Last month, Thomson Reuters announced that the final enhancement release for their Elite Enterprise time accounting system will be in Q2 2016, and that it will then be put in maintenance mode until 2022. This announcement was a big one.

Enterprise is an amazing product that had been around for over 25 years. And, it had a huge install base of mid-size firms and large firms alike. On top of that, an entire ecosystem grew up around it for innovative products and services adding to its value proposition.

If you have been using Elite Enterprise for at least 10-15 years, you can pat yourself on the back and say you got your money’s worth. I mean, how many systems has your firm bought that have lasted that long? Nonetheless, it’s time to say goodbye, and Elite Enterprise users are going to start shopping for new systems. Luckily, they do have some time—but not too much time.

On another note, Thomson Reuters and Aderant went on a shopping spree over the last five years, buying up mid-tier time accounting vendors in the U.S., Europe and Australia. The plan was to roll up the industry and convert these firms to Elite 3E and Aderant Expert. I’m not really sure how well that worked. I do know it ticked off a lot of people when most of the acquired systems got marked for end-of-life.

In any case, a lot of firms will be in the market for a new system. The last time this happened was during the 1990s run up to Y2K. At that time, I was a consultant and was fortunate enough to work with the largest law firms in California to select and implement new systems. I learned a lot of lessons during that period that still apply today.

Lessons Learned

Changing your time accounting system is a massive job, especially if you take advantage of all of the new tools that come with these systems. In the old days when I approached a project like this, I always told my clients that doing it right came down to managing the magic triangle of project management: “Time, Resources and Money.”

    1. Time: Accept that it is going to be a slog in the mud for at least a year, if not longer. It is going to be highly disruptive to the back-office staff.
    2. Resources: Make sure you staff the project team with an outside expert to help you navigate the journey. Also, make sure that you provide your staff with enough time to work on it.
    3. Money: Accept that it is going to cost you more money than you want to spend. Justify it to yourself that you are buying a system to last at least a decade.

Doing It Right

I believe that the best way to transition to a new time and billing system is to break the project into as many small pieces as possible. It is too dangerous to do a “Big Bang” cutover, where everything happens at the same time.

Find pieces of the project you can implement first. Look at what is on the edges of the accounting system. What system modules do timekeepers use versus the back office? Can you push out implementing some of the new modules to a second phase? I metaphorically call this process “slicing the salami.” How many slices can you cut the salami into to make the conversion more manageable?

For example, in timekeeping, the world I know best: We have many clients that implement Smart Time ahead of changing out their accounting system. By doing this they can train all the timekeepers in the firm independent of the back office. That way they fight only one battle at a time. We’ll hook Smart Time to the legacy system and then when the firm is ready to cut—we will pivot our integration to the new system.

The point is: It is better to fight lots of little battles or conversions, than doing it as one “Big Bang.”