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Blake Christian
Blake Christian

Knowledge Sharing and Efficiency Gains

Why sharing knowledge in an accounting department or a CPA firm is critically important in order to effectively implement company-wide initiatives to achieve  short-term and long-term financial and tax objectives.

August 25, 2011
by Blake Christian, CPA/MBT

Sharing information can dramatically improve efficiencies and improve processes and lower company or firm costs. Companies can achieve these efficiencies by investing in hardware such as the latest generation of servers, desktops, laptops, PDAs/tablets and software. However all the investment in the “bleeding edge” of technologies will not guaranty that you will achieve your dream level of efficiencies. Unless you break the bad habits of your partners, staff and administrative employees, you will likely look back at your capital outlay with a deep sense of loss.

“The temptation to simply assume that information will just trickle through a company is strong and might appear to save time and money, but in the long run this strategy is highly inefficient,” said Mark Littleton, IT director at Long Beach, Calif-based CPA firm Holthouse, Carlin & Van Trigt LLP. “Consider the amount of time the average IT department spends answering basic questions that IT personnel assumed ‘everyone’ already knew. Now consider the amount of time that could be saved by providing all employees with a well-organized and comprehensive technology handbook (hardcopy or e-version). Employees could look up answers to basic questions as the questions arise, saving themselves and the IT department substantial amounts of time.”

Organizations that encourage their employees to identify general inefficiencies, including waste, fraud and abuse, can not only put significant amounts to the bottom line. In addition, when employees feel that senior management is listening to them and see their suggestions being adopted, they generally take more of an interest in how the company works as a whole. This interest increases productivity, company loyalty and ultimately benefits the organization at every level.

When knowledge is siloed to just one or two employees or specific departments, those employees or departments are constantly interrupted to answer questions and address insignificant issues. Teaching each employee how a whole system or process works is time consuming, but it saves a lot of time and frustration in the long run. When employees have a solid base of knowledge, they can begin to troubleshoot their own problems. They can limit questions to truly unusual or large issues and build their knowledge base as they work.

A great way to make sure employees are prepared to tackle problems they may encounter in their job is to provide them with a series of tutorials, guides or troubleshooting tips for common issues. These documents only need to be written once (with occasional updating) and can be linked to the company discussion board or other internal system. This way, employees have a designated “first stop” for the majority of questions, saving time and building both independence and holistic understanding of company processes.

In addition to senior management and line-employee buy-in, standardizing and documenting organizational procedures can help companies with several branch offices or departments run much more smoothly. When left to their own devices, each branch or department will generally come up with a different way of handling day-to-day procedures. Some of these strategies will be successful, while others will simply add to inefficiencies. However, the net effect of this hodge-podge of ideas will virtually never be as good as a company-wide policy that takes the best ideas from each branch or department and combines them. Such policies are only possible when company cultures are embedded into processes and become standardized giving employees ample opportunities to ask questions and make suggestions.

Utilizing off-the-shelf file-sharing applications, mobile applications, paperless tools, cloud computing and/or customer relationship management system (CRM) products can provide organizations with relatively cost-effective efficiency tools that can generally be implemented in a relatively short period of time.

Littleton concludes: “The benefits of sharing information throughout the company are numerous. Information sharing streamlines the workplace and lessens confusion and frustration. It creates more time for meaningful work and lessens the amount of time wasted on easily-solved problems. Documenting a company’s collective information takes some time initially, but once it’s done it doesn’t have to be repeated with every new employee. When new software is rolled out, employees can be trained with a tutorial and a well-organized troubleshooting guide. When procedures change, they can be posted. This approach saves everyone time and the company money as well as moves more rapidly toward creating an identifiable and consistent company culture and a collective of employees who are truly working together for the common good.”

Conclusion

Whether your organization or department bills by the hour or is simply a cost center, saving time translates into saving money. The long-term benefits will generally include higher profitability and more satisfied employees and clients.

Once you take the initiative to create and share your colleagues will begin to do the same. Here are some links and brief descriptions to site that will allow you to do this on your own with little or no help from your IT Departments or Consultants.

Discussion Boards and Forums

 

Blogging Sites

ProBoards
Aim Forums and Discussion Boards


Google Blogger
Wordpress
Blog

The remaining sites below offer 14-day to 30-day trials. They are inexpensive after the trial period and also generally offer cloud-based and on-premise installations. What is nice about these sites is that they allow you to see the power behind these applications without any upfront investments. These sites are an easy way for you to create, build and get launched without impacting your IT Departments current infrastructure or budget.


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Blake Christian, CPA, MBT is a tax partner in the Long Beach, California-based office of Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt LLP and is co-founder of National Tax Credit Group, LLC. He can be reached at (562) 216-1800.