Elliott Davis LLC
“IRIS Star Practice Management understands our industry and our business needs better than any organization with whom I have ever worked.”
Bob Jamison, Chief Data & Privacy Officer
Elliott Davis LLC is a leading business solutions provider offering a full spectrum of services in the areas of tax, comprehensive assurance, and consulting services to diverse businesses, organizations and individuals.
The firm, which has been delivering innovative solutions since its founding in 1920, leverages a network of nearly 800 forward-thinking professionals in major domestic markets and alliance resources across the globe.
After a thorough vendor selection process, Elliott Davis implemented Star in 2018 to replace its previous practice management system.
Before moving to IRIS Star Practice Management, the practice management system Elliott Davis used was a legacy product that had not been updated in years and could not keep pace with the firm’s growth. Bob Jamison, Chief Data & Privacy Officer, explains, “Before Star, the time and billing system we had was dated. It only did time entry and had a closed and dated architecture.
“As we grew larger, we started having performance issues and often ran into limitations in the size of the database or system features. We wanted more; we wanted a feature-rich platform that had the flexibility to meet our current needs and could be used as a platform to adapt to meet the future needs of our firm. We were looking for an open architecture, integration options and features such as scheduling, expense management, and a product that was continually being enhanced.”
This led Elliott Davis to start exploring other practice management options to better suit its needs. “After hearing from business units and members of the firm, we knew we needed to make a change” explains Bob. “I went to firm leadership and suggested we spend the next 1-2 years studying other solutions and moving to a new system.”
In addition to Moore Global, the firm is a member of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA), where many other Top 50 CPA firms are members. Elliott Davis paid close attention to what these firms in ITA were using for their practice management software.
“We debated going with a platform outside of our industry, but we wanted a partner who would understand our business,” explains Bob. With several other ITA firms using Star, plus its presence in the large firm space, Bob knew Star was an early contender.
In a nearly two-year process, Elliott Davis interviewed and had multiple demos with Star and a few other practice management vendors. According to Bob, “It was a lengthy process; we attempted to explore our options in detail and fully understand the best strategic choice for our firm.
“We had multiple demos with each vendor. We broke down every module and brought in teams from around the firm to evaluate features and provide feedback. Ultimately, we wanted a vendor who understood our industry, had a proven track record and could develop a product to meet our needs.”
Throughout the process, Bob was determined to set clear expectations. “Through my involvement with the firm’s selection committee, I worked to ensure the team understood how large this change would be – possibly the most complex change in the past 20 years. We discussed how difficult the transition would be and didn’t want to underestimate the challenges ahead. But I reassured them that after one or two years, people move on and it becomes the new normal.”
Ultimately, many factors led to IRIS Star Practice Management being chosen, including:
Level of training and support
Understanding of the accounting industry
Ability to articulate a proposed budget, target and schedule
The in-depth project plan for the implementation
Depth of knowledge of the product and its development
Knowledge of our industry
The effort to understand Elliott Davis
“When IRIS Star Practice Management provided their project plan and statement of work, they were many pages in length and extremely detailed,” explains Bob. “This gave us a level of comfort on how we would navigate from step A to step Z. There was no other vendor that came close in comparison to the level of detail provided by Star.”
Bob was also impressed with Star’s ability to understand the accounting industry.
“Everyone at IRIS Star Practice Management had an incredible amount of technical depth, experience, and an understanding of the accounting industry. As we worked through system demonstrations, we had quite a few questions. Star would discuss choices and the impact of those choices. These discussions helped us to understand what the future of Star could look like in our environment. They clearly wanted Star to be a success for Elliott Davis. They understood our firm and the accounting industry better than any other vendor I’ve seen.”
When Elliott Davis moved to IRIS Star Practice Management there were several things they needed to remap. First, in their prior system, every engagement had its own client, unlike Star, where all engagements roll up into one.
“Star’s data structure is well laid out, enabling movement of data, integration processes and workflows to be created,” explains Bob. “It was complicated to map and move our legacy data into Star. Star did a great job at helping guide the process alongside our shareholders and managers as they made decisions to align all of the engagements.”
Next, the firm needed to export all its prior invoices, WIP and reports from the old system into their data warehouse. After learning that their invoices were stored in a proprietary format and were unable to export without significant cost to the firm, Bob looked to Star for help.
“After using automation tools to export roughly 1 million invoices, we worked with Star’s development team to put the invoices in the right place with the right name, so no one would have to go back and touch them again. It worked quite well.”
Another big transition during the implementation phase was the integration with Star and Microsoft Dynamics NAV (now Dynamics 365), the firm’s financial system.
As Bob describes, “We were on an older version of NAV at the time. Star recommended we didn’t bring anything over to the new system and that we should start fresh and build it efficiently.
“Looking back, starting fresh was absolutely the right decision. Star’s support of Dynamics 365 has
been stellar and we have seamless integrations between Star and Dynamics 365.”
During the implementation process, Elliott Davis went through three test conversions. “We learned a lot during each one,” describes Bob. “We met our deadlines on go-live, but it took additional time post-go-live to make final adjustments to get the platform exactly where we wanted.”
Ultimately, Bob admits the first year was tough as the firm adjusted to a 20-year jump in practice management technology and new working methods, but as Bob explains, “Star never gave up, and we never gave up. To me, Star had the best implementation process I have worked with.”
Elliott Davis has experienced a variety of improvements since switching to IRIS Star Practice Management.
According to Bob:
“Star has met every demand that we wanted. As an enabler to run the business, it has been fantastic. Our employees are much happier with Star than with our previous system. We have a sophisticated, technically-current platform that can do integrations, financials, billing, expenses, time entry and scheduling, with mobile options.”
Bob states that one of the most impactful changes the firm has seen is the integration with Dynamics 365. “We’ve saved hundreds of hours of labor through this integration – with the increase in quality and enhanced reporting, we have greatly reduced month-end close.”
Additionally, the firm has more billing features than ever before. “With IRIS Star Practice Management, we can do cross-client billing, e-billing and recurring e-billing, neither of which were offered before,” explains Bob. “With Star, we can do cross-client billing which was very important. We also do e-billing and recurring e-billing, neither of which were offered before. We are moving to e-statements now. All of these contribute to significant labor savings and demonstrate the capabilities of the Star platform.”
Star’s scheduling dashboard is more relevant than the firm’s previous system’s dashboard. “The scheduling dashboard is stronger than our previous system’s dashboard in terms of relevance to the firm. The dashboard helps drive decisions and revenue projections,” says Bob. “In our previous system, we were limited in reports and relied on third-party visualization tools to fill the gaps. The IRIS Star Practice Management dashboard helps our teams understand the gaps from staff and scheduling and is a more accurate scheduling and projection tool.
The firm has also added two new roles, one dedicated to writing reports and the other to managing Star’s data.
“We have an incredible amount of flexibility in moving data around, creating workflows and making system changes,” explains Bob. “This flexibility saves thousands of hours in labor, improves quality and takes away the reparative tasks no one wanted to do.”
Finally, Bob explains the impact of reporting at the firm.
“Reporting is critical to our firm. We have built a library of 100 core reports in Star and have started using Microsoft Power BI for the more complex exploration of Star data.
“The Star data structure is well organized, easy to understand, but complex in its depth of fields and relationships. We can leverage STAR reports and access STAR data directly, enabling us to explore and find value in Star data. Star does the heavy lifting in their core reports, which enables us to use Power BI for further analysis. The Star team has created many reports for us, some quite complex, and has never failed to meet our expectations.
“The reporting Star provides is helping us make better decisions.
“Because we have restructured our client/ engagement relationship, we can now see the whole value of a client. In the former system, each department or engagement had a client, making it hard to see the entire relationship. Using Star, we see a more complete picture of the client relationship.”
Not only are the features of the Star Practice Management system helping Elliott Davis run their practice better, but Star’s User Group has provided great value to the firm. “In my opinion, Star’s User Group is one of the more influential groups in the industry. They have a willingness to share information about their organization, product, and team. At these meetings, Star also provides insight into future enhancements and how changes will affect their customers. Star brings key team members to the meetings, enabling one-on-one conversations and creating personal connections, these are more than putting a name to a face, it is about building relationships and trust.”
In the User Group, Bob has found a place to provide feedback to Star and have a voice. “When we as customers have comments and raise pain points, Star listens, – they want this feedback – they follow through with developing new features and using our feedback to drive product development.
“Star delivers. Star’s User Group is like no other user group. It comes down to building relationships and trust and having our voice heard because participants’ voices really matter.”
Ultimately, Bob is quite satisfied with the relationship Elliott Davis has with Star as well as their expertise.
“Star understands our industry and our business needs better than any organization with whom I have ever worked. They don’t fail to deliver. They spend the time to understand what your drivers are, and they try to help you make informed decisions around their products.”
Case Study first published February 2021.