To Integrate or Not …

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Certum Accountants Australia has always prided itself on being an innovative and proactive firm, always looking to improve efficiencies by utilizing new technologies and advances. How can we encourage our clients to be innovative if we are not innovative ourselves?

It should, therefore, come as no surprise when we learned that there was now an integration between Xero and CCH Ifirm; which quite conceivably could save us a considerable amount of duplication and hence administrative time, and present ourselves as an Accounting Firm of The Future.

We should note that the various programs we use perform different functions, and there did not appear to be a cost-effective solution that provided a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

At one point, there were five databases that needed to be maintained each time a client record was updated including:-

  • CCH Ifirm (practice management)
  • Xero (accounting)
  •  Xero Tax (tax preparation)
  • Checkpoint (e-newsletters and promotions)
  • Elevate (Industry specific e-marketing for accountants)

In addition, we were using other tools such as Dropbox and excel spreadsheets which needed to be created each time a new client was added. Sometimes the lack of even the smallest feature necessitates the use of an alternative program. CCH Ifirm, for example, can only produce one envelope at a time, and our work around was to export the data to a spreadsheet and perform a mail merge from there.

All of this came at a cost; both in terms of administrative salaries and the cost of not having up to date data available at the push of a button.

You can imagine our excitement when we found out about the integration between Xero & CCH Ifirm.

In implementing the integration, the main issues have been:

-The various programs have been implemented at different times ie. We have used CCH Ifirm for more than 5 years, Xero Accounting for 2 years and Xero Tax since July 1 2018. We have a database of over 2000 clients and prospects to manage.  Because of this, there are various key fields which are either not consistent between the applications or have not been entered at all.

Fields such as :

  • Client Code
  • Tax File Number
  • ABN
  • Client Type
  • Tax Agent

Must be populated and entered in a format consistent in each program to firstly avoid duplication and allow integration to work properly. Databases must be properly synchronized so as to not lose data, It was not simply a case of turning the integrate button on. If any of the above fields are presented even slightly different, a new record could be created.

-Liaison with the ATO was deemed necessary in relation to changing client codes. Whilst these are reported to the ATO as part of the tax return, it is used for information purposes only. The linkage with the ATO is always by Tax File Number or ABN, Client Name and Date of Birth, and changing client codes does not impact ATO processing in any way.

– CCH initially quoted us $2k to setup the integration which is more than double the annual subscription for the use of IFirm. You really need a strong business case to support this additional cost, as we would not be able to measure the efficiency gains until some time later. In the end we were able to negotiate a much lesser price by engaging our own staff in the process, under the instruction of CCH. We were fortunate it was a quieter time of year and we had resources available to achieve this.

– It was Xero who advised that integration was possible. When we contacted CCH to obtain further details, they initially denied they could integrate! It was only through the intervention of our Xero client manager that this issue was resolved, and we are now dealing with a knowledgeable CCH representative who knows the product well.

– We needed to determine which system provides the absolute highest level of accuracy of client information, and ensure that critical data is not overwritten in the process.

– The ongoing success of this is dependent on our internal systems and processes. One integration is completed, our staff will enter information into CCH Ifirm and this database will be regarded as the ‘Holy Grail’.

-Whilst Xero and CCH have been very supportive in this process, it has taken much longer than anticipated to implement.

– Backup, Backup, Backup !!! Before you begin the process! It is absolutely essential that backups of client details are made prior to converting data and turning the integration on.

Our conclusion.

If you require integration, it would be much easier to start from scratch rather than manipulate the mass of data we have in our systems.

Do not integrate just for the sake of having a fully integrated approach. Consider the full costs including productivity gains/losses against the perceived future gains before committing.

When considering integration, it may be prudent to utilize the same vendor . We suspect it would have been easier to integrate CCH Ifirm with CCH Tax rather than Xero. It is likely that these products have been designed from the ground up to allow integration or add-ons. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when we implemented Xero Tax, CCH Tax was not available, and there were attractive incentives to follow the Xero path.

Alternatively, we could have implemented Workflow Max as our practice management software but this did not have the full functionality that CCH Ifirm had.

Remember that changing software can be very disruptive. It was hard enough to implement Xero Tax let alone Workflow Max at the same time.

Note that we are not suggesting that integration as an overall concept is a bad thing; just that in this instance it has been a rather challenging experience.

We have not implemented Xero’s dropbox facility as this is too ‘clunky’ but look forward to a system that allows us to create our own dropbox structure each time a client is entered.

The good news is that once the process is complete, we will have a fully integrated system that requires a single point of data entry, and is 100% cloud-based and can be accessed from anywhere at any time.

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