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[caption id="attachment_40119" align="alignright" width="176" caption="Steve Jannicelli"][/caption]

The main aim of any accounting software is its use as a business management tool in assessing the fiscal health of one's business. For business owners, selecting the right accounting software means the ability to post transactions in a way that's meaningful to your business. This translates into greater clarity into financial results and the ability to create operational reports that help managers run the business.

Below are three suggestions to help make your software selection process more efficient and to give your software a longer lifespan.Fully articulate your needs

Before beginning your search for new software, take a step back and examine your current software. Where does it excel and where does it fall short? Don't forget to examine the available add-ons and customizations that you have not taken advantage of. Your search may end there, as you may discover additional features that answer to your business' needs, eliminating the need to undergo the entire process of switching software. Otherwise, the purpose of this step is to help you articulate what you are looking for in new software.

Next, it's important to analyze and isolate your business needs and problems. In doing this, you can then work with your internal operations team to determine the types of accounting reports and views into the numbers you want to create. Make sure to consider any major operational changes coming in the foreseeable future. Also think about whether or not you want to bring in the help of an experienced advisor, who can greatly simplify the process.

Once these internal factors are considered, then a good, solid set of software requirements can be created and the selection process can begin.Expand your RFP process

The RFP process is your opportunity to learn all about the vendors and how their software can benefit your business. Many managers send out a standard form for the vendors to complete -- and rely on the answers provided to make their decision. Instead, consider making the procedure much more interactive. You can share all of the requirement-gathering and process documentation discussed above with the software vendors. After all, when vendors understand your business processes, your specific industry and your specific needs, you give them a chance to answer how exactly their products can make the greatest impact.

Also, take the time to understand the vendor. Ask for references for other like-sized companies in your industry that you can talk to about their experience with the software. Then do some research on your own to find companies using the software -- but are not on the vendor's reference list. This may also provide valuable insight.

Lastly, get the appropriate stakeholders involved in the process from the beginning -- from creating the current and desired processes to selecting the vendors to analyze. Work with all affected users in all divisions -- not just those in the finance department -- to put together a list of the features and capabilities you need. Getting buy-in from key stakeholders will pay dividends now and in the future.Beyond the off-the-shelf solution

Once you've selected new software, implementation comes next, a step that many companies gloss over. Oftentimes, the "off-the-shelf" solution is not enough to meet a business' needs. By reducing the time spent in implementation and passing over customizations or training, you may well be setting yourself up to renew your search five to seven years down the line.

For example, one may require an integrated invoicing or inventory feature after business expansion. To avoid having to purchase a completely new software, it would pay to check whether the accounting program allows for easy modular add-ons, or easy upgrades, without loss or migration of data.

Take the time initially to get the software doing exactly what you want it to do. While software should never dictate a company's business processes, it can help take the company from where it is to where it wants to be by offering functionality and visibility not previously considered.

The software selection process is crucial in an organization. By starting the analysis internally with business processes and requirements, then getting the right evaluation process in place early and placing an appropriate focus on implementation, you can ensure that your business is operating with the best software in place.•••

Steve Jannicelli, CPA, is a senior manager in the Santa Rosa office of Burr Pilger Mayer (BPM). Mr. Jannicelli is a skilled strategist whose practice focuses on business financial advisory services from growth strategy to turnaround management. Specifics include cash-flow forecast modeling, financial management and planning, operational assessments and profitability improvements, strategic planning and industry benchmark analysis. Steve can be reached at 707-524-6560 or sjannicelli@bpmcpa.com.