Column: Technology in Practice
From the November 2011 Issue
We’ve all seen the statistics that point to the incredible brain drain that will occur in the accounting profession over the next decade, and most firms have experienced the loss of a key person that left the firm, taking with them key knowledge or experience that the firm wishes they would have captured. Without a systematic process to document this knowledge, the brain drain will continue. So firms must make a conscientious effort to capture best practices to protect the firm for the future. This knowledge capture needs to go beyond the standard manual provided by the accounting application vendors to include all of the firm’s processes and custom-developed procedures for each of the production workflows. It should also be in a format that can be used not only for training, but live guidance when personnel are working in the office or in the field.
Document Workflow & Opportunities
Since the extension deadlines are passed, now is the perfect time to debrief the production processes of the previous busy season and identify bottlenecks and opportunities for new applications or workflow processes. Firms should chart out the steps it takes to process work. For example, they should take a look within the tax practice, beginning with the acceptance of a client, creation of their organizer, how their information is received and processed, all the way through delivery of the final return and invoice. The firm should then evaluate the specific bottlenecks and identify today’s solutions by having key production personnel network with peer accountants, view webinars and attend training from their tax, audit and accounting application providers such as user conferences where best practices are touted and classes address specific applications and workflows.
Identify Expertise & Existing Knowledge
Each firm has personnel that everyone goes to with questions on applications, and these individuals are often measurably more efficient than peers because they just have the system figured out. These are your experts, and they should be the ones called upon to explore best practices, attend training and document their knowledge in a format so it can be easily shared. Usually, these experts are also the most likely to be aware of the resources and documentation the firm already has captured, which can be in the format of physical manuals, digital forms stored on the intranet, or documented processes saved somewhere as a Word file. These resources should all be accumulated and “flow charted” to help document the firm’s workflow so the firm has a good starting point for understanding visually what they are doing today.
ABC Prioritization for Success
Once the firm experts have documented each workflow, it is important to take an independent look at each individual step and rate the firm on how well they are doing. An “A” step is one that is documented, everyone understands that step, and firmwide training has been provided so that it is consistently performed well. A “B” step is one that some personnel have figured out, but the process is not documented or personnel throughout the firm have not been trained on that process. Finally, the “C” steps are those that everyone in the firm agrees are inefficient and new applications or processes must be explored to see if there is a viable solution for the firm to adopt.