What is your IT strategy? Do you have a written plan?

These questions often get a response like, "We don't have a written plan, but we have an IT budget." In other cases, the response may be, "IT is moving too fast to have a plan." There is nothing wrong with operating with a budget, but I recommend a one-to-three year IT plan or roadmap along with an IT budget.

The majority of firms are operating with an IT project list, which is better than nothing, but the value of an IT plan comes from the planning process and getting the firm to think differently about the future.

As part of your planning process, your firm will need to ask some important questions (see "Know thyself", below). These are difficult questions that require time to think and most involve risk and change.

As my good friend Allan Koltin puts it, you have three options:

1. Do nothing and ignore the changes that are occurring in the profession.

2. Ask everyone but you to change.

3. Address the issues and make the difficult changes.

Koltin uses the analogy of three doors, where you can take your pick: The results of Options 1 and 2 will ultimately impact both you and your firm. Option 3 requires change and strong leadership. It is also generally the best solution for the long term.

There are several requirements that a firm needs in order to develop an IT strategy. The strategy or plan is just the start, and the implementation of the plan is where the return on investment occurs. The requirements to develop an IT plan -- or any plan for that matter -- are:

  • The support of the CEO;
  • A firm vision;
  • An IT-savvy leader;
  • Access to leading peers and business partners (vendors); and,
  • A planning process.

Each firm is different in the age of their hardware (infrastructure), their satisfaction with existing applications, training, and integration of data from multiple applications or databases. Outside facilitation of the planning process generally provides a significant reduction in time and ensures that the focus is on strategy, rather than tactics. You may also want to consider including an IT-savvy peer or client in the process. (Several Boomer Technology Circle members now participate in peer firm IT meetings to provide an outside perspective.)
You should develop the plan first and then the budget. We utilize a "quick budget" tool that takes just a few minutes to prepare and works well with getting partner or executive committee buy-in without spending days preparing a detailed budget that may never get partner approval.

Here are some of the critical areas your IT plan should address.

  • Governance;
  • Leadership;
  • Accountability;
  • Training;
  • Cloud versus on-premise systems;
  • Security and privacy;
  • Staffing and sourcing;
  • Vendor management;
  • Client services; and,
  • Integration.

We recommend our one-page plan format, as it forces firms to identify their objectives, measurements of success, priority initiatives, due dates and responsible parties. This approach leverages resources, as well as offering simultaneous, rather than sequential, solutions. From experience, we have found that multiple-page plans cause people to lose focus on the "big rocks" and often get caught working in the "sand."
Here is a quick checklist for developing a strategic IT plan and budget.

  • CEO or MP support and participation;
  • Dates and venues away from the office (we recommend 11/2 to 2 days);
  • Participants -- representative of the entire firm, including non-partners;
  • Facilitator -- someone with industry experience and exposure to a large number of firms;
  • Agenda -- structured, but flexible enough to allow participation and discussion;
  • Communication of the plan -- consistent, concise and understandable by the end users; and,
  • Ongoing accountability reviews -- we recommend that these happen quarterly.

Remember that IT strategy is about progress and not perfection. Changes in IT are occurring at blazing speed and the plan should be updated annually. Set the dates for your IT strategy planning meeting today.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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