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For the practitioner working inside a firm, we must educate ourselves, or rely on others to guide us, to the best fit in technology and the systems we need to run our firm and serve our clients more efficiently. The provider, on the other hand, is certainly interested in helping us meet our goals, but at the same time, is continually pressured to meet the company’s sales goals.
I’ve been on both sides of this scenario. In my firm, I help guide my partners to technology that positions us as cutting edge, but also productive. On the provider side, I’ve worked with CPAs, chartered accountants and others, listening to understand the underlying business needs in order to provide solutions that meet their expectations.
In a perfect world, this “conversation” has three parts for both parties: discovery, implementation and measurement. But, at the end of the day, what we’re really talking about is the relationship, itself, between the firm and provider. I’m not advocating becoming best friends, but there are some steps both parties can take to strengthen their ties and reach the end game.
These are the four I recommend:
1. Establish Trust – Trust is the basis for most relationships we have in our lives, so if you trust each other to deliver on promises and follow through on what you agreed to, then you’re quite a bit ahead of the curve. Without bias or hidden agenda, the accountant must trust that his or her decisions are good for the firm and put trust into the provider’s understanding of their needs and recommendations, while the provider must trust that the firm has confidence in the proposed solution. Distrust leads to game playing, price wars and disappointment.
2. Spend Too Much Time in Discovery – I say “too much time” because I don’t think you can ever spend enough time on this very important step. The entire basis for our accounting work is based on analyzing numbers – and we don’t hurry when we do this. Why would you shorten the process to figure out your technology requirements when most, if not all, of your service delivery is rooted in making sure your technology is sound, efficient and meets the needs of your business. If you have a provider who tries to rush along the discovery process, it may be time to shop somewhere else.
3. Do Your Homework – This might sound like discovery, but it has more to do with educating yourself and becoming knowledgeable about your options. Research and read all you can about available solutions. Next time you’re at a conference, walk the show floor with a purpose – not just to shake hands and see friends, but to visit with the providers in their booths to find out what they offer. Ask the tough questions; don’t take a passive role. Learn all you can. Providers, too, can do their homework to anticipate the tough questions. Sitting down behind the booth and waiting for someone to come up just won’t work. Become an active participant.
4. Make an Appointment After Implementation – Let’s jump to the time past installation. What I’d like to see is both parties making time to assess how the technology is working, how it can be improved, and what the future looks like for training and updates. Providers should know to do this step instinctively, but as we know, that’s not always the case. Accountants know in their hearts they ought to follow up with the provider, but they either get too busy or the task goes to the back burner. Take the time to meet; you’ll be glad you did.
The most dynamic firms and technology providers I know are the ones who are actively participating in all four of these areas. Firms are happier and more satisfied with their solutions. Providers gain customers for life and referrals for great service. It’s a win-win for all of us.
Elena Truelove is director of application development for MNP, LLP, a tax, accounting and consulting firm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is a member of the Information Technology Alliance, is on the Planning Committee for the ITA’s Fall Collaborative in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a member of the ITA Young Leaders Committee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.