Better software, better systems, better service

Designing a custom solution for Moore Stephens Markhams Wairarapa (MSMW) Accounting

Accounting used to mean having a good grasp of numbers and an eye for detail – but now, good accountants also need to keep up with the latest advancements in accounting technology.

Moore Stephens Markhams Wairarapa (MSMW) wanted to do just that. The Masterton-based firm provides accounting and advisory services to businesses in the area, with a focus on farming and agribusiness clients. Their IT set up got the job done, but was slowing down day-to-day processes for the firm. They had been working with their previous provider since the nineties, and felt that it was well past time to review their systems. They wanted to take advantage of ever-changing technology to create a more integrated, more efficient system.

That’s where Think Concepts came in. MSMW approached our Technical Lead, Jason Short, seeking help with their IT issues. Our multi-faceted solution involved digging into MSMW’s pain points, creating an RFP and taking it to market, making recommendations, and ultimately designing and implementing a brand-new IT system. 

Processes and pain points

After using the same software platforms for years, the team at MSMW was having some functionality issues. Their various hardware and software systems still technically worked, but – partly because they were so disjointed - didn’t provide the speed or capacity the firm required.

One major issue was the lack of integration. The firm was using a range of software systems that had been introduced at different times – for example, they had one program for workflow management, one for time tracking, and one for client work. These weren’t integrated, which meant that data had to be entered at multiple points – increasing the risk of errors and the time spent on each job. Most of the software had been chosen because it was ‘best in class’ for its specific function, but this meant that integration was difficult, if not impossible. For MSMW staff, this meant most tasks could not be automated, and had to be manually tracked and triggered.

Lack of visibility was another major issue. As the firm’s workflow management and time tracking programs weren’t integrated, they had no real-time way to monitor profitability or other KPIs. They weren’t able to see deadlines and hours for individual jobs until after the fact, which meant that jobs routinely went over budget. Manual reports, with information pulled from various sources, were an imperfect solution. 

Because the systems were older, they tended to be inflexible as well. Any deviations from the norm – like a client missing a deadline, or a staff member leaving – were difficult for the system to manage. This meant more manual entries and more opportunities for error.

Document management was the final pain point. Accounting firms generate a huge amount of data, and MSMW’s previous system was not set up to deal with this effectively. Although each piece of software had its own data management system, there was no central repository or ‘source of truth’ for the organisation as a whole. Finding certain pieces of information meant spending time searching, or having insider knowledge about where to look. This made it difficult when staff who had built up this esoteric knowledge left the company.

Although some of MSMW’s IT issues were relatively manageable, they added up to a huge impact on the business. The risks ranged from wasted time and jobs going over time, to delays in work completion, major data entry errors, and costs being written off.  

Understanding problems, seeking solutions

Unlike many IT service providers, Think Concepts isn’t about the quick fix. When MSMW approached us for help, gaining an in-depth understanding of their issues was our primary goal.

This meant looking at their current IT systems, then working with the company to document their business requirements and pain points. This information formed the basis of a detailed request for proposal (RFP), which we ultimately took to market.

The next step was investigating the proposals. Jason took the lead on reviewing the resulting offers from software vendors. Because the business had so many requirements, this meant navigating a complicated eco-system of solutions and products on behalf of MSMW. If they had chosen to take this step on their own, they would have missed out on his insights – and only received a partial view of each product from salespeople.

We identified three potential software solutions, each with its own set of pros and cons. Because the solution needed to deal with a wide range of issues, we then wrote a high level summary of our findings, explaining how each offering would deal with each pain point.

Think Concepts also made a number of recommendations around replacing existing hardware and phones in order to keep up with the demands of the new system, and thoroughly detailed the costs associated with each choice.

This made it easier for the MSMW management team to understand the differences between options, and make an informed decision.

Designing a specialised solution

After careful consideration, the MSMW management team chose CCH to act as their new software provider, with their program iFirm. They felt that CCH was the best fit for their business in terms of features, functionality, and price. But that wasn’t the end of their IT improvement journey.

Next, Jason and the Think team designed a custom IT infrastructure to run the selected suite of products from CCH. They worked with the company to ensure that the new system would meet their specific day-to-day needs and be easy to use.

The solution was designed to solve the issues MSMW was facing, and to future-proof their set-up to cope with potential changes in the accounting industry. Because the firm deals with so many farming clients, it included specialist add-ons for agribusiness accounting.

The design included integrated, cloud-based software for time-tracking, budgeting and accounting services, an upgrade plan for computers, servers and the phone network, and a training plan for staff members.

Install, implement, and utilise

The final step was managing implementation. The Think Concepts team installed new servers, computers, and software over a long weekend, to minimise disruption to the business. Installation of new phone lines will complete the upgrade later in the year. We managed the data transfer – key in an accounting firm – so all historic data remained accessible.

In the ecosystem of software programs and apps, each member of the team needed access to a number of specific programs, so we set up a slightly different range at each workstation.

Training staff to use the new systems was a slighter more involved process. We worked with CCH to design a training program that started before the new platform went live. Basic training and access to the system was provided before the implementation weekend, so staff got the chance to familiarise themselves with the new software before they needed to use it. We stayed on as IT support, helping staff deal with any issues that came up as they really got to know the system.

The whole process, from installation to going live, was completed over Easter weekend. Staff left on the Thursday and came back to a new system the next week. That, along with prior training and IT support, meant that implementation was minimally disruptive to the work of the business.

“Executing a migration of any application core to your business operation can be a daunting concept for most business owners. Taking a step back to review whether or not things could work better is the first step in finding something that can really improve how efficiently your workflow processes are, as well as provide much needed visibility that may be lacking. Its rewarding to help our clients execute these projects smoothly, where we can convert these outcomes from ideas into reality.”

- Jason Short | Technical Lead | Think Concepts

Hard work, great results

Revamping MSMW’s entire IT set-up was an intensive process. The Think Concepts team, led by Jason Short, took the business from investigating pain points and writing an RFP to selecting, designing, and installing a whole new suite of hardware and software.

Fortunately, the process paid off, and MSMW are thrilled with their new system. Issues such as double handling of data, a lack of transparency around hours and billing, and inefficient internal processes have all improved. Now that different programs are integrated, the team can see how many hours have been spent on each job, and work out whether they’re overrunning their budget before it happens.

Their new accounting software is flexible enough to manage changes without manual adjustments. Communication between teams is more straightforward, as everyone in the business is using the same software.

Put simply, the new system saves time, money, and frustration for staff. The management team has visibility across the entire business, and MSMW is able to offer clients the agile, modern accounting services they expect.