The process of upgrading financial systems can seem like an endless cycle, especially in this era of rapid digital change. Purchase a new financial system, use it for a few years, and then upgrade it when it no longer helps you meet your business objectives. Wash, rinse, repeat.

While you may not relish the thought of updating a financial system or implementing a new one, the process is an opportunity to eliminate tedious work and make other improvements that can help your team be more productive and the business to be more competitive. A recent Robert Half survey of CFOs finds that optimizing performance, accessing the newest features and offerings, and enhancing security are the top three reasons that financial leaders plan financial systems upgrades.

That same survey of CFOs shows that 76% organizations expect to be upgrading financial systems soon: 33% of respondents plan to upgrade within the next 12 months, while a further 43% expect to make a change in one to two years. If your firm is among them, following these six steps can help you to set up this change project for success:

1. Define your needs

A system update shouldn’t be about racing to embrace the hottest new technology — in short, don’t switch to a new version simply because it’s available. Upgrade your system only if doing so addresses a definable business need.

To help ensure you create a well-thought-out plan for upgrading financial systems, take time to conduct a pre-process analysis of business objectives. That means finance and IT should collaborate and look at the organization’s long-term goals. Consider areas such as these:

Operational improvements — Is there a clear business need to improve system performance?

Digital transformation strategy — What’s required to support long-term plans for achieving and maintaining digital maturity?

Security — Are there any major vulnerabilities that upgrading financial systems would or would not address?

Analytics — Is there is a business requirement for better data capture and reporting?

When you start with clear objectives, you end up making an informed decision about how to approach each upgrade. A pre-process analysis also gives you targets to measure the update by, allowing you to get a better idea of the potential, post-implementation return on investment.

2. Get buy-in

After you decide that an upgrade makes sense, the next step is identifying project stakeholders and gaining their support. Begin with other decision makers in the C-suite, like the CIO and even the CEO. They may need convincing that the new financial system’s benefits are worth the investment and disruption. (This is another reason for Step 1: It’s easier to secure buy-in when you can explain why the existing software is no longer adequate — and what the upgrade can help accomplish.)

Talk to all the managers and staff who will be using the new software, as well, as they are also stakeholders. When you communicate change plans at the very beginning rather than waiting until the project is a fait accompli, you’re likely to see a much higher adoption rate after the new system goes online.

3. Assess your team

Does your department have the all-around expertise to carry out and support the upgrade? It’s a good idea to get support from specialists in the following areas:

Change management — You need experienced professionals who can map the existing process, identify areas that the change will impact and keep the disruption to a minimum.

Technology — Upgrading financial systems requires staffing the project with specialists who can adeptly handle the technical aspects of the upgrade. That includes not only installing the new software, but also integrating it with other systems in the stack and maintaining security standards.

Compliance — Compliance experts make sure taking an old system offline and upgrading to a new one won’t cause any data breaches. They can also identify opportunities to improve the efficiency of the company’s compliance controls.

Training and support — Instructors and help desk specialists are needed to ensure successful adoption. Think about your training needs before the system goes live and have people on call who can deal with post-implementation issues.

If you have skills gaps in any of these areas, outsourcing may be the best solution. In another Robert Half Management Resources survey, 57% of CFOs interviewed said they would use a combination of internal and external sources, while 12% would rely solely on outside consultants when staffing an initiative. The top reasons they gave for turning to outside help are:

  • Access to specialized expertise
  • Reduced burden on full-time staff
  • Ability to access new processes and methodologies
  • Support that’s immediately available
  • Scalable project teams

Following are two examples to demonstrate how outside consultants can provide support when an organization is upgrading financial systems and other business systems. In both cases, consultants with Robert Half Management Resources helped companies with Workday implementations:

Example 1: A healthcare agency needed assistance with the implementation of Workday’s finance and human capital management modules. It specifically wanted an expert resource to serve as the finance team’s champion and help define the accounting and finance functions’ needs for the Workday system. Consultants with Robert Half Management Resources were able to step in to provide that immediate support and are now helping to develop and optimize processes and system capabilities.

Example 2: A philanthropy organization required assistance with its planned Workday implementation because its in-house team lacked adequate skills and experience for the project. The firm was also looking for a compensation and benefits manager to help revamp, roll out and maintain its compensation and benefits program. Robert Half Management Resources not only provided a project manager and two specialists for the Workday implementation, but also a salaried consultant for the compensation and benefits position.

4. Enhance collaboration

Successful financial systems upgrades also hinge on whether the CFO and CIO can collaborate effectively. Most digital transformation strategies focus on using financial data for analytics purposes, and finance and IT must work together to make that happen. Every change project involving business systems is a chance for these two departments to strengthen their connections and take advantage of new opportunities, such as:

  • Supporting the company’s digital transformation strategy
  • Improving data capture and reporting
  • Tightening data security and privacy
  • Enhancing integration with other systems
  • Increasing accounting automation

Get other departments involved as well, like human resources and marketing and sales. These groups increasingly rely on financial data to guide decisions and drive strategy. While you don’t want too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, you do want relevant players to have a say and be part of the crew.

5. Stay on top of change management

The key to making sure the upgrading of financial systems goes smoothly is to communicate effectively throughout the process. Change managers will want to focus on these areas:

Stakeholder updates Is everything going according to plan? Are there any budget overruns? These are the types of questions that will be weighing on the minds of project stakeholders. If the project does hit a snag, make sure they are aware of the issue and what is being done to address it. End users also need to be kept in the loop on progress so that they’re prepared for the old system to go offline and the new one to come online.

Project check-in Keep up a constant flow of two-way communication with the rest of the upgrade team. Hold regular meetings, send email briefings and provide updates on shared project files.

Process documentation — Chart the existing workflow, then map out the post-upgrade process. These documents will serve as the basis for training.

6. Provide comprehensive training

The upgrade project isn’t complete until all necessary users have adopted the new system. Ongoing training and support are essential, especially in the following areas:

Transition to new processes — The first thing staff want to know is, “How do I do my job with this new tool?” The initial training, which should begin well before the go-live date, should address this question to avoid productivity lulls while users adjust.

Introduction to what’s new — The upgraded system likely has features such as cloud collaboration, remote login and advanced reporting. Familiarize users with the functions the team has not used before and point out things that have not changed.

Security and compliance — Users need to know the specific data safeguards of the upgraded software. This can also be an opportunity to review current guidelines and best practices. Be sure to update any online training modules or classroom sessions with features of the new system.

Upgrading financial systems is never simple or quick, whether you’re updating an existing system or implementing something entirely new. However, the process is an opportunity to learn, develop, streamline and harness the exciting possibilities of today’s transformative technologies. In other words, the long-term gains can make any short-term pains worthwhile.