Accru Melbourne is a multi-disciplinary accounting firm that is based in the Camberwell/Hawthorn east area of Melbourne. With significant experience in Audit, Wealth Management, including Superannuation expertise, and Business Services, Accru Melbourne wanted to have internal systems that would sufficiently cater to their various divisions. In 2021, Accru Melbourne made the move to Xero Practice Manager & FYI. We caught up with Director Simon Hilton, to discuss how moving to the cloud has changed his business over the past few months.
Hi Simon! Could you start with giving the readers some background about your firm?
In terms of predecessor firms, Accru traces its roots way back to the 1890’s through Danby Bland Provan & Co. The current leadership group have all really grown up at the firm, and part of our model is to try and recruit staff who ultimately become Accru people. I’m included here as I started off as a graduate, and despite working outside of the firm for 18 months, I found myself back as an Accru person.
Now we are a thriving small to mid-level firm with a good variety of expertise to serve our clients. More recently, one area of growth has been in the Business Advisory space including software transitions and outsourced CFO services.
How did you navigate all the various practice offerings, when deciding to move?
At the start it was all in my head. I would gather as much information as I could by attending events and conferences such as Accountech. These events were beneficial for understanding the future of where applications and software are going.
I did find that while software Vendors will tell you that their software connects with everything and works properly, the challenging part as a business owner trying to juggle a move while still servicing clients, is figuring out how the software will work for you. I knew where we needed to go, but I just didn’t have the time to work through all the options. I knew that if I tried, by the time I had figured it all out, that parts of the process could be outdated with newer functions and features. This was a major reason for partnering with Alan FitzGerald and using his expertise to determine the right pieces for us.
Why did you choose Xero Practice Manager?
Xero Practice Manager allowed us to move from a server-based solution to a truly cloud-based solution, where various apps talk to one another, and met the needs of us as a business. We really found that the traditional practice management solutions just do not suit a diversified financial services business such as ours.
When you have a lot of server-based systems it doesn’t suit hybrid working methods, or people on the go needing to access information. We were very much being held back, less so by the functionality of our current systems, but by the flexibility in the fact that it was server-based and static in its development. We knew we had to move, but it was just a matter of finding the right blend of applications that would work for our business.
You had a large stakeholder group get involved in your implementation. Did you find that to be critical to your success?
We were quite an early adopter of some of our past solutions such as Document Manager and Paperless Office, and I learnt that the more people you get involved means you have more champions that you can send through to other teams. We are a big enough and multi-disciplinary enough firm that we need to make sure we select the right software for all divisions of the practice, and that when we set it up, we do so as comprehensively as possible with all divisions in mind.
We wanted to have a larger group of champions to also try and build some excitement to the rest of the team about the move. I would do things like send videos every week of new processes and efficiency gains from the systems before our go live, to try and get people thinking about the benefits the move is going to make. The excitement aspect had its challenges as we were working from home for such a large part of the year, but we felt it was valuable to show the impact of the software’s before our official go live.
How did your system training sessions set up your team for successful adoption of the new software?
The good thing about this software is that it is generally quite intuitive, and a lot of our staff have had some experience with similar applications. For them to have the flexibility of cloud-based apps is far better for them, and the trainings were quite successful. Both FYI Docs and XPM were well received by everyone, and we didn’t have any major issues as we hit the ground running with the systems.
The biggest functionality difference for us is regarding billing, but we held two different sessions for both invoice creators and invoice approvers to help clarify the details.
Our trainings were all recorded and made available to us, and after our first billing period we were able to go back to those videos and reinforce how we should be billing after some experience and context.
How important was it to have XPM set up correctly to complement your use of FYI Docs?
I look at FYI Docs as a window into XPM. We have 2 divisions that really don’t need to use XPM because all the relevant information flows into FYI. Our staff can do timesheets, management jobs and access client information all from FYI Docs, but it all stems from the central XPM database.
Because of this, getting XPM configured correctly, and having the jobs structured in a way that suits us, became essential to get the most out of FYI Docs.
What implementation milestones were the most important for you to have the confidence that the new system was going to work?
The initial Process Design Workshop was the most important of the implementation milestones for us, in that for a lot of us, we had seen the features, but it was hard to understand how things were going to work. We knew what XPM Jobs & Tasks were, but we didn’t fully understand the importance of these to things like timesheets and non-chargeable work.
Going through the workshop with Business Continuum was critical from a learning curve perspective, and when combined with the subsequent testing, it really helped us to understand how the system was going to ultimately work for our practice.
What is the biggest learning as part of this process your firm has undertaken?
It’s such a massive investment that you make with software, that paying for the right advice and getting the right team involved from an implementation perspective is important. There are far better uses of our time than trying to implement a system that we are not experts on. Most accountants always think they will know best, but we always run out of time. Getting external help from the right people is therefore crucial.
I also think people need to bite the bullet. Sometimes not changing can be more costly than making the move. The cost of staying with your current systems can be hidden sometimes so don’t underestimate how good your team will be about embracing it. Get the right people within your team involved, have a good blend of people from different divisions and experience levels involved with the process. Not only will that help the project be a success, but it will also help their development as it presents different challenges for them to work through.
Making this move will make you ask, “why do we do things like this” and the answer might be simply because that’s how you have always done it. While I don’t encourage change for changes sake, it can shake a lot of the cobwebs out for your firm as well.
“Going through the workshop with Business Continuum was critical from a learning curve perspective, and when combined with the subsequent testing, it really helped us to understand how the system was going to ultimately work for our practice.”
How Business Continuum helped
We also spoke to the project lead from Business Continuum, Chung Hui, about the challenges and key milestones of the implementation of XPM for Accru.
What were the challenges with implementing a new software system for a firm like Accru?
The size of Accru and the multi-disciplinary nature of their business meant that from day one we had to make sure we had a wide range of stakeholders involved in the process to ensure successful change management. We were aided by the fact that Simon and the Accru team were on the same page and had already assembled a large project team with representatives from each division and a good mix of management team, junior staff and administration team members. We then ran separate workshops with each team before bringing everyone together to run through the outcomes of the workshops and make decisions about the implementation that would have firm-wide implications.
Another challenge was that Accru were implementing other software solutions at the same time that would connect to XPM and also had other software they were planning to implement within the next 12 months. Alan Fitzgerald played an important role here to help provide visibility over the overall plan and connect the different external project teams together to make sure there were no gaps or conflicts between systems and for each team to work toward an agreed timeline.
What were things Accru did that helped make the implementation a success?
The project team at Accru played a big role in making sure the implementation was a success. While we were there to help facilitate discussions, guide them in making key decisions and to provide our experience and expertise, the project team had a big part to play. Besides participating in and being engaged in workshops and project meetings the Accru team helped collect feedback from their divisions, completed testing of the system, and worked alongside us to develop the right processes.
Simon was also instrumental in the successful project. Having a partner sponsor on the project that is involved throughout is critical in helping make key decisions about the project, mobilise the firm for change, and help effectively communicate to the firm what is happening. Simon’s experience from previous IT projects was also greatly helpful as he came in with realistic expectations about the project, timelines, and the amount of effort involved by all parties.
What tips would you give to any firm looking at changing practice software?
Drawing on what made the implementation of XPM for Accru a success my top tips would be: