One of the advantages of consulting and having relationships with leading firms is being able to witness how firms leverage technology as a strategic asset.Innovative thinking is one thing, while innovative "doing" is another. Take Fuller Landau (www.fullerlandau.com), a Toronto-based chartered accountancy and consulting firm, which has recently unlocked the secrets to successfully managing and carrying out information technology initiatives in a dynamic firm setting. Under the direction of Vlad Guzenberg, the IT director, and his team, Fuller Landau is paving the way to achieve a new level of synergy by creating a revolutionary tool: an all-inclusive, customized, user-friendly intranet.
Fuller Landau's IT team, winner of the Leading Edge Alliance's 2005 Internal Technology Innovation Award, will tell you that the successful creation and implementation of the firm's intranet was contingent on a few critical factors, with technical skill being at the bottom of the list.
The vision of Michael Epstein, Fuller Landau's managing partner, and the collective commitment and confidence of the firm were essential to setting the firm's strategic IT initiative into action. Trust and strong working relationships between the IT department and the firm's business groups was, and continues to be, the foundation for achieving success in the firm's technology initiatives.
By developing a close understanding of the specific needs of the firm from a business standpoint, Fuller Landau's IT team was able to focus on creating an intranet that continues to deliver immeasurable results to everyone in the firm, from the partner level to administration. Essentially, the firm sees technology as the accelerator. The three strategic functional pillars that will drive the firm forward into the future are planning, quality people and unique processes. We refer to this as Performance3.
A new solution
Three years ago, Fuller Landau was facing the same issues that most public accounting firms face today: the constant need to be efficient, a push to become a paperless office, required enhancement of organization and communication, and a need for recruitment and retention of high quality talent.
Home to six different service entities and a staff with diverse backgrounds, the growing firm was in urgent need of a central, consistent format for storing and accessing client data. As a progressive firm, one of Fuller Landau's long-standing key objectives has been to continually invest in resources that lead to enhanced delivery of services, improved quality of work and better communication. With the backing of Epstein and the partners of the firm, Guzenberg and his team set out to create a technology solution that addressed the "everyday life" needs of all firm members.
The process of determining which data management vehicle would be optimal for meeting the firm's needs was two-fold, consisting of research and trials of various data management programs, as well as the development of a strong relationship between IT and Fuller Landau's business leaders.
The needs of the business were the driving factor behind the entire concept; therefore, it was imperative that those needs were thoroughly understood by the IT team. The team took great care to ensure that the solution was created based on the requirements of the staff, rather than from their own technical wish lists. Guzenberg and the Fuller Landau team laid the groundwork for making the technology initiative a shared vision, so that there would be greater buy-in at all levels.
After examining several possible programs, including Microsoft SharePoint, Guzenberg and his team were unable to find a solution that sufficiently met the needs of the firm without requiring modification. As a result, the Fuller Landau team felt that it would be easier to customize a program that interacted with Visual Practice Management, the time and billing system housing all of the firm's client data. VPM served as the primary database for the creation of a completely customized intranet interface.
The internally created intranet was introduced in small steps, and several training sessions were held as each piece of the product was released. One-on-one sessions took place for those who had difficulty navigating the new system. The IT team carefully documented each process within the intranet system, and made sure training presentations were thorough and organized. Another crucial step for successful implementation was well-developed instructions, as well as patience and receptiveness from the IT team.
Beginning with the ability to search for client data, the intranet has grown to be a complete internal technology solution that allows Fuller Landau to work smarter and faster. Today, team members are able to quickly perform activities that once required time and effort, plus more paper, from multiple parties.
The intranet now facilitates an impressive catalogue of tasks and functions, including searching for client data and contact information, retrieving client files, requesting files from storage, accessing and organizing documents, an electronic employee sign-in board, participation in on-line video training sessions, completing the new client process, and completing online vacation request and evaluation forms.
Reaping the benefits
One of the greatest advantages of the program is its autonomous interaction with the firm's document management system, automatically creating and organizing links for newly created documents. Today, each member of the firm has all client information at her fingertips, especially by utilizing dual screens within the program.
Fuller Landau's innovative intranet is a great testimonial to how technology can play an integral role in an accounting firm's strategic business plan. In addition to helping Fuller Landau reach new heights in terms of workflow efficiency, the commitment to technical innovation has resulted in solutions to each of the aforementioned issues affecting accounting firms today.
The firm has advanced to an almost completely paperless office environment in all business service areas. The intranet aided in building another successful communication tool surrounding client information and internal announcements, by synchronizing firm communication, rather than relying on the circulation of e-mail. New developments in the program are creating more opportunities for synergy among partners, managers and professionals.
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of the intranet is the firm's ability to attract and retain quality people. Growing up in an age where new technology is embraced, rather than feared, young professionals are drawn to Fuller Landau. The firm demonstrates true progressiveness in its IT initiatives, which makes it stand out from the competition.
As new needs arise and the accounting firm continues to grow, Guzenberg and his IT team make changes to the system with the help of an open-door policy amongst all Fuller Landau team members. There is a constant healthy stream of communication on new ideas from all levels of the firm.
Regardless of how a new idea is communicated, Guzenberg stressed that any change must be driven by the needs of the business, and IT must be in tune with those needs to deliver useful results. As a result of this "team effort" approach, the firm is more open to change, trusting that future IT initiatives will be value-added and always in the best interests of the firm.
As a validation to the intranet's potential relevance for other firms, Fuller Landau has received numerous visits from other local firms' managing partners, who wish to witness the progressive technology and resulting benefits. At this point, the intranet has become an irreplaceable part of Fuller Landau's business. The Fuller Landau team is reminded of how important this new technology is to their daily work when visitors and new users are "wowed" by the program.
Guzenberg recalled one of his first conversations with managing partner Epstein, which had a great impact on him: "There are a lot of people in the IT industry who are chip heads, but very few are business leaders," Epstein stated. Vlad approaches his job as a business leader, meaning he and his team put the needs of the firm first and let the technology follow accordingly.
Through business leadership on both the IT and the business side of Fuller Landau's operations, the firm has successfully reached a point in which anything is possible in the technology realm.
Remember, planning times people times processes equals Performance3. Technology is the accelerator.
L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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