeing the team and ensuring that the team’s tasks are completed on time. Though Controllers occupy important positions, they are free of some of the burdens that may occupy much of the CFO’s day. Typically this makes Controllers more available to work hands-on with the team. Since the CFO juggles a wide variety of tasks every day, it simply isn’t possible for them to be as hands-on as needed by the implementation team.
A successful implementation requires both the lender’s internal team and the software developer’s team to be on the same page. It’s key for the software team to understand how the lender previously performed tasks in order to make the transition as seamless as possible. Controllers have the advantage of knowing what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and how long it will take them. Because Controllers have experience working on these day-to-day tasks alongside the team, they are the best choice in decision-makers to recognize, prioritize, and delegate implementation tasks.
Delegating tasks is also key in making the process more cost-effective, as basic tasks like data scrubbing can be passed to a less costly member of the team. Delegating minimizes the time Controllers spend doing implementation grunt work and frees them up to spend more time providing insight to the implementation team.
Though the Controller is considered a team lead, the chain of command does not end with them. Because Controllers report directly to the CFO, they understand exactly how important it is to stay on schedule and achieve deadlines on time.
For the vast majority of the wholesale lenders, banks, credit unions and independent mortgage banks that have implemented accounting software, the CFO made the decision of which software to implement and the controller served as the project manager on the client side to help the engagement manager and implementation team drive the project to completion. This approach has led to many successful implementations, that have gone live, on time and on budget, and met all of the deliverables laid out at the beginning of the project.
About the author:
Ben Saunders is the Deployment Director at Loan Vision, the company behind Loan Vision, the mortgage industry’s fastest growing provider of accounting and financial management solutions. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article can also be read in the October 2017 Edition of the Scotsman Guide
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