There’s no doubt that information technology impacts every aspect of today’s accounting firms and most firms do a pretty good job of identifying opportunities where new technologies can improve their practice. These items eventually find their way into the firm’s strategic plans, but unfortunately very few firms do an exceptional job of implementing and following through on these new technologies.
In many cases this failure is due to a lack of understanding or vision of what a specific technology can do for the various members of the firm. Successful adoption of information technology can be greatly bolstered by effective communications and understanding that the different constituencies within a firm have different needs and expectations when discussing and adopting technology. The three major groups that the IT team needs to craft their message towards are: management, staff, and technical personnel. Below we identify key communication considerations when proposing the adoption of information technology to each group:
Management: Most accounting firm owners grew up in an era where knowledge of business and tax laws were the primary reason for success and technology was something that was very expensive that the staff used to get work done. It’s often said that accounting firm partners are all for technology as long as they don’t have to change anything that they are doing.
To communicate with management, it is important to point out that all of the firm’s future strategic growth and retention plans rely significantly on information technology, and by adopting the right tools, the firm will develop a competitive advantage.
When communicating with owners it is important to minimize their risk of making a decision to select a specific technology. Owners want to see that they are not adopting unproven, “bleeding edge” technologies. By sharing industry benchmarks on adoption and well interviewed references from peer firms, the IT team will find that owners are much more open to considering a solution, particularly if there are quotes from other owners about the time savings, improved productivity, and an obvious return on the technology investment (ROI) as most partners are not adverse to investments, when they are presented profitably.
Communicating with owners one on one or as a partner group to explain how a technology works, what the process changes would be, and who would be impacted is also very important for the owners, so they can ask questions freely from a management perspective without having to do so in front of staff (which may create embarrassment).
As financial justification is very important to owners, having a well-managed budget that monitors the IT investment is critical. Best practices point to having all ongoing expenses listed out at least two years into the future, so the owners understand the “baseline” of recurring costs if the firm maintains the status quo.
This portion is easy for the IT Team to get approval on, as it has already been approved and the costs are usually for ongoing maintenance and replacement. The IT Team can then break out separate line items for new projects so that each individual item can be discussed and approved by management based on its own merits.
Professional Staff: When proposing a new technology to staff, it is important to identify a champion that is actively working in the area that will be impacted by that technology so that they can be involved with product evaluation and selection, as well as the pilot program to verify the tool works as it is supposed to. Designating your most effective tax or audit professional as the champion will help get the rest of the staff to buy-in, particularly if their pilot program results in obvious, tangible improvements that the champion can articulate to team members.