Have you ever taken a minute to look at your practice as a whole and ponder: how mature is this business? Do we introduce technology as a means to an end, or do we have a good strategy in place that steadily drives the firm forward? Is IT keeping up with the pace of change?
IT is often overlooked and isn't given the attention it deserves. Luckily, accountants are beginning to adopt a more forward-thinking approach to help improve processes internally and client interactions externally. For practices to lead and mature with IT, they need to recognise that IT is built up in a number of layers.
Let's take a look.
Phase 1: Do you have a good foundation in place? Do you need to invest more in IT? Do people across the practice value IT and like it? Are your staff and clients frustrated by a lack of investment and focus on IT?
A lot of businesses don’t have time for anything outside of day-to-day operations. Updates to infrastructure get delayed and there is no clear strategy on how best to use IT. Often, there is a lack of any real pressure to advance with technology, so it just doesn’t happen. Systems are disparate and a lot of the time some are better and more useful than others, depending on how well they are governed and how much attention they get. On top of this, the desktop estate is often messy. Some users have laptops, others have desktops, and particularly in the current climate, this doesn’t work anymore.
Before you can avail of the benefits of modernisation you must have a solid base to work off, this means an infrastructure that is capable of scale and can run at the pace of modern technology and applications. It is vital to ensure security and data regulation is managed in a robust fashion so that user experience isn't impacted whilst ensuring security is at the level it needs to be to protect the practice and it's clients data.
For practices looking to mature and drive the business forward with technology, first and foremost they need to:
- Move to the cloud & Office 365 (a cloud first approach)
- Have proficient IT support (IT should be responsive and proactive)
- Ensure every user has a laptop
- System must be kept up to date and migrated if not
Phase 2: Is it easy for your employees to collaborate within teams and across departments?
Collaboration has never been more relevant. Whether communicating across departments or building on informal working relationships, there has been an increase in the need for effective collaboration tools. The accountancy world isn’t what is used to be, where accountants mostly worked on compliance issues, crunching numbers in their individual offices. Teams need to be able to communicate and collaborate on work instantly and efficiently.
As client meetings have changed forever these tools are also needed to be able to effectively and reliably collaborate with clients.
Collaboration doesn’t just involve ‘teamwork’ anymore – it’s so much bigger than that. Working within your team, across departments, or with your client, requires a complete collaborative environment:
- Full adoption of Teams for collaboration internally and externally
- Instant document management and sharing in the Cloud
- Integrated telephony
- Meeting room integration (same experience for someone in the office vs home)
- High quality meetings with sharing and consistent experience for all
Phase 3: Do your systems talk to each other? Are they well integrated and easy to use together?
Having spoken to many accountants about their challenges and why they are reluctant to change, every single one says the same thing: manual processes and outdated systems are blocking change. Unfortunately, so many processes are plagued by legacy software and inefficiencies which is costing accountants a lot of money. More firms are realising that technology can fix this.
Best of breed tools allow for:
- System integration, connecting disparate software systems. E.g. the personal tax process fully integrated within CCH/Digita or whatever your compliance software.
- Application optimisation
- Process improvement and automation
Phase 4: Do you have instant access to live dashboards of analytics across the practice, departments and clients?
Having a single and centralised view of practice-wide activities, from client take-on/KYC, to time, expenses, and financials is just a dream for many accountants. Many firms that are looking to reduce WIP across chargeable clients, or lower the cost of service lines, are struggling to make these changes because seeing these numbers together is too elusive. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Having analytics that integrate and support your core practice management applications:
- Reduces time spent on managing the numbers from different applications
- Staff can spend time on analysing data not creating
- Helps for monthly board meetings and daily management to look at a multi-dimensional view of all activities across the practice in real time
- Makes an impact when each of the accountant’s customers have their own dashboard, because then the accountant becomes really important to the business.
Phase 5: Are you aware of automation opportunities that can add value to your practice?
Many firms haven’t advanced with automation in any areas of the business. Processes are often old-fashioned and a lot of decision makers see the cost but not the value.
But client expectations are more demanding. They want easy interactions with their accountants, with improved accessibility. Accountants are expected to evolve and ultimately ‘future proof’.
Intelligent Automation and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is paving the way. The digital front door attributes:
- Embedded automation platform for the standard applications
- An easy and dynamic client portal
- Significant reduction in manual data entry