Many firms have great intentions coming out of the busy season, but put off technology decisions until later in the year. This causes frustration and reduces time for implementation and training. Go ahead and take some vacation, but also consider the technology planning life cycle and how your firm can best utilize its assets in the coming year.THE FOUR STAGES

The technology planning life cycle has four stages:

1. Evaluation.

2. Strategy.

3. Execution.

4. Management.

You just completed Stage Four (management) during the busy season. This is the time in which your firm is utilizing its technologies to the fullest. Although you may not do much actual planning during this stage, you compile some key indicators that will help you down the road. These are:

* Benchmarks;

* Peer firm statistics; and,

* End-user satisfaction.


Include all managers and staff at some point during this stage, because they work closely with your firm’s systems and can offer the best input. Begin evaluation sessions by listing positives from the prior tax season before moving on to the list of areas needing improvement. Doing so will enhance the meeting’s tone and raise everyone’s confidence. With increased confidence, staff and managers are willing to take on new challenges.

The session should last no more than two to three hours. End by identifying the top five or six projects in which the firm should invest during the coming year. Some of these may be:

* Training and end-user support;

* Upgrading hardware and software;

* Improving standards, policies and procedures (documented);

* Integrated financial reporting (elimination of redundant data entry);

* Imaging and file management; and,

* Internet strategy (Web site, intranet and portals).

* At a minimum, your firm should address the following:

* Standards, policies and procedures;

* Hardware and software inventory, including licenses;

* Security (LAN and Internet);

* Training programs; and,

* Personnel.


Most accounting firms are good at identifying projects and instructing staff to complete them before the next busy season. In most firms, however, information technology departments are usually under-staffed, and do not have adequate time or options for training and execution. Technology personnel also tend to over-promise.

Devise your strategy by first integrating the firm’s strategic plan with its technology, marketing and HR plans. If you don’t have a documented strategic plan, spend the time and money to get one. Even if all you accomplish is to build consensus and get the firm moving in one direction, developing a strategic plan will be worth the investment.

The strategy stage should include the following:

* An action plan for each project;

* Responsible team members (including managers);

* A training plan;

* Outsourcing;

* Due dates;

* Budgeting;

* Pricing services;

* Marketing services; and,

* Personnel requirements.

You may wonder why pricing is included. While moving work infrastructures to technology-driven processes and procedures, most firms continue to use outdated billing methods. They are considering the wrong things when measuring value.


The execution (implementation) stage should be conducted in the summer or early fall. Too many firms wait until November or December. Just as an architect oversees the construction of a building, someone must manage the projects and provide senior management with regular status reports. The execution stage for each project should be as short as possible — even if it requires outsourcing. Too often, firms expect internal staff who are over-worked and lack expertise to handle major software or hardware upgrades. End users lose confidence when projects take too long to implement.

These are the most critical elements of execution:

* Timing;

* The availability of documented policies and procedures;

* Training; and,

* End-user support.

Scheduling vacation after the busy season is also a great time to schedule your firm’s technology planning for the year ahead. If you feel you need help or are too busy, bring in an outside facilitator. This decision will ensure success! It forces the firm to commit and follow the plan. Don’t get caught until late in the year by procrastination.

Remember: Progress, not perfection!

Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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