How to choose technology for your firm
Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides
8 min read
Technology lies at the heart of most modern accounting firms and supports tax preparation, accounting and auditing. There are countless products and services on the market to help your firm improve workflow and productivity. How do you choose technology that’s right for your firm?
Choose technology based on your firm’s unique circumstances
Any professional will tell you that one size doesn’t fit all. How you use technology to manage your clients and provide excellent service is based on a number of factors including:
- the size of your firm
- the size and expectations of your clients
- the technical setup of your clients
- your clients’ sector and niche requirements
- your firm’s areas of expertise
- the tax and reporting obligations of your clients.
You may have to lose a little to gain a lot
When you introduce change to an organization there’s always some disruption. And there are usually times of frustration as people get used to new ways of doing things.
For example, changing software may cause disruption to your firm’s workflow and productivity. Your clients may even experience some interruption to their normal service. Don’t let this put you off. Make sure you manage expectations by communicating the benefits that the change is going to bring.
New technology requires new thinking and fresh approaches
You may need to adjust your firm’s workflows and processes or staffing to maximize the potential from the new technology.
Let’s say you introduce a paperless document management system. This could completely change the way your staff interact with client files. And while this may be disruptive at first, your staff will soon be able to:
- access files anytime, anywhere
- electronically add, edit, comment or delete them
- instantly share documents with coworkers or clients
- set limits about who has access to what.
Overall, this will boost productivity and improve client service. But it may take time to settle in.
Change is inevitable and necessary. The best way to gain the most from technology changes in your firm is to follow a few simple steps.
1. Stay up-to-date with key trends
You don’t need to be at the bleeding edge of change. After all, adopting every new technology would waste a lot of time and money. Instead, see what other accounting firms are doing – particularly those similar to yours.
Another way to watch trends is by using online resources like the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
2. Make sure you think strategically
When you hear about technology, platforms or practices that might be right for your firm, take a step back. New accounting products and services are released all over the world every day. You need to think about what’s right for your firm. Is the new technology something that can have a real impact on your firm and clients? It’s easy to be swept up in the buzz and hype.
Identify the measurable productivity goals for your firm. Think about how the new technology can help you achieve these goals in the near and the long-term. Remember that technology decisions are an investment in your firm’s future growth and stability.
Technology underpins everything accounting firms do today, so it makes sense to choose wisely.
3. Accurately understand your current technology
Introducing new technology can be tricky because it needs to work smoothly and seamlessly with your existing software. You may have heard IT people talking about integration. This just means different systems that connect and share information easily. For instance, you may need your new time management software to interact with your tax preparation system.
4. Be honest about the ways your firm needs to improve
Make sure your technology choices are driven by the needs of your firm – not the other way round. Ask yourself what business processes are working and which ones need to be changed.
The best time to figure this out is during or after your busy periods. Take the time to sit down with your staff and figure out where the productivity bottlenecks are. Once you understand what you need to fix, it’s easier to find the right solution.
5. Choose technology that simplifies your existing business processes
Think about your existing business processes:
- What are the business problems facing your firm?
- Where and how could you reduce the problems?
- What are the tasks that cause the problems?
- What technology performs or assists with these tasks?
- How will the new technology make your life easier?
Although you may save only seconds or minutes each time on day-to-day functions, that can quickly add up. For example, if you already use an internal chat system, imagine how cumbersome it would be if all that communication could still only be done by email. The efficiency gains make the change worthwhile.
6. If you’re not sure, ask a professional
You may be an expert when it comes to business accounting, management and taxes, but you’re probably not an IT professional. If the systems you are considering require a large investment, it may be worth hiring a consultant to help you choose.
An independent consultant who isn’t from a hardware or software company may be best. They can objectively view your entire business and help you choose the best solution.
7. You must be prepared to invest in training
To get the most from any new technology your staff will need training. And not just on how the technology works on day one. Your staff need to keep up-to-date with new versions, releases and features. Sometimes the training can be self-directed and online, but people still need to be given the time to learn.
8. Think about the impact on your clients
Whether your technology focus is on client service or on internal productivity, think about the effect on your clients. The impacts may only be short-term – for example during the transition to a new system. Or they may affect real client work – for example client reports and documents may change. Let them know what to expect and why the change has taken place. Importantly, let them know how the changes will benefit them. Walk them through it.
Moving your accounting practice to the cloud may completely change the way clients interact with your firm. Have you thought about everything from their perspective? Even new email or tax software can change how you present and communicate client information.
9. Consider your future needs and costs
Many of today’s technologies are cloud-based and make it easier to scale, for example if you need to add more users or clients as your business grows. However, some changes can affect the tier (or package pricing level) of the technology your firm selects. Technology pricing can also be affected by:
- the number of users
- integration options (what other software the new system will connect with)
- social media options
- mobile connectivity (is the technology accessible on mobile?)
- data hosting
- features and functions of the software or hardware.
Always keep your potential needs and potential cost increases in mind when assessing new technologies.
10. Introduce your new technology in phases
Focus on one technology improvement at a time. Introducing a new system or process can be complex. You need your staff to buy into the process. If the first few steps are simple, people are more likely to embrace the change. Better still, the early adopters will champion the new system and encourage other staff to make the change. If new technology gets a bad reputation, it can be hard to change the initial perception.
11. Don’t forget to continually assess your needs
You firm should already be measuring productivity and profitability. You need to be able compare the improvements that occur before and after new systems are introduced. Let’s say that you introduce a mobile sales platform that lets your staff enter client records on the go. How does this affect their productivity? Can they do more client visits in a month?
You need to measure the changes to understand the value of your investment. Consider creating a technology group in your firm to continually assess technology that comes onto the market. This group should understand the evolving needs of your firm. They can help match new technology and innovations to your needs.
Technology isn’t part of your business – it is your business
Gone are the days when technology could be seen as a silo in your firm, like HR or marketing once were. Technology underpins everything modern accounting firms do today, so it makes sense to choose wisely. Don’t invest in something just because it’s the hot new trend. It has be something that will improve the way you work: faster, smarter and more accurate, enabling closer relationships and better business.
And if you the think rate of change is fast now, be prepared for much more. The amount of data you collect about your business, your staff, your clients and their sectors will grow dramatically. Choose technology that makes it easy to turn this data into insights and real value. Your productivity and profitability will increase, and life at your firm will be more satisfying as well.