A Top Technology Initiative Article.
We had the good fortune of celebrating my Mum’s 100th birthday recently. We asked about the changes she had seen and her key learning over those 100 years of life. She replied that she had learned so many things that it was hard to summarize just one. That’s when I realized what we needed to speak about in this month’s column. We need to be able to learn many things and thoughtfully apply them effectively in various practice areas.
In prior columns, we have written about strategic planning, tactical planning, IT plans, and Artificial Intelligence strategies and tactics. However, most of you are concerned about more straightforward needs. These might include staffing, business development, smoothly operating IT, applications that work consistently to solve problems for your team & your clients, pricing, and fair compensation to partners and staff.
What does your game plan for this fall include? It would be best if you took this time to address the top few issues and develop a plan to complete those by mid-December while accommodating tax planning, Client Accounting Services, and cleaning up any other open projects for the year.
When my colleague Brian Tankersley and I record podcasts, we are always concerned about how technology affects your firm. Browse our podcast discussions of various products and issues in the profession at The Technology Lab.
So, What Solutions Makes Practical Sense Now?
Choosing the best, practical solution is the million-dollar question. You have limited time, money, and people resources. What causes your firm, your staff, and your clients the most pain? Well, that issue certainly should be on your list to solve. What wastes the most time in your firm? Can you fix that now? In consulting engagements this year, the most common issues in firms of all sizes have been
- Hosting provider slowness and poor support
- Price increases from software suppliers
- Simplifying portals
- Document Management performance
- Effective business development
- Process issues
- Optimizing Client Accounting Services (finding tools and processes that work)
On the other hand, discussions have been frequent on
- Artificial Intelligence
- New product upgrades that don’t seem to make a difference and are simply disruptive
- Understanding and training on regulatory changes
- Entering or exiting service offerings
- Pricing effectively
- Changing billing and payment systems to make them easier for everyone
I don’t know about your practice, but salespeople who speak with me frequently don’t understand my practice and seem to have goals to sell me solutions that just won’t fit. I don’t need more Band-Aids for my issues. I need more thoughtful and complete solutions. It seems like companies are building partial solutions, going to market too early, with deficient support, topped off by poor value propositions. At this point, I have the tools I need to run an effective practice. While I will review innovative solutions, an evolutionary change doesn’t have enough ROI. Further, minor changes are disruptive. If we are going to go through the time and expense of change management, I want tools that will bring revolutionary change to my firm without disintermediating my staff.
Our firms need some fundamental tools to operate.
- Reliable computers and networks that connect to SaaS, hosted, or server-based applications
- Feature complete tax, audit, and accounting applications
- Support tools for billing, practice management, document management, workflow, and security
- Productivity applications for correspondence, calculations, communications, and collaboration
- Training to understand all the above
- Policies for governance and compliance
When I consider projects with firms, I recommend that you have a planning and selection process, followed by contracting and thoughtful implementation. Most firms can only accommodate a few projects in any given year. You could construct your own plan using this sample model as an approach.
You can undoubtedly add cost estimates, responsible parties, and people resources needed if you would like. Additionally, these items should be part of your IT budget. You can forecast the expenditures years in advance and refine them as the implementation time gets closer.
So, What Makes Practical Sense as a Fall Game Plan?
First, breathe and think. Go back to your firm’s strategic plan and choose one key area to improve. Be thoughtful about what will have the most significant impact on your firm, your staff, and you personally. Limit your choices of focus to a very few. If you have multiple conflicting priorities, rank order them, assigning a budget of dollars and time. Set aside some of these items to work on at a future time.
Build a timeline for each project you have chosen—block time on your calendar to work on the project regularly. Consider blocking significant hours to focus on the project and engage others in your firm or from the outside to work on the projects. Remember to test, train, and revise before using the system in production. Expect resistance to change, and you’ll have to spend additional time re-training for optimal results. Change management is hard, but once you and your team get used to successfully completing projects, you’ll find that you can tackle more extensive and complex projects. I believe the end goal is to make everything in your firm work better and easier, opening up more of everyone’s time.
Randy Johnston has been an entrepreneur, technologist, and teacher for most of his career. He has helped start and run many businesses, founded Network Management Group, Inc. and is a co-owner of K2 Enterprises. He has written for accounting and technology publications for four decades, and for CPA Practice Advisor since 2000.