Do you lie awake at night worrying about the cost of IT in your practice and feel that it’s a never ending black hole for your cash. Or do you jump out of bed impatient to leverage how technology can enable transformations in firm efficiency, client service and profitability.

So what’s your attitude to IT?

It is surprising the difference this attitude can make. Everyone should consider their attitude to IT in their practices. While acknowledging that technology advances are making choices available to practitioners more complex, it is how technology is managed by practices that has the most significant effect on the business performance.

Ideally, practices should take an “Entrepreneurial Response”. This approach builds on a platform of building an IT budget and plan. Firms that take this approach have a clear direction, ensure that they have the capabilities to implement, manage and leverage the technologies they employ and can be confident in the outcomes that they will achieve. Whilst this may require more upfront work in planning, the end result is a much simpler and effective IT enablement of the firm. It is seen as an opportunity for the practice to transform its processes and provide new ways for clients to engage with the firm.

The alternative is a “Bureaucratic Response” where IT is not planned. In these firms, the complexity of IT can be viewed as dangerous and complex with confusion as to how to proceed. There is a feeling that the firm’s suppliers have control of the situation. In these firms’ technology is viewed primarily as a cost, a necessarily evil not an enabler of new opportunities. Often these firms make ad-hoc, unplanned IT decisions which can result in cutting off future options for the business.

A planned approach to a firm’s technology may sound like more work but it pays dividends. The first step is to develop an IT plan and budget which should be aligned to the overall strategic and business plans for the firm. When conducting reviews of practices, the first question we ask is “What is the strategy, objectives and direction of the practice?” as any decisions regarding IT and process should be made in this context. Few practices have a written strategic plan yet the discipline of writing a short one-page plan to set a framework for business decisions cannot be underestimated.

In summary, the elements of a IT plan and budget include:

1. Assess the current position
What hardware and software do we have? How do we manage our IT? What are our current issues? What projects do we have underway? What have been our successes and failures?

2. Scan the environment
What are the suppliers saying? What is happening in IT generally? What are your competitors doing?   Ask an expert what’s going on. Come to our ATSA event in October. 

3. Establish your light on the hill
Where do you want to be in utilising IT and process change in 3 years? What are your top 5 strategic priorities? Are these things aligned to the firm’s strategy?

4. Determine the projects
What are the projects that will achieve the light on the hill and top 5 strategic priorities? What resources will be required? What benefits will it deliver? How will the project be managed? How much training will be required?

5. Prioritise and schedule the project list
What is the order that projects should occur? Who will own the project?

6. Prepare a three-year budget
What assumptions have been used (useful life, storage, training, pricing)?

7. Prepare a project resource plan
Have team members sufficient time to complete their tasks?

8. Evaluate whether overall plan is achievable given resource constraints and adjust plans objectives, priorities and plans accordingly.

9. Establish IT governance
What approvals for expenditure are required? How will project status be monitored and managed? Who will be accountable?

10. Ongoing review
How often will the plan be reviewed and updated? How will we get feedback from users? What ongoing training is required?

The end result is a firm that knows where it’s heading with its IT development and has dedicated sufficient resources to ensure new systems and processes are effectively implemented and team members properly trained to ensure the benefits are realised. New systems that are acquired are planned to ensure that, as far as possible, they will be compatible with future plans for new technologies. So set aside time to put your plan in place.

Come to ATSA in Melbourne on October 24-25 to ensure you’re up to date on the latest IT developments. ATSA is the only dedicated technology even for accountants in practice that brings together all the major suppliers in one place. Click here to find out more.

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David Smith Smithink