[IMGCAP(1)]If your firm is like most, there is no shortage of work to go around. But if the workload seems to never end, why aren’t your engagements as profitable as you’d like?

More than likely, the issue isn’t your staff—it’s your systems. Your resources cannot be utilized in a capacity to grow your firm if they are too busy focusing on administrative tasks.  Having a better practice management system at your firm can help your staff work smarter—not harder—to take your business to the next level.

Take a look around your firm—if you notice any of the following signs, it may be time to reevaluate your systems. 

 Meetings
There are two types of meetings—those that generate revenue, and those that do not. These non-revenue generating internal meetings tend to occur when people cannot quickly access the information they need. Instead of looking to one central location to pull data, people call meetings to reconcile information such as resource plans, project budgets, sales pipelines and financials. This not only wastes valuable time, but with information being pulled from so many different locations, the accuracy of the data suffers.

Mistakes
Obviously nobody likes to make mistakes, but they are bound to happen when disconnected systems make obtaining accurate data difficult. With all of the information gaps, it is hard to see how decisions made at one phase impact the ultimate results. How can you allocate the correct number of resources to a project if you have no insight into the engagement budget or the estimate-at-completion?

Mysteries
It’s extremely difficult to extract data from multiple locations and put it together in a way that makes sense. When reports fail to reveal what went wrong, it can be nearly impossible to determine cause and effect relationships. Without this meaningful insight, it’s hard to improve results, which negatively impacts your firm’s profitability. 

Maintenance
Having multiple systems requires time and money to keep them up and running. Using piecemeal tools for each area of your business not only creates disconnects in data, but it makes the upkeep more laborious. Additionally, using systems that are not specifically designed for CPA firms can require costly and time consuming configurations just to structure engagement letters how you need them, or reports how you want them.

If you find that your firm is experiencing too many meetings spent trying to solve mysteries, and the cost of mistakes and maintenance is rising, then your firm has reached a technology tipping point and it’s time to explore your options for a better practice management system.

But how do you find the practice management system that’s right for your firm? Look for the following attributes to ensure you find the perfect fit:

Complete and Connected
You already know the consequences of having disconnected systems, so don’t settle for anything less than a completely connected firm-wide solution. A system that joins front-office business development, resource planning and engagement management with back-office time-capture, billing and financial reports provides efficiency and insight for everyone.  With a connected system, you no longer have to worry about confusing data conflicts—everyone has access to the same trusted information that is updated in real-time so they can see how each decision impacts profits. Additionally, your firm will be able to streamline workflows, easily transform accurate proposals into projects and quickly invoice Work in Process. 

Architected for CPA Firms
If you are considering a practice management system that is not specifically designed to help CPA firms maximize billable capacity, drive engagement profitability and boost realization—think again. Your firm needs a system that is designed to manage engagements—with an appropriate task-level work breakdown that can be easily shown in proposals, quickly record and bill hours, and includes pre-built reports and dashboards that measure crucial KPIs like Utilization, Realization or Net Multiplier. Without these essentials, your system may need complex customizations, which can be costly and time consuming.

Easy to Own
Having a single, connected solution reduces the number of systems you need to maintain, which makes life easier for your staff.  Select a system that is scalable and easy to modify—to personalize views, create reports, and add new workflows—so it can adapt as your firm grows or changes without the need for complex and risky customization. A solution that is priced and packaged as modules gives you the flexibility to deploy incrementally based on your firm’s priorities.  If you want to take ease of ownership one step further, consider a cloud-based solution, which leaves the maintenance, upgrades and security to the cloud vendor, while providing your people with anytime, anywhere access.

Don’t let your firm fall prey to the technology tipping point. Look for a practice management system that will help you get more capacity from your people and higher profits from their work.

Drew West is a product director for Deltek, a provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms and government contractors. With headquarters in Herndon, Va., the company has more than 1,600 employees worldwide.