How well has your firm’s technology supported your team members and clients during the COVID-19 crisis? Based on the conversations we’ve had with our clients over the past few months, there have been some amazing wins and the IT teams getting some much-deserved credit and recognition for all of their hard work. Still, virtually every firm has identified at least a few areas that could use some improvement. If your firm needs to invest in new technologies and rework processes to support new services or new ways of delivering client service, you’re not alone.
In May of this year, AppDynamics interviewed 1,000 IT professionals around the world to ask how the pandemic impacted their business continuity efforts. Eighty-one percent said COVID-19 created the most significant technology pressure for their organization that they’ve ever experienced. Furthermore, 88% say that delivering a digital customer experience is now the priority. The trouble accounting firm leaders and their IT teams have is often where to start.
As a part of Boomer Consulting’s Technology Consulting service, we’ve helped hundreds of firms prioritize IT goals to support overall firm strategy. While the process we go through during those engagements is too in-depth to fully cover here, the following questions should help you get started reflecting, reassessing and resetting your firm’s technology.
Is it scalable?
What was your firm trying to do last year that you’re no longer trying to do this year? What new strategic priorities has the firm identified for the coming year? Ideally, the technologies your firm invests in will be able to scale up or down as needs change.
For example, in the past few years, many firms invested in new technologies with the expectation that perhaps 20 to 30 team members would be working from home at any one time. Now they have 100% of their staff working from home. Can your current technology support that? Or is it time to start looking for a solution that can?
What are your clients looking for?
How did you collect documents from clients and deliver returns and financial statements while your team was working from home? What can you do to improve that situation going forward?
We’ve heard a lot about how firms have managed to collect and deliver paperwork while their offices were essentially closed. One firm created lanes in their lobby for clients to enter and exit when dropping off or picking up documents. Another firm had their admin team coming into the office to process mail and sorting client documents into empty paper boxes where it would “quarantine” for several days before being scanned.
Even if your firm has a client portal, consider whether that portal really delivers on the customer experience front. Depending on the solution you use, you might have a very low adoption rate if the technology isn’t easy to use for clients. Sometimes that can be overcome with better client communication and training. Otherwise, you might need to consider tools in which the client experience isn’t an afterthought.
Sometimes, we have to do whatever it takes to serve clients and get the work done. But my hope is that these firms are taking some time now to discover technologies and processes that allow clients to easily and securely share information.
Do you have enough of the right equipment?
In the past, some firms purchased desktop computers for their team members and had a pool of laptops and other equipment that team members could “check out” when they needed to work remotely. That type of arrangement made it difficult for them to ensure all staff members had the hardware they needed to work from home.
Other firms have employees use their own hardware while working from home. It can be difficult to ensure security on personal devices, and many employees might not have webcams or other necessary equipment. Equipment pools or using your own device might be fine for a few days here and there, but it doesn’t support working from home long-term.
Your firm may need to seriously consider investing in laptops, docking stations and other necessary equipment for all employees.
Do you have enough licenses?
Licensing is another area in which firms have cut costs by having employees share licenses for software, VPNs and more. While many tech providers were allowing firms to upgrade their licenses or subscriptions for free for a while, this is something your firm will need to consider as your firm looks at having employees continue to working remotely for the foreseeable future.
The special tax deadline may be behind us, and perhaps your firm is even reopening. But just because we made it through the last few months doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking strategically. Don’t get complacent when things quiet down.
You successfully got your team up and running virtually. Now is the time to reflect on what went right and what could be improved. Reassess your firms needs and goals, and ensure you’re adapting to new technologies and a new way of working. This will help prepare your firm for whatever the future brings.
Want to learn more about the accounting industry’s response to COVID-19? Check out all the findings from Wolters Kluwer’s 2020 survey of tax and accounting professionals in the whitepaper “Building Firm Resilience Through Advanced Technologies and Agile Processes.”
Reprinted with permission from Boomer Consulting, Inc.