During the month of November, I attended a webinar by Nexus to discuss nonprofit accounts payable automation deployment. This nine-step deployment strategy was a well-thought-out process that I wanted to pass on to you. Of course, adaptations may be necessary but the outline below may help your nonprofit avoid some financial pitfalls.
Step 1) Get everyone in your nonprofit on the same page
The objective needs to be clearly identified and everyone must agree on the objective.
Step 2) Your nonprofit needs to establish an implementation team
Organizations often pull together the “go-getters,” those who are the problem solvers. However, these may not be the best people to have on the implementation team. Consider the following questions when designating members from your nonprofit to be a part of the implementation team.
- What type of knowledge will be needed?
- Who in our organization has time to work on this?
- Will team member duties need to be shifted?
Make sure one person from each stakeholder group is included on the team. Also, ensure IT and front-line staff are represented. Keep in mind, it is not about the size of the team as much as ensuring the team is made up of the correct people. Your nonprofit will want to make sure you select individuals who can get along with one another. Personality issues can leave an implementation dead in the water or create extra headaches.
Step 3) Develop your nonprofit’s process rules
Process rules should represent the way in which much of the work is handled. There will always be exceptions. However, by charting and documenting the current workflow, you can evaluate the following:
- What are the exceptions?
- Is the current flow effective?
- Are changes in workflow needed?
An important thing to discuss, evaluate, and decide on will be the exceptions. What are your nonprofit’s allowed exceptions and how will they be handled?
Step 4) Determine your nonprofit’s timeline
A timeline for deployment of an AP automation system can be a tricky thing. But, there are various ways to approach this. It is imperative to take into consideration the staff’s original duties. Would it be best to bring in temporary workers? Are there other staff members in your nonprofit that can be utilized to shift the workload?
Another important factor that should be considered is the dependency of groups. Deadlines not only have to factor in employee time restraints but the order of necessary events. Often, this can become a discussion of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? To help your nonprofit avoid this scenario, it may be necessary to overlap or provide specific downtime.
Additional items that should be included in a timeline are training and testing. Also, phased or dedicated start dates. Remember to look for short windows of opportunity instead of longer windows. Utilizing one-hour opportunities can provide information to your nonprofit that is more likely to be retained while allowing the normal work to be completed. Make sure to include some additional training once the system is live. Users will have new and interesting questions once using the system regularly.
Step 5) Can a measured approach help your nonprofit?
It is often desired there be a date where the old way is stopped, and the new way is the only way going forward. Wholesale changes, such as automating AP, can be overwhelming to staff. It may be best to take a measured approach by implementing sections, or groups, in a logical order.
Step 6) Proactively involve IT
One area that is consistently overlooked is the proactive involvement of the Information Technology group. IT, for any nonprofit, is extremely important. Mostly to ensure everyday technology is running effectively but ensuring solutions will be effective for the long-term.
Step 7) Cut your nonprofit’s “low hanging fruit”
An essential item to build the morale of staff will be to ensure realistic goals. One way to ensure realistic goals in your nonprofit is to apply an 80/20 rule. Realistically, it is unlikely all transactions can be immediately accessed in the new AP automation system. Through applying the idea of working from the easiest transactions to the hardest transactions, you can utilize the concept of having 80 percent of the AP run through the new system.
Step 8) Use your nonprofit’s front-line staff
Engaging front-line staff in the process of development and implementation will work towards their “buy-in.” Also, be sure to touch on concepts such as “how does this benefit the front-line staff?” Always keep a positive attitude and avoid an “us vs. them” mentality.
Step 9) User Acceptance Testing
As always, testing is an important aspect of the implementation process. However, one important note about testing is to make sure you are testing with your data. You will also want the normal volume of transactions. More specifically, a good method is to use a “pilot” program. An additional point, be sure to evaluate “what if” scenarios and come up with solutions ahead of time.
We have touched on some of these items in earlier articles, but it’s always great to have a little affirmation. We hope your nonprofit organization will find this strategy to be helpful.
Nonprofit Accounting Consultant