The advantage of using product champions to communicate IT initiatives is that they can differentiate the firm’s current processes from those proposed by the technology, as well as identify training needs and processes that need to be documented. Sending product champions to vendor User’s Conferences and exposing them to industry information such as the AICPA Top
Technology Initiatives or AAA Paperless Benchmark Surveys gives them more information and resources to bolster their recommendations and promote successful adoption. Being part of a peer accounting firm association will also allow the firm to network with peer firms that have already adopted a technology and may have tips or other documented resources to reduce the time the firm needs to adopt a specific process or too.
Best practices also point to firms allocating hours to product champions for research, training, and documentation of specific firm processes in a written format, and that the champions are given chargeable credit for working on firm initiatives. It is important that this work be seen as being just as valuable as client work, otherwise it will always have a lower priority and never be completed. Some firms allocate at least four hours per week to the champions so that they regularly utilize 10% of their time focused on improving firm production.
Technical Personnel: While firms traditionally have their own internal IT personnel, the trend in recent years has been to outsource all “one shot” implementations such as Security, WTS/Citrix, Firewalls, etc. to a subject expert which is usually a local network integrator or application specialist. As more applications and even entire firms, transition to cloud based applications, they are transitioning the IT responsibility to external personnel that are not the direct employees of the firm.
Since these personnel often work unusual hours or from offsite locations, it is critical to clearly define expectations in writing and provide a prioritization of issues that is reasonable balance between keeping firm personnel working and adopting new technologies. Often times, external IT personnel don’t understand the tax deadlines or the business cost to a specific group when an application does not function, so having the IT team reprioritize items in writing and explain why certain items have a priority will help the external IT team work on those projects that are most important at any given time.
Since IT personnel tend to speak more “Technise” and management personnel tend to speak more “ROI,” best practices point to the IT team developing an IT “flash report” which lists all the key IT performance indicators on a single sheet and the changes from the previous period so that the firm can identify trends and talk to IT on a pre-determined basis. This also provides assurance to management that all key IT maintenance items are also being looked at regularly since they may not always be sure of what IT personnel do all day in their “little back rooms.”
By understanding what the needs of each audience is, and communicating in that group’s language, the IT team can move towards “exceptional” implementations on a firmwide scale and have a better chance of adopting their firm’s strategic technology initiatives.
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP is Director of Consulting for Xcentric, LLC. and works exclusively with accounting firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies. Roman recently updated his “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization,” which is available at Amazon.com.