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Jennifer Wilson

Technology is a strategic enabler, really!

Four strategies in which IT can make a difference.

May 29, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

A cultural element of firms that attract and retain the best talent is a progressive, strategic technology orientation­—one that embraces technology and uses it as a differentiator. This article explores four important CPA strategies that leverage technology to support your plans and enhance your firm’s culture.

  1. Enhancing communication. Every employee survey we conduct pegs communication as one of the top firm weaknesses. Most firms want to enact strategies to enhance communication. Here are some ideas for using  IT to improve your firm’s ability to communicate and relate:

    • Launch an internal blog in which your firm’s CEO or managing partner, practice leaders, and key administrators communicate their vision, brainstorm ideas, reset expectations, and report on progress with the staff. Intended first to inform, then to open up a two-way dialogue, posting regularly to an internal blog can improve insight into your firm’s direction and progress.
    • Establish a private firm-only LinkedIn or Facebook group on which team members can privately share ideas, post pictures, and enhance teamwork and collaboration, especially when working in different offices.
    • Publish firm organization charts, role descriptions, and team goals on your firm’s intranet so that people are clear as to who owns what, what’s expected, and how the teams relate to one another.
    • Develop a dashboard report for your firm’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and publish it on your intranet or directly to the desktops of those who should have access to this important management information.
    • Use text messages to communicate important announcements or notes of gratitude to staff. Because so many employees use texts as a significant method of communication, adapting this practice would show that the firm is paying attention to staff preferences and is willing to change. But before sending texts, obtain permission first.
  2. Getting niched. If one of your firm’s strategies is to deepen your industry or service niches, some ways to leverage technology include:

    • Positioning your niche experts as thought leaders via social media, using your firm’s blogs, posting to other niche publication blogs, participating in discussion groups on LinkedIn, and broadcasting niche-specific news and ideas on Twitter.
    • Using your firm’s intranet to aggregate niche-specific resources for internal leverage.
    • Licensing a low-cost web seminar platform to allow your niche teams to reach beyond your traditional geographic borders for marketing and consulting.
    • Using low-cost telephony options to bring niche specialists in different offices together to share and collaborate.
    • Gaining better business intelligence on targeted niche prospects using websites and LinkedIn and finding out who in your organization has connections to your niche targets using LinkedIn.
    • Using a customer relationship management solution to share niche information internally , leveraging e-mail push technology to regularly communicate with targeted prospects and referral sources, and tracking your niche account activities and sales opportunities using pipeline reports.
  3. Improving client service. Client retention is always top of mind strategically, and technology offers a number of ways to ensure you stay top of mind with your clients, including:
    • Allowing your clients to have more control over their information and ready access to their electronic files using portal technology available through your website or practice management provider, or through one of many reputable portal sites available today.
    • Treating your client portal as an important communications medium where you post important news and announcements.
    • Connecting to clients via social media platforms and encouraging them to join firm-specific communities to stay “in the news” with your firm.
    • Using cloud-based accounting applications that allow clients anytime, anywhere access to their data, which is no longer stored at their premises but on a server accessible through the internet.
    • Leveraging data-mining technologies to provide greater client intelligence to your team members so that they can be more proactive with their clients. For instance, when a client’s dependent count changes, a data query of the firm’s tax solution can provide a report that reflects this information to inform their tax professional. The query can be automated or run by the professional, depending on the software. Once notified of the updated dependent count, the tax professional can contact the client regarding the change and discuss other planning that might be appropriate.
  4. Engaging employees. People are the foundation for success in serving your clients and growing your firm. Technology can support your firm’s strategies to attract and retain the best and brightest by enabling you to:

    • Offer remote-access options and provide secure access, guidelines, and support so that your people can work from anywhere, anytime.
    • Support work-from-home flexible work arrangements. This is easier when your firm has software-as-a-service or web-based applications, instant messaging, and low-cost video teleconferencing in place.
    • Use Facebook to build an online community of existing and prospective employees and to promote your on-campus recruiting activities.
    • Use LinkedIn for experienced-hire recruiting support, including placing ads and sourcing candidates.
    • Differentiate by providing your team members access to the latest technology whenever possible—ensuring your firm is leading, not lagging, in this area.

      • Today, some “expected IT” elements your firm should have in place are:
        • Paperless technologies, including an expectation of use among firm leaders.
        • Multiple monitors.
        • Data-extraction tools for audit.
        • Newer, lighter machines, up-to-date printers, scanners, and copiers.
        • Employee support and training for the technology used at work.
        • Access to social media sites and support for their use.
      • Some “bonus IT” elements firms can use to differentiate themselves are:
        • Workflow management solutions.
        • Smartphones, such as iPhones and Droids.
        • Tablet computers, such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy, and others.

Conclusion

What is your firm’s technology orientation? Have you been treating IT as a necessary evil—all administrative cost and something that must be endured—or have you embraced new technologies and incorporated IT into your firm’s strategic vision and plans? Which approach do you think younger talent will find more attractive? Demonstrate leadership in this sometimes uncertain and always differentiating cultural element. Leverage technology to achieve your firm’s strategies today.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. To learn more about enhancing your firm’s culture, attend Jennifer’s June 12 general session, titled “Moving from Old School to Cool,” at the Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference in partnership with the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit in Las Vegas.