The pace of change in the accounting profession can best be described as breakneck— especially in the realm of technology. It seems like newer, more advanced applications are released constantly—leaving many firm owners feeling overwhelmed. This can quickly lead to a feeling of being stuck—not knowing what solutions to choose, and in what combination, to ensure peak-efficiency operations.
Liz Scott, QuickBooks Accountant, trainer, and writer at Accounting Lifeline understands this frustration and shares a solution: app stacking. This is the practice of using multiple apps together to create more efficient workflows.
Sounds easy enough, but where do you start?
Answer: You start right here with sound, expert guidance on what app stacking means, its value, and how to implement the right apps to meet your goals. Scott also provides real-world app stacks examples from her own firm.
Now, let’s get started …
Understanding app stacking
The role of apps has changed dramatically over the last several years. It’s no longer just about connecting core tax and accounting solutions to spit out monthly financial statements. To meet myriad needs and requirements across your firm, apps must be integrated into the larger technology ecosystem. Scott lists common requirements:
Department-specific needs (e.g., apps to support unique HR needs)
Vertical-specific needs (e.g., apps to support workflow for
App stacking is the key to meeting these needs. But what is it exactly? According to Scott, the simple definition of app stacking is “using multiple apps together to achieve a specific goal or outcome.”
Scott says it’s also important to understand that you can have several app stacks at work across a firm to achieve goals. Individual departments may support their own unique app stack to ensure a streamlined, automated workflow. A few examples include:
The onboarding team’s app stack includes all needed scheduling and communication tools such as Outlook or Gmail, Zoom, Calendly, and Slack.
Elevate communication tasks with the support of a powerful app stack.
An advisory services team focused on construction vertical clients uses QuickBooks Online for accounting, Gusto for payroll, and Knowify for project management.
The sales team uses PandaDoc to create sales proposals, DocuSign for signature, and Salesforce for funnel workflow and prospect ranking.
Once you start breaking out departments, groups, and individual needs, you can quickly see how one firm can support several app stacks.
Automating your workflow
Automation is a must-have in terms of boosting firm efficiency. When apps are integrated, data flows seamlessly between systems to elevate productivity and support access to real-time data. So, as firms start to think about app stacking, it’s important to understand all areas of the firm.
Scott says the best way to get started with app stacking is to “ … think about the group or category you’re trying to solve for and then start looking at needed applications.”
She advises to first determine if it’s an internal firm process need or an external client workflow need. For clarity, consider the categories that fall under each:
Internal app categories can include client communications, team communications, proposal/CRM, project management, file storage, password storage, security, and workspace.
External app categories can include accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, industry-specific apps (to support unique vertical clients), reporting,
App stacking: Real-world example
Scott breaks down the client onboarding process in her own firm to show you how app stacking can solve the issue of ineffective and inefficient manual work.
“I hear from firms all the time that client onboarding is a big issue … fraught with manual steps,” says Scott.
Her firm’s client onboarding app stack is designed to automate the process—triggering events as other events (or tasks) are completed. The stack includes four core apps: Monday.com for project management, PandaDoc for proposals, Zapier to create connections between apps, and Slack for internal team communications.
These core applications handle all aspects of the onboarding process, including:
Gathering client information
Creating a proposal
Creating a workflow for client needs
Communicating new client onboarding to the team
Assigning team members
Storing the client proposal
Client onboarding workflow: Events are automatically triggered as tasks progress.
“When you take advantage of automation, it can fuel significant efficiency gains,” says Scott. “Make sure you’re setting up your app stack so that once a task is complete, it automatically triggers the next one.”
Implementing app stacks
Before you implement an app stack, proper planning is required. This helps you identify the right apps to meet your needs and workflow goals. Scott provides a few tips to ensure you implement apps that elevate your firm’s workflow.
Identify your existing apps: Inventory apps already in use for a specific workflow so you can pinpoint holes that need to be filled and build out a plan for adding new apps.
Research apps using reliable sources: Scott does most of her app research in Intuit’s App Store, where all apps are expertly vetted and approved.
Scott adds: “Sometimes this isn’t enough, so in addition, I’ll also look for Google reviews and reach out to peers in my social groups … like on Facebook.”
Make good use of time at conferences: Book demos with application vendors while you’re at various trade events—and come armed with a list of questions. Conferences also offer a good opportunity to network with peers and ask for insight on how they set up their app stacks.
Apply all input to help choose the right apps: You must start with the end in mind. This requires you to evaluate each workflow and identify what you need apps to do to improve and automate those workflows.
“First, I’m going back to the workflow and determining what I need different apps to do. Once I know this, then I can plug in a possible solution. You don’t want to start with a solution and then try to force fit it into your environment,” Scott explains.
Get buy-in from the team: Keep your team in the loop to help get buy-in across departments and roles. Once you’ve researched apps, go back to your staff and discuss the benefits, needed changes, and offer training.
Create a timeline: This offers a visual for app implementation and a roadmap to track progress. It also keeps you accountable for each task—from initial needs identification to implementation and training.
Developing a timeline keeps you on track and accountable as you build out
your app stacks.
App maintenance: This requires ongoing attention to app stacks in place. You’ll need to ensure connectivity, app updates, implementation of workflow edits, team member changes, and ongoing training.
App stack where you can
The goal is to automate every workflow in your firm as much as possible—bolstering efficiency and ridding your firm of manual, time-draining tasks. Scott suggests getting to at least 80% workflow automation within each defined workstream. This includes both internal (team-facing) and external (client-facing) processes.
Creating app stacks to improve efficiency across your firm is a reality. Whether it’s your client onboarding, internal team communications, or external client workflow—there’s an app (or more) that can help automate and reduce friction (AKA: manual tasks). Start by identifying a workflow you want to improve, research apps, and then implement with confidence.
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About Liz Scott
QuickBooks Accountant, Trainer, and Writer at Accounting Lifeline
LizScottQBO | @LizScottQBO
Liz is an Advanced Certified ProAdvisor and a member of the exclusive Intuit Trainer/Writer Network. Along with running 2 accounting firms, she is the owner of Liz Scott Consulting LLC, where she takes up-and-coming apps to new heights. Liz is the co-host of the QB ‘Appy Hour with Liz and Heather, a webinar series devoted to building awareness in the accounting community about the latest technology trends and best practices in a fun, relaxed environment. Liz was also named as the Insightful Accountant Top Educator/ Trainer/ Writer ProAdvisor.
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