CPA INSIDER

How to prevent workers from wasting time on tech troubles

Here are 8 tips to mitigate some inevitable problems.
By Cheryl Meyer

We’ve all been there: Our computers lock up, our printers fail to work, our laptops or tablets won’t connect to the network, or we’ve received the blue screen of death on a Windows-based machine. What ensues is a state of panic (unless we’re technically minded) and many minutes, hours, and sometimes days wasted, costing us and our firms both time and money.

“Technology is wonderful, but users are struggling and not getting the maximum benefit out of it,” says John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology.

According to a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, professionals waste 22 minutes on average each day dealing with IT-related issues, which equates to 91 hours per year for many full-time employees. The survey included responses from more than 300 office workers nationwide.

Technology problems surface for many reasons, says J. Carlton Collins, CPA, founder of technology consulting firm ASA Research in Atlanta and technology columnist for the JofA. Technology is often poorly installed and maintained, viruses and malware creep into computers and wreak havoc, and many companies fail to properly train their staffs to use their various technologies. In addition, companies often don’t update their hardware and software often enough, which leads to incompatibility issues.

Companies also face technology glitches due to software and hardware overload. “When it comes to technology, the stars have to align,” says James Bourke, CPA/CITP/CFF, CGMA, a partner and technology niche practice leader at WithumSmith+Brown. “In our industry we do tax returns, financial statements, expense reports, research. All of those tasks involve touching different technologies. And more often than not, they all don’t play well with each other in the same environment.”

The good news is that there are ways to reduce the amount of time wasted due to tech problems. Tech-savvy experts offer this advice:

Embrace technology. Machinery has created countless efficiencies in our daily professional lives, but with it comes occasional headaches. Be prepared for issues that can arise. “Technology is hard. It’s complicated,” says Troy Cardinal, chief information officer at RSM US LLP. “Whether you are a big firm or small firm, you need to embrace the fact that technology creates disruptions and ask yourself, what are you doing to minimize disruption, and are you doing enough?”

Focus on your business process first. Professionals often look to technology to solve their business problems. “But what solves a problem,” Cardinal says, “is having the right business process that is enabled by a piece of technology.” In other words, figure out your business process first and then buy technology to fit—not the other way around.

Buy new equipment every few years. Technology improves continually. “Look to replace laptops in two years and desktops in three years,” Bourke advises. Computers have decreased in price and are more affordable now than ever, so do your homework. Also, don’t worry about upgrading monitors as often; they typically outlast several computer systems, Collins says. And don’t upgrade your operating system on your old computers, which can cause technical problems. Instead, buy new.

Keep it simple. Companies have many options when it comes to deploying software and hardware, but the more solutions you deploy, the greater chance of system hiccups. Focus on a suite of products, such as Microsoft Office or something similar, Bourke says. Don’t muddy the waters.

Be proactive. Many organizations install technology and then wait for problems to arise. But it’s better to anticipate so your firm is not blindsided during tax time. RSM takes a proactive approach, for instance, by asking the software provider to specify issues that have traditionally surfaced with other customers in order to anticipate and prepare for a potential glitch, Cardinal says.

Train your staff. Companies often install new technology without properly training workers on how to use it. “Whether it is their smartphone or accounting system or Excel or Outlook, most CPAs use less than 6% of the functionality of those products because they have not been adequately trained,” Collins says. “This keeps CPAs from leveraging the full amount of productivity they can get from those tools.”

Cardinal says RSM, with 80 offices nationwide, has a 230-member technology team that helps troubleshoot when problems arise or when staff members need assistance. But his firm has gone a step further and created a “Knowledge Center,” an online, on-demand resource where employees can get answers to their IT-related questions. The firm also partnered with a provider of enhanced Microsoft guides and videos to aid its employees.

If possible, hire a dedicated IT person (or more than one): Most mid- to large firms employ several IT people, but no matter what your firm’s size, have someone in-house who can deal with technology problems. “In our business, time is money,” Bourke says. “We bill out on an hourly basis, and we can’t have people experiencing technology challenges and downtime. The return on investment is tremendously huge.”

If your firm is too small to employ a full-time IT person, Collins says, make sure you have someone on staff who is technically minded and can work with an outside IT consulting firm when problems develop.

And finally, adds Reed, don’t downplay the urgency of technology problems. “Whether you have a help desk or a tech person on staff, or use an outside firm, do people have access to support that can help them in the moment?” he says. “A lot of times, you can’t wait.”

Reassess your technology needs. It is important to review your technology needs periodically to help keep your data secure, to figure out your technology weaknesses, and to make certain your staff is adequately supported. “No health care, finance, retail, or accounting firm wants to be in the news about a breach of confidential data,” Reed says. “That is why it is important to stay on top of technology.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, send email to Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at AICPA. 

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