Article
Approvals

How to choose an external solution to optimize your financial approval workflow

Your company depends on an efficient financial approval process. But do you ever feel like yours could use some improvement?

Neeraja Viswanathan
5 min read
December 20, 2022

Your company depends on an efficient financial approval process.

But do you ever feel like yours could use some improvement?

Maybe you’re missing deadlines or having to make manual adjustments when something unexpected happens. Or, because your company is going through an organizational change, it’s easier to see the flaws that are resulting in delays, endless revisions, miscommunications and disputes between departments. 

Whatever the reason, it might be time to consider an external solution like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or another kind of external workflow management software. The right approval software and programs will help you map out your financial processes, manage projects, and make sure all tasks and projects are completed on time. 

But with so many variables, how do you know when it’s the right time to make upgrades? How do you ensure you have a good process for choosing the best external solution for your company? 

Here are some tips to help you with both of these challenges.

When is the right time to consider an external solution?

It’s easy to get used to things, even when they aren’t working so well. For example, maybe having no more than one or two ticket errors a week seems normal to you. So you don’t stop to think about how those errors are negatively affecting your resources, or how implementing a simple solution could eliminate them altogether. It’s daunting to make any changes, especially one as significant as overhauling your approval workflow with a new solution. 

Like so many things in life, it all comes down to timing. 

One great opportunity for change is when your company is reorganizing, scaling, merging with or acquiring another company, or facing a significant staff turnover. Since you’ll be making a lot of changes anyway, this is a great time to look at those processes and evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. Having new employees and managers means fresh eyes and candid feedback you might not have heard before. And all that new energy might help you find the right solutions and weather the storm that comes with any new technology. 

But you don’t have to wait for large-scale changes to consider external solutions to the approval workflow. Perhaps you’re receiving customer or vendor feedback about excessive delays. Maybe it’s time for an audit, and you’re suddenly more aware of how much manual labor is involved in getting everything ready. These are good times to look at the metrics of your approval process and the cost of your current system—including how much it costs to fix mistakes or manage adjustments, audit fees, and wasted employee time and labor. 

The last factor is key. And often overlooked.

When your employees complain about the system or become annoyed because financial approvals are taking longer than necessary, don’t ignore it! This is a red flag your approval workflow needs some help, and it’s time to start shopping for an external solution. 

The 80/20 method of shopping for an external solution

When you’re seeking to make extensive changes to your financial approval workflow that have an immediate impact, it’s tempting to make a decision sooner rather than later. 

Instead, consider the 80/20 approach. 

Here’s how it shakes out:

Spend 80% of your time and energy analyzing your current landscape and researching the best solutions to your biggest challenges. Then, once you’ve identified the right custom solution, you spend just 20% of your time implementing it.

So…what’s the advantage of working this way? 

Well, there’s less likelihood of large-scale problems after you’ve already chosen your external solution. Since you’re taking your time really investigating your problem, you’re more likely to find something to address all the needs you have. Plus, if you’re already planning to spend only 20% of your time on implementation, you’ll tailor your solution to what exactly you need, rather than being dazzled by the most complex system out there. 

While you might be tempted by a fully integrated solution with all the bells and whistles, it’s not going to fix all your problems at once. That being said, you should absolutely invest in a solution that will benefit you for a number of years. This is not the time for a quick-fix solution. A good external solution should show a return on investment for at least a couple of years and preferably beyond that. 

Ideally, you want something flexible enough to keep up with your business over the next three years—even if your company doubles in size during that time. And while it’s always important to be forward-looking, don’t forget your priority is making sure your new system takes care of your current issues. 

How external solutions can improve your approvals

Some approval processes are simple enough for a basic workflow: create a form, assign the right approver, and send notifications. But other financial approval requirements can be more complicated. Perhaps they require many steps. Or input at various levels and from various departments. Or maybe the request is simply something unusual and needs a different format than the usual one. Your financial approval process needs to be able to scale up and down depending on the complexity of the request, and an external approval solution can help.

The right external solution offers many benefits, including customizable templates to improve compliance, editing options so requests can be altered, better security options and improved collaboration between departments. It helps expedite reviews, clearly define approvals, streamline the workflow and improve the visibility of the process. Some solutions can integrate with other platforms like Slack, Salesforce or Zoom. Most also include a detailed activity log for each submission that includes the date, time, original authors and the names of anyone who might have made edits. 

But, perhaps most importantly, the right external solution is one that plays well with and integrates effortlessly with your existing technology. 

There’s no advantage to installing an external system that is inflexible with expense reporting or purchase order reporting. If it’s too complicated, you’ll end up spending precious time implementing the software, setting up processes and training your employees. 

For many companies, the ideal solution can be accessed with NetSuite and can be designed specifically for your financial approval process. And an app like ZoneApprovals can help streamline this process in no time.

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