Top 5 ways practices can prepare for the future of technology
Paul Chipperfield from the Practice Engine Group offers his five tips on how to ensure your practice is ready for the business environment of tomorrow.
We live in a period of rapid technological change. For an accountancy practice to remain effective and relevant, it needs to embrace technology and keep abreast of the changes that are affecting all businesses. Here are the five key areas to consider when planning for a modern practice.
1. Automate, automate, automate
It has been predicted that the accountancy profession will cease to exist because of the automation of tasks and the rise of artificial intelligence. This may seem alarmist, but there are risks associated with this that firms do need to consider today.
Many compliance tasks are suitable for automation, ranging from everyday bookkeeping to audit testing. Advisory work may also be susceptible to intelligent systems, which are able to consider multiple outcomes in a fraction of the time a human can.
We can expect to see great changes in this area over the next five to 10 years. Firms need to consider what the effect of these advances will be and keep this under review as technologies develop.
- What is the core of your business and income? Is it susceptible to automation and intelligent systems?
- Will you be an early adopter or will you wait and see?
- What will be the effect on the number and mix of staff you need in the future? How do you fill the gap in the short to medium term?
- What skills will staff need and how will they get them?
2. The Cloud
The growth of the Cloud continues apace and this will be the most significant technology going forward. Most firms, however, have a legacy of servers and internal IT systems, so unless you are starting from scratch, it is not a simple process to discard all of these and move to the cloud. This could be the biggest ever change to your systems, so planning for it needs to be meticulous and detailed.
Questions to ask include:
- When is your hardware coming to the end of its useful life? Can you plan ahead to stop costly capital investment before it becomes necessary?
- What applications you use today and are they Cloud ready? If they are not ready today, do they have a timescale to move to the Cloud? If they don’t, should you consider changing them?
- What links between applications do you have? Can they be replicated in the Cloud?
- Are you limited by the speed and/or quality of your communications links?
- Do you have any security concerns? What are they and how can they be resolved?
- How does the Cloud affect your disaster recovery planning?
- Do your internal IT team have the necessary skills and, if not, can they obtain them?
3. Communicating with clients
With the growth in mobile technologies over the last decade, people are now more connected than ever before. This translates to an expectation on the part of clients that they can contact the firm in the way they want and at any time. While technology can enable this, we have to remember that employees cannot be expected to be available at every time of day. Communications issues include:
- Do you provide a client portal to make important documents available to the client on demand and in paperless format?
- Can you provide mobile apps to clients to facilitate their needs?
- Can you provide alternative methods of communication such as video and instant messaging for client communication?
- How are you going to cope with the security issues surrounding pushing personal information to mobile devices in the post-GDPR world?
4. Supporting a flexible workforce
The days when most people arrived at their workplace at 9am and worked an eight-hour day are long gone. For many of us now, the pressure to perform means working hours have been getting longer, with earlier starts and later finishes. Conversely, there is the desire to have more of a life outside the office. The solution to these competing forces seems to be to allow staff to work flexible hours and to work from home more often. What will this require?
- Can staff work from home seamlessly? If not, what do you need to put in place to allow this? Does it fit in with your Cloud strategy?
- Does your telephone system support remote working?
- How do teams stay in touch? Do you use instant messaging and video applications?
- How do you monitor people’s hours and working environment?
- What effect does this have on your office space requirements?
5. Millennial clients and employees
As a group, “millennials” are different from any other. Their experience and expectation of the world and how to interact with it has been formed in the age of the mobile phone and fast broadband. They are used to information that is available instantly in an easy-to-use format. How many mobile apps require training? The expectation is that software works “out of the box” and that it should be intuitive and simple to pick up.
The challenge for any firm is how to take the data-rich environment of an accounting firm and deliver it to younger staff members and clients, in a clear and simple-to-use format, on demand. While we may not be able to deliver everything in this way due to the complexity of the information we deal with, we should aim to do so where we can. The firm that does not deliver content in a modern format may ultimately struggle to attract and retain clients and staff in the years to come.
The impact of millennials will continue to be felt in all areas of business and their expectations will become the norm.
Board level issue
Planning for the future is a board-level issue. Firms should be talking about technology at the highest level and they should be doing so regularly. The changes that are coming will affect so many areas that planning for them now is essential. While it may not be possible to set out the detail for everything, at least consider the impact on the firm and how you stay abreast of the changes.
Information is the key to everything in today’s world, so keep up to date and plan ahead to meet the challenges.
Find out how the Practice Engine Group can help your practice prepare for the future
This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.