Managing a CPA firm has never been more complicated than it is today. Firms of all sizes are grappling with uncertainty and volatile economic conditions. Client and employee expectations are changing, and technology is rapidly commoditizing and disrupting many traditional firm services. Is there a magic solution that will bring all this into harmony and allow your firm to cruise calmly forward into the future? Unfortunately not. However, firm leaders can position themselves for success by aligning people, processes, and technology.
A shared vision for the future
The first necessity for this alignment is a shared vision of the future, articulated in a clear strategic plan.
Every firm that goes through a strategic planning process will ultimately realize that to be successful, the firm needs a commitment to growth. This doesn’t necessarily mean more people, but it does require the team to be as efficient and effective as possible.
In the best of times, high functioning firms focus on developing talent and enabling them to work effectively from wherever they might be – working remotely, non-traditional hours, or simply keeping up with their workload while traveling. Today, that kind of flexibility and technology isn’t just a “nice to have,” but a requirement for firms that want to remain operational and competitive for top-level talent.
The best firms view technology as a strategic asset rather than an overhead expense. Yet the best technology in the world won’t make much difference if the firm isn’t committed to refining processes to take advantage of the opportunities technology presents. Technology and process go hand-in-hand. New technology makes new processes possible, while new processes can get the best return on investment from your technology budget.
Fortunately, the tools required to align people, process, and technology are available and affordable for firms of all sizes – whether you have one office with just a few partners and a small staff, or a multi-office firm with several hundred staff members and a diverse partner group. In both cases, however, partners must be willing to buy into investing in technology, following firmwide processes, and forgoing personal preferences.
Integrated technology and process
One way to improve results is to rethink traditional ways of doing essential functions. This applies to client services as well as internal functions, such as sales and marketing, scheduling, onboarding, budgeting and billing.
Most firms have a variety of systems for handling these different functions. Far too often, these systems aren’t integrated, limiting the firm’s ability to share critical information at the right time, and the firm missed out on a lot of opportunities as a result.
For example, without a CRM system, firms miss out on the benefit of a full view of all interactions with prospects as they are nurtured toward becoming clients. They might use a traditional “time and billing” application to track time and expenses, accrue WIP, and track AR after invoices are issued. Too often, time and billing, WIP and AR aren’t integrated with the accounting system, so producing the firm’s own financial statements requires one or more journal entries. It also makes it difficult for firm leaders to “drill down” into the information contained in the financial statements without resorting to multiple applications, each with its own database. These firms would benefit greatly from reviewing their processes and technology to identify opportunities for integration of systems, automation and streamlined processes and eliminating redundant data entry and tasks.
Executive decision support
For the firm to run efficiently, decision-makers need timely and accurate information. For many firms, getting information to support a decision means rounds of customized reporting to get the information the partners need, supplemented with spreadsheets where the reporting falls short or is suspect.
Streamlining reporting can have a significant payoff. Instead of going to multiple places to enter or update common information, do it once and let the applications share the data. Instead of drawing information from various sources and compiling it for reporting purposes, let the reporting application draw upon the information it needs. It will be easier to supply the right information presented in a clear and concise form. Best of all, performance metrics are available in real-time, which can be a powerful tool for accountability at all levels of the firm.
Has your firm committed to aligning people, processes and technology? Are you positioned to meet the leadership challenges of the future? If so, congratulations! If not, it’s time to get started!
See inside June 2020
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