Is your existing Time & Billing (legal accounting) System falling short of the firm's needs and expectations? Do you find that the strategic vision and goals of the firm are not in alignment with the solutions you have? Or, perhaps, you are being forced to switch to a new solution because your current system will no longer be supported anymore? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are likely exploring the possibility of implementing a new time & billing system.
Making the transition to a new accounting system is a big undertaking. It requires resources, costs, change management and shifts in user expectations. Since there is no one perfect solution, you will need to make some compromises in some areas. Here are several things to consider when evaluating potential time and billing systems, especially in the case where two or more solutions are comparable, in terms of your firm’s back office and operational needs (billing, ledger, AP, AP, reporting, conflicts, etc).
Nothing is more frustrating to an end user than poor performance. The tricky thing about identifying a solution with performance issues is that it is hard to test. In this case, you can rely on your peers in the industry to share their experiences through references, attending user groups and reading reviews. Due diligence in this phase will help identify common experiences among the customers of a potential vendor.
#2: Open Ecosystem
This is big. Often, vendors are really good at their core competency as a back office solution, but that doesn’t mean that they can deliver everything else at that same level. Rather than looking for a solution with a wide tool set, look for a solution that can deliver its core function at the highest level...and allow for integrations to take care of the rest. Take it as a good sign when a vendor sits at the center of a vast ecosystem of partners that offer integrations to address your firm’s unique needs.
#3: User Training & Engagement
Change is hard. When implementing a new solution, it is not unusual for staff to struggle (I’ve even seen instances where staff have cried during training). In order to make the process as smooth as possible, I recommend that you map out:
- What your main processes are today
- What your ideal processes might look like
- What your processes will look like with each potential vendor
Most firms scrutinize the features offered by potential vendors, but don’t think through the process as a whole. Your people will be more effective if they can master the “new process” and then learn the features that support it.
#4: Timekeeper Experience
In which ways, if any, will the timekeeper be exposed to the new solution? For example, will you plan to use the time entry solution that exists within the accounting system or a time entry solution like iTimeKeep? This is one of the most impactful parts of the transition because the timekeeper is your most sophisticated user. As we discussed, accounting systems are pretty good as backoffice, but not typically very good as delivering solutions beyond their central focus.
#5: Product Release and Updates
Make sure you understand the prospective vendor’s product roadmap, how they handle upgrades, as well as the time, costs and resources required to deploy and upgrade. Remember, you will be entering into a long term relationship with the vendor. Therefore, your firm will be better off in the long run having a good grasp of how that relationship will work out in terms of cost and value. It is best to partner with a vendor that is agile and committed to working in the best interests of your firm.
Try to learn as much as you can in advance about the vendor’s approach to support. This is something I rarely see when a firm is working through the evaluation and due diligence process. As we mentioned above, you will be entering into a long term relationship. After the system is implemented, the success of your relationship will depend heavily on the quality of the support you receive. Learn what to expect by asking around the industry and talking to your network (as opposed to vendor-provided references). Inquire specifically about their level of happiness. It’s worth saying one more time: after you make your selection, you are going to be in a very long term relationship with this vendor!
#7: Approach to Innovation
Everyone wants to innovate and everyone says they are working on innovation. Don’t be fooled. Innovation is not about building the new iPhone or flying car. Innovation is about making sure that the solutions they are building are aligned with your interests and designed to make your firm more profitable and more efficient. That includes basic things such as approach to user engagement, user experience, training, support, quality of upgrades, frequency of new releases, willingness to listen to customers, sharing among many others.
Selecting a new time & billing system is a complex and important decision. I hope the suggestions above help to make the process a bit easier. When you get to the phase where you consider the timekeeper experience, be sure to set up some time with us to explore how we can help you achieve better timekeeping results.