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Make your accounting department more efficient.


In today's world, accounting departments run lean. Asked to do more with less, accountants are being pushed to the max. Since adding staff is usually not an option, here are seven ways to lighten accounting's workload.

* Conduct process walk-throughs. Meet with process owners and gain an understanding of how their work gets done to uncover opportunities for improvement. You don't need to build fancy flowcharts or document every step. Obtain a thorough understanding of the end-to-end process by speaking to all process participants regardless of their department.

Challenge every step, every piece of paper, every input and every output. Chances are you will find inefficient and unnecessary work. (See the process walk-through checklist with the online version of this article on; enter 20103366 in the search box.)

* Use best practices. Implementation of accounting best practices can significantly reduce your department's workload while improving accuracy, cycle time, response time, data quality and employee morale. It can also improve Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

* Take advantage of unused system functionality. If you are using any of the mid-to-large-size accounting software packages, chances are you are not using it to its potential. Often the software is capable of a requested function, but it may require some work. What usually never gets past the discussion phase is a calculation of cost vs. benefit. A five-month project may be worth the effort if it eliminates enough ongoing work.

You don't have to be a systems expert or know how to implement software. You simply need to understand what the vendor included as delivered functionality. That information should be available from vendor-provided documentation.

* Conduct process training. After completing your process walk-throughs, evaluate the need for staff training. Most organizations send staff to professional development classes and provide systems training; however, rarely do organizations provide training on how to properly accomplish day-today activities. To varying degrees, especially at the lower levels, employees don't work at peak efficiency or don't fully take advantage of the systems they use. Significant productivity improvements can be achieved by providing appropriate training.

* Develop system "super users." Functions such as creating queries, writing detailed reports, responding to routine questions or identifying unused system functionality are skills that can be managed by accounting.

Find the individuals in your department who have a talent or affinity for systems work, and take advantage of it. Partner with your IT department and develop a training plan for your super users. In most cases a combination of one or two training classes along with some hand-holding by IT is all they require.

* Establish process metrics. Develop process metrics to measure your department's productivity. Metrics should be easy to understand and available for everyone to see. You can use them to compare activity to prior periods or externally as a benchmark to other organizations. Check your accounting system. Many systems provide hundreds of predefined process metrics. (See sample process metrics with the online version of this article.)

* Reward success. No initiative to improve accounting can be successful without recognizing the efforts of the people involved. Reward significant contributors. While monetary rewards are appreciated, often people are happy to simply be recognized.

--By Tom Sonde, CPA, (tsonde@silverroad solutions.corn) the principal of New Jersey-based SilverRoad Solutions.
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Author:Sonde, Tom
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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