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When it comes to digital transformation, the common narrative is that legacy technology and existing infrastructure investments prevent most businesses from taking the leap.

While legacy tech certainly plays a role, new research from Sage has found that it’s not the biggest hurdle preventing uptake of digital solutions; it’s confusion around the number of options available and uncertainty around which solution is best for the business. And of course, money.

The Sage [The Resurgence: South African businesses are ready to try again] research surveyed 1,947 South African small businesses – the majority of which offer accounting and bookkeeping services – to find out how they’re coping in the new world of work.

When asked about common barriers to adopting technology, the majority of respondents (45%) said they lacked the finances to invest in new solutions, because of COVID or other reasons. While this was to be expected, the other most common reasons revealed interesting insights into the state of technology adoption among South African small businesses.

These include:

  • No time to implement new technology or train staff (25%),
  • Unclear or unconvincing return on investment (22%), and
  • Uncertainty around the complexity of solutions available (20%).

Legacy systems were an issue for just 17% of respondents.

It’s easy to understand the overwhelm. A Google search for cloud accounting software returns over 227 million results. And this software comparison site lists 949 accounting products. It’s no wonder that small businesses default to what they know: spreadsheets, manual processes, and paper-based workflows.

There are compelling arguments to be made for cloud-based software, however. It eases the burden of business and people management, enables an always-on business that can operate from anywhere, and – crucially – keeps you compliant with SARS and data protection legislation, such as the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).

But not all cloud business management solutions were created equal. Here’s a guide to choosing the right software for your business.

Step 1: Map your workflows and processes

Start by creating a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These are documents that provide explicit directions for completing certain tasks and describe – in detail – everything that needs to be done to move from Point A to Point B.

For example, an SOP for an accounts receivable process could look like this:

  1. Record buyer details
  2. Send the buyer a credit application
  3. Run a credit check on the purchasing company
  4. Run post-credit check review
  5. Send the buyer the terms of sale
  6. Check customer payment terms before invoicing
  7. Generate and send invoice (create a separate SOP for the invoicing process)

For each step, note who is responsible for the task, how long it typically takes to complete, and if it’s dependent on another task being completed first. Note also what information you collect and process, where it’s stored, and who can access it.

SOPs take many forms. Yours could be as basic as the one above or you could illustrate the process in a flowchart or in-depth hierarchical format.

Workflow mapping is time-consuming but it’s worth the effort because they:

  • Help you to systematise and standardise your processes,
  • Keep your team on the same page,
  • Make it easier to identify duplicate and overlapping tasks,
  • Provide insights into tasks that can be automated,
  • Serve as working documents to continuously improve processes,
  • Streamline onboarding and training, and
  • Maintain organisational knowledge.

Your SOPs will reveal inefficiencies in your processes that can either be reduced, automated, or eliminated. Note patterns, overlaps, and red flags. Ideally, your entire team should be involved in creating the SOPs.

Step 2: List your business and industry requirements

Next, make a list of everything you need your new software to do, using your SOPs as a guide. Rank your requirements in order of importance and include ‘nice-to-haves’.

Most cloud accounting software includes standard functionality, such as invoicing automation and payment tracking. But not all solutions were created equal, and some offer advanced functionality, either built-in or through secure third-party APIs.

For example:

  • If you run a professional services business, you might need time-tracking functionality.
  • If you have an e-commerce store, you’ll want to be able to manage your inventory in real-time and facilitate secure online payments.
  • If you’re in manufacturing, you may need to track and trace raw materials throughout your supply chain.
  • If you operate in a highly regulated industry, such as financial services, your software will need to automatically comply with regulatory changes, such as those related to KYC and money laundering.

Step 3: Identify a problem to solve

Your SOPs might have revealed bottlenecks that slow your business down. Perhaps you have different versions of spreadsheets floating around, or documents stored in multiple locations, or still use a paper-based system to process employee leave.

If you can link these challenges to specific workflows, you’ll be able to define the source of the problem, and therefore, the solution.

Make solving this problem your number one priority when choosing business management software.

Step 4: Narrow down the list

Eliminate any solution that doesn’t help you to solve the problem identified in Step 3.

Then, revisit your list of requirements. What’s second and third on your list? A point-of-sale system? The ability for your sales team to access product, pricing, and stock information in the field? A job card management system?

Cross off any solution that does not offer the required functionality, either built-in or via secure plug-ins with independent software vendors (ISVs).

Step 5: Get input from your team

Bring the team members who contributed to the SOPs back into the loop. Consider who will use the software and if it supports and streamlines current tasks and workflows. Note any concerns they raise and explain how the software benefits them and the business. These benefits should be so compelling that there’s no temptation for them to revert to the “old way” of doing things.

Involving your team in the decision-making process makes change management easier and increases the likelihood of a smooth software roll-out and adoption.

Step 6: Know your budget

Cloud-based business management solutions are offered as a service, meaning you only pay for what you use or per user/license. This makes budgeting easier since you can treat it as an operational expense or monthly subscription line item. You can also add and remove users as your business scales or your needs change.

When choosing software, consider your monthly budget as well as costs related to implementation, onboarding, and training.

Step 7: Choose and test 3 solutions

You’ve got your business need, you have a problem to solve, and you have buy-in and budget. With all this in mind, narrow down your list of software options to the top three that tick all these boxes.

Most software vendors offer free trials or demos of their products. The best way to know which solution is right for your business is to try before you buy.

Sign up for the trial and test out all the features. Go all in – use it in place of older systems and processes for the full trial period or get one team member to use it and report back. List the pros and cons of each solution and cross-check against your list of requirements to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.

Top tip: Pre-plan workflows and specific tasks that you want to test before signing up for the trial.

Step 8: Choose

There’s only one thing left to do: decide which solution works best for your business knowing that you’ve done your due diligence.

Last word

Any software that you implement should deliver a long-term benefit and be able to grow with your business. If not, you’ll need to do this exercise again a few months from now. Make it count.

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