• How does the firm describe itself?
• What does the firm show as important?
• How is technology used to support the firm operation?
The firm needs to recognize the endless supply of Internet-based data sources as part of their marketing plan, even when the firm has no responsibility for its creation.
New employees expect that the working tools of their trade will be part of their “welcome to the firm” package. The expectation includes this year’s models of a laptop, laptop bag, laptop mobile accessories and a cell phone/smartphone. If there is an office desk, that desk should include all of the necessary connections to plug in the laptop. This includes two additional monitors for a configuration of triple monitors, an extra keyboard and mouse, and the additional power plug.
As well, the firm can maintain an inventory of pooled equipment to be checked out and used for short-term client engagements. This will include equipment for audit teams, such as scanners and cellular wireless cards. The key is to make sure that staff has access to computing power that is necessary to make their jobs effective.
Computing is part of everyone’s life. Therefore, the firm needs to make sure that there is proper separation between staff’s use of computers for business and for personal use. The firm needs to establish policies to establish that personal software and data cannot be inserted on the business computer. This means no Quicken accounting, personal databases or iTunes music libraries.
To make sure that this is done correctly, the KAF Group requires new staff to spend their first two days on the job in training on the firm’s technology applications, resources, procedures and policies. This is done to make sure that the staff can be effective from the beginning of their employment tenure.
Rick Richardson, long-time accounting and technology prognosticator and raconteur, talks glowingly about the future of social networking among professionals. This includes the blurring of the boundaries among wikis, blogs and communications of all kinds and lengths. It is clear that people will find ways to communicate outside the traditional water cooler conversation locations. Firms can find ways to harness this expansion of contacts by every level of staff in some advantageous way.
Using technology allows for remote access. This means that staff may not always be “in sight” for managers to observe the work being done. This is becoming less an issue as communications can be handled through e-mail, cell phone connections and updating of work engagement files. The key is to create a responsibility level that can translate to increased accountability for work being completed on time.
With technology, everyone — partners, staff, consultants, contractors — can work at home on days to avoid commuting and more. To support this, firm policies for computer usage are essential. Today’s employees know how to type, access the Internet and use basic computing functions. They need to know how to use the computing the way the firm wants everyone to use it.
Support of all resources has to be in place and accessible. For moderate-sized firms with fewer than 100 staff, this can be handled by as few as two people or as many as four people devoted to technical support. Initial creation of the applications and hardware infrastructure may require outside resources for evaluation and implementation assistance. The ongoing support is rarely a hardware issue. Rather, it is the expansion of the software and data usage that requires monitoring.
Firms can support technology with their own server farm or use some hosted server facility. In either event, the reality is that 21st century servers do not require the same baby-sitting that the last century’s equipment required on an hourly basis. More reliable equipment, power backup resources, automatic alarms and better security all add up to 24-hour accessibility.
With remote resources, the paper file room loses significance. This means that a lot of square feet could be used for more staff space, a ping-pong table or not leased at all. Less overhead goes straight to the bottom line.