The Practice of Now Report 2019 revealed that 85% of accountants believe that, for their country to remain competitive internationally, they need to speed up their rate of technological adoption.
This shows that many accountants know there is a deficit in a critical business area, and is yet another sign of the cultural shift that has been identified in the profession.
When asked why they believe the profession has fallen behind regarding technology, accountants cited a lack of money (38%), time (13%), and expertise (25%) to invest in digital transformation.
How to kickstart your digital transformation
If your firm is desperately in need of modernisation and digitisation, here’s some guidance on getting started:
Know your goal
What is the main goal of your digital transformation plan? Better client service? Cost savings? Greater efficiencies? Improving your image with clients who demand a technological approach from their accountant? More than one of these reasons could apply to your firm.
Your goals might seem obvious, but it is always helpful to map them out before taking any action, so that you can understand clearly what you want to achieve. The best way to do this is to write it down. Start by listing five to 10 benefits you think the implementation plan should deliver. Once you’ve done that, flesh out each idea by adding specific details. For example, if you’re trying to grow your client base, by what percentage? If you’re looking at cost saving, can you add specific amounts?
Project manage the implementation plan
The rules of project management state that a hierarchical structure works best. One person at the top of the organisational tree should own the project. This person will be deeply knowledgeable about the plan, even if they were not the one to create it (it may have been created by one person and assigned to another).
The person at the top of the hierarchy will action tasks and make decisions regarding staffing and budgeting for implementing the plan. They could also build teams to deal with certain parts of the implementation, some of which are noted below.
Regardless of who they assign tasks to, the buck stops with them, and they will be responsible for the smoothest possible rollout. The person most suited to fulfil this function is a senior within the firm, who has a solid background dealing with transformation.
Track the implementation
Everyone involved in the implementation needs to be able to see – both briefly and in detail – when things are due to happen. This is why documentation is a critical component in project management.
Splitting the implementation into various phases allows you to create specific plans for the different phases of the rollout.
If your practice already uses project management software, this will allow you to successfully deploy the implementation plan. Creating a few Gantt charts can help you list milestones. Microsoft Excel also has several built-in templates.
Agree on touchpoints and completion sign-offs
When doing a major project, people are often so eager to start that they don’t put enough effort into the planning phase. Planning ahead can save time and money further down the line.
Touchpoints and sign-off processes should be agreed upon at the beginning. It’s important to know when you’re finished, or even when you’re only halfway through.
Look at the volumes you are working with, and see what tools you have to support this. How long will it take to complete the implementation? Will it be weeks? Months? If you have decided on a gradual rollout that will only affect new clients, it is possible that implementation will happen over several years.
Practice of Now 2019
The latest research reveals evidence of a cultural shift within the industry as it prepares for the coming decade. Recruitment, skills and training, business practices, service offerings and technology are all evolving.
Key areas of focus
These are areas firms usually focus on when looking to implement a digital transformation.
The bulk of work within a digital transformation will be determined by your client list, and you will need to ensure that they will be compatible with your new way of working. Some clients will be especially amenable to joining you on your journey, while others will be less so.
A client list can typically be split into two categories. The first category is the businesses whose experiences, attitudes, and interests render them perfectly suited to the first phase of your implementation plan. They might already be using cloud-based accounting software, or they could simply enjoy exploring the benefits of new technologies.
The second category are those who are resistant to change. These could be the clients who simply despise accounting, or who still rely on paper-based ledgers and a bag of receipts.
A series of scripts detailing the benefits of a digital transformation, and your phases of implementation, would be useful to your staff when speaking to clients from the latter category.
Training can consume large amounts of time and budget (although, do have a look at your software vendor’s free support materials). This is why many businesses skimp on training when making transformation plans. People assume that all accounting software is the same, especially for those trained in accounting.
There will be staff who take to the new software with no problem at all, but others won’t find it quite as simple – and they will come to inherently despise the new technology. This will hamper the transformation you hope to achieve, and those staff might even revert to using the old software, which would be disastrous for you.
Ensuring all staff are trained is critical. Even those who take to new technology easily might discover some tips or tricks that they would ordinarily have missed, which in turn could make everyone’s lives much simpler.
Software vendors and consultancies offer training. If costs are a big consideration, you could choose one person to undergo training, who could then return to the office to train the others. This is not ideal, but with free resources such as webinars and PDF manuals supplementing this training, it might just suffice.
New technologies will be introduced into the workplace during a digital transformation. This might be the case for both software and hardware. Cloud-enabled accounting makes it possible for mobile devices to be used, opening up the possibility of working anywhere with an available internet connection. Staff will need to be informed of this.
With the focus shifting to mobile, many firms are saving on IT costs by having a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, permitting staff to use their own phones and tablets to perform work tasks. This offers staff a greater sense of control, and limits the number of devices they need to carry on them.
You will need to stipulate your BYOD policy in your IT policy to ensure staff understand the basics of IT security. This includes safeguarding passwords, and maybe even installing anti-virus software on their devices. With the GDPR in place, any data breach could potentially carry serious penalties. Staff need to be made expressly aware of this, and perhaps even have it written into their employment contracts.
The cultural shift
Implementing new technology in your firm is not a simple task, and the effects of it are far-reaching.
According to The Practice of Now 2019 report, 49% of accountants formally examined their business practices over the last year, and a further 26% have done this over the last five years. This is indicative of a profession that is building for the future.
A fundamental cultural shift in how you do business is the driver of any digital transformation, and a changed culture is what you will experience once all the upgrades are complete. You will still be doing your typical compliance and auditing tasks, but you will also be adding significant extra potential and capacity to do other types of work.
This marked cultural shift will need to be communicated to your staff, and even to your clients, and basic training will need to be offered. Let everyone know that you now have the potential for new business advisory services, as well as an even more dynamic and responsive service for clients.
Once a digital transformation is implemented, your practice will be future-ready for any possible scenarios that evolving and growing client demands put on you.