CPA INSIDER

How to move past technology roadblocks

IT innovation opens the door to many opportunities for organizations willing to invest.
By Jennifer Wilson

With mobile devices, remote technology, data analytics, Big Data, cloud integration, social media, digital marketing, blockchain, and more, today's technological advances promise incredible breakthroughs for accounting firms, their clients, and virtually all organizations that employ CPAs.

So, what's stopping you from capitalizing on this wave of information technology innovation? In this article, we'll explore three common technology roadblocks and strategies for overcoming them. So whether you are a partner in an accounting firm, a CFO in a business, or in any of myriad leadership positions held by CPAs, this article is intended to help you and your organization overcome common pitfalls to capitalize on IT innovation. 

Potential roadblock No. 1: IT leadership and strategy

In all of your operational areas, but especially in IT, you need strong leadership to guide the changes and investments required to realize your organization's vision for growth. In organizations with a dedicated IT function, these groups are often led by reactive professionals who can barely keep up with the day-to-day requests of their internal constituents, let alone design their organization's technology vision and execute on game-changing strategies.

In some cases, this is simply a matter of the IT function being under-resourced, leaving your leader short-handed and spread thin (see potential roadblock No. 2). In other instances, though, the organization's growth and expansion calls for the support of a higher-level IT professional with a broader market view and more sophisticated experience.

Address this by assessing your IT leader's ability to develop a technology vision and strategy that aligns with your organization's overall growth plan. If he or she is unable to develop a far-reaching plan, consider investing in external consulting resources to provide support in this critical endeavor. When your plan is developed, form a cross-functional IT committee heavily weighted with IT-savvy, next generation professionals to provide input to your IT vision and feedback on your technology priorities.

Recognize that it's possible that your IT leader may not have the experience needed to succeed in executing the vision and leading this function for an organization of the size you're becoming. If that's the case, be transparent with your IT leader and work with him or her to identify the right organizational structure for the future, including recruiting an IT executive with the market view and vision needed to lead the organization forward.

If you're a sole practitioner or a leader in a smaller firm or small business, you should look to contract with a strategic IT resource—not simply hiring an IT company to manage your "tactical" list but also engaging an IT consultant to help identify your overarching technology priorities.

Potential roadblock No. 2: Underinvestment

Over time, technology seems to cyclically rise to the level of strategic enabler and then fall into the abyss of "cost center." Even with the right leadership and a clear IT strategy, many organizations still view IT as an expense that must be tightly managed, versus an investment area that delivers considerable competitive advantage and true ROI.

You won't realize these benefits unless you invest in the right resources—in both capacity and expertise.

Ask yourself a question. Is your IT function responsible for all or most of the following?

  • Budgeting and allocating IT capital for software and equipment.
  • Ordering and configuring all IT equipment.
  • Onboarding all new hires on IT systems.
  • Managing your organization's network.
  • Providing desktop support to the organization's users.
  • Managing all systems updates.
  • Managing IT security and privacy.
  • Managing your organization's email system.
  • Supporting the various service lines and their applications and data for systems such as portals, e-filing, audit methodology software licensing renewals, etc.
  • Supporting the organization's operational systems including accounting, billing, practice management, human resource information system (HRIS), customer relationship management (CRM), etc.
  • Ensuring appropriate systems backup and recovery systems are in place with appropriate storage. 

If your IT function is staffed at a level to barely handle these tasks, how can you expect the IT team to do anything strategic or proactive?

Overcome this roadblock by shifting your organization's leadership mindset from minimizing your IT spend to instead increasing it considerably so you can eliminate steps, reduce work, and increase the intelligence available to your people (and your clients).

As an example of investing more—and now—I believe that midsize CPA organizations should have at least a part-time (but probably a full-time) data analyst on the team to support systems design, data mining, and reporting for their internal practice management, CRM, and scheduling systems. A person with these skills can also provide support to the audit team as it implements new audit analytic and testing technologies and aid the tax group in mining data to identify clients with potential needs and follow-up opportunities. If you uncover even two new engagement opportunities or increase efficiency by a few percentage points, the data analyst hire will have more than paid for itself.

Potential roadblock No. 3 Being a mile wide and an inch deep

Almost every IT leader I meet has an IT project list a mile long. IT leaders are bombarded with project requests from department heads, operational leaders, and every person on the team. They frequently operate without a strategic plan, so they are self-prioritizing their many demands, and given their desire to be of service, they often fall into a paradigm of overcommitting and underdelivering.

As a leader of your organization, you need to support your IT leader in devising an IT strategy that ties to the organization's long-range vision (see potential roadblock No. 1). Help your IT leader align his or her project list with the firm's strategic priorities and give the leader permission to say "no" or at least "not now" to those requests that don't easily align. Meet with your IT leader regularly to provide support as new requests crop up. As your organization grows, develop an IT project request process that puts the onus on the business owner to align each request with your organization's strategic priorities and builds a business case for the investment prior to committing IT resources.

IT can fuel your organization's innovation, increase your efficiency, significantly enhance your service delivery and client experience, and help you anticipate and guard against the threat of disruption. Don't let underinvestment, overcommitment, or a lack of vision or leadership derail you from realizing these game-changing benefits. Drive change in your IT function today!

Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at convergencecoaching.com.

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