[IMGCAP(1)]There are countless articles on how your technology should align with your accounting firm’s strategy and vision, but what are firms doing to ensure that the IT department is providing them excellent service?

Most firms spend somewhere between 5 and 8 percent of their net revenue on IT, but most of those dollars go to new hardware or software. The resources you put toward establishing a culture of service within IT is just as important. Do you have the right processes in place for your IT department to be service-focused? You don't have to look any further than your last outage to know. 

It’s about serving the client…YOU

The way an IT department handles an outage is usually a strong indication of how they function as a group and how well they service the firm. If there is collaboration among all the teams in an IT department and a defined communication process for outages, their service in other areas is more likely to be exceptional.

Sadly, most IT departments do not meet those two measures. Many fail to correctly focus on and understand the needs of their client: the firm. That’s how IT departments make the mistake of hurrying to resolve the outage, without communicating or managing the outage. Often, there’s a fear that providing too much information will be seen as a weakness, or lead to blame while taking valuable time from resolving the problem.

An effective IT department operates under the principal that transparency is the rule. And the only way to achieve transparency is through communication.

Communication is crucial

During an outage, IT may want to seem as if they’re working magic, quietly and mysteriously rendering an environment back up and running. But without communication to the firm or among the IT group, they’ve missed an opportunity to prevent frustration among your associates.

Downtime could cost you billable hours and revenue. The IT department must provide regular updates during the outage instead of working “head down,” trying to resolve the issue. Having a communication plan is crucial to effective management of an outage. It should include a single point of contact so that communication is open and fluid. Your associates want to know when service will be restored.

Clarity is vital

Many IT departments also struggle to work together as one cohesive group. The walls—or silos—within the IT department can be very pronounced. The result is wasted effort, frustration, and blame.

Having clearly defined processes in place can ensure there are clear roles in the resolution of every            issue. The IT help desk (service desk) is the front line. Those who staff it should always understand the status and potential impact of any outage. They serve as the conduit to the firm, bringing the rest of the IT team valuable information to help resolve the issue.

Vendors should deliver

Communication problems are not confined to just the IT departments within firms. They also occur with a CPA firms’ contractors and vendors. In fact, accounting software vendors are particularly deficient at servicing their clients during outages. Most of the substandard service can be attributed to poor management and the lack of a communication plan.

But vendors have the same obligation to send out notices when experiencing problems, update regularly on the status, send messages when services are restored, and follow up with clients in a timely manner. There is no reason to expect less from a vendor than you would from your internal IT department.

Key takeaways

Building a culture of excellent service should be at the center of any IT leader's plan. Your firm can measure the IT department's commitment to excellent service by the way it handles outages, and then expect that excellence to bleed down into all IT processes. Client service is a crucial part of every CPA firm's core values. It is time the IT department and vendors treat your associates like a client.

Dan Labin is the chief information officer of Clark Schaefer Hackett.

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