In an exclusive interview with Chris Cairns, partner at Alliotts LLP, Chris reveals what it's like to work with T-Tech as their MSP, how they collaborate across the business, their reaction to Covid-19, and what the future of technology looks like at the practice.

Q: Tell us about your practice?

A: Alliotts has been around now for 152 years, with one office in Central London just off Drury Lane, and one in Guildford. The team is made up of 100 professional staff & 13 partners. We are a full-service practice, with a heavy focus on international, overseas in and outbound clients.

Q: What was IT like before T-Tech got involved?

A: The set up wasn’t cutting edge; it did the job, but it wasn’t great. If there had been a pandemic at that point, we would have been in trouble. We would not have been able to fully operate remotely or to deliver on work for clients. We would not have had the resilience to manage the change.

Q: How has IT modernisation and setting up “good foundations” changed life for the practice?

A: Before the pandemic, IT fundamentally changed how we worked. It created a much more modern and seamless working IT environment. In terms of the basic matters such as internet and WIFI speeds, Outlook, the MS Office environment, and software versions we were on and how they worked together. For example, there was a fire underneath the street in our London office (nothing to do with us), which meant it had to be evacuated for four days. But the firm still went on. From an operational environment it continued. With the old IT environment, it wouldn’t have quite worked so seamlessly. It was not just about being modern and up to date, with new and shiny IT. It was about being able to cope with curveballs being thrown at you.

Q: How did the team cope when Covid hit?

A: We were lucky, as we were already set up for remote working. The thing we weren’t set up for was everybody moving to remote working at the same time. So, luckily thanks to T-Tech we had a premonition, and doubled the number of Azure servers we had two weeks before the first lockdown. Then everyone could work remotely at the same time. When it hit, there was momentary panic but then everyone realised it all worked and over the course of two to three months a lot of people realised that they much preferred it.

Q: How does the practice collaborate?

A: Primarily on Teams - pretty much everything is on teams! With clients we also use Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp. But where we can, we use MS Teams.

Q: What does the future use of technology look like for the practice?

A: It doesn’t matter where people are living for work anymore. This gives rise to opportunities in efficiencies from a commercial viewpoint. So, if you have a fully qualified accountant based in another country, who are qualified in the UK – does that matter? There will also be an increasing use of AI - because nobody should pay an accountant to turn the handle, it's a waste of an arm, and client’s money. Accountants should be paid to add the value. There is a worry that there are some things that you can miss out on without face-to-face meetings such as reading body language and building rapport, which is the flip side technology takes away. If you are helping a client sell their business, that is a very emotive, personal thing, and it is hard to do over a video call. Negotiating on the other side of a screen is not as effective. If you want to build a relationship with potential clients, it sometimes is just better done in person. People need to take the best bits from the changes resulting from the pandemic and continue to expand and develop those further. It is not a panacea in itself; they need to balance it.

Q: How long have you been working with T-Tech?

A: 3 years.

Q: What would be your advice to anyone considering working with a Managed Service Provider for their accountancy firm?

A: Unless your job in the firm is IT then you cannot physically do it. It is so complicated, so fast moving, and quick changing that you can’t keep up. You then have no choice but to use a Managed Service Provider. Within that context, if you are considering an MSP, with any business decision, yes cost is a part of it, but you get what you pay for. If you go out and buy the world’s cheapest pen, it won’t be as good if you bought a better pen, it won’t last as long. Ultimately, it might cost you more. An MSP needs to be people you respect, who you get on with, as it is a personal relationship. It needs to be with people who understand your business and your business needs - there is no other firm like yours. If you’re a lawyer, and they serve lawyers, it doesn’t mean they understand you. If you’re an accountant and they serve accountants, it doesn’t mean they understand you. Your business is different and this needs to be factored in by your MSP. Also, do you believe in your MSP? It is a bit like if you were hiring a new Managing Director for your business, what would you want? Loads of CVs would come through the door, but can you look the candidate in the eye and believe in them, are they your kind of person?

Q: What value does analytics play within the practice?

A: We are looking at things around evaluation processes, account reporting packages and how to use IT to make them more user friendly to clients. We use it to be a bit more pictorially in places, as not everyone is an accountant. We also have packages for producing and demonstrating forecasts, as well as business plans. It is a case of looking at different ways of presenting it too - again to make it more user-friendly, which is driven by analytics. We see the value of analytics as very high, but the important part is to interpret them in a way that the client understands and values because they are not accountants themselves.

Q: What are your growth plans for 2021?

A: In terms of financial performance of the firm, the plans are to exceed the market and to continue to do so.

You can read the original article in the Digital Accountancy Magazine


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