The recently released 2013 North America Top Technology Initiatives survey found that only about one-fourth of the nearly 2,000 accountants polled were confident that their organizations could successfully leverage emerging technologies. Less than 40% expressed confidence in their organizations’ ability to govern and manage their IT investments or to use technology to effectively support and analyze business decisions.
What can CPA firms and other organizations do to improve their chances for success with technology initiatives? The first step is to understand that technology is really just a tool that can be used to enable business solutions. Organizations that understand the proper role of technology have a big advantage over ones that don’t. These “high-performing” organizations see technology as a strategic enabler. As a result, they adopt leading-edge technologies and train their workforce in how to make the most of them.
For high-performing organizations, technology has become a utility. The question they must answer is: “How do we take that utility and extract the good out of it? How do we reap the business benefits?” This article proposes eight keys to success with technology deployments. These keys are developed from years of practice as a consultant to many types of organizations and can be applied to every technology initiative.
- Appoint an excellence officer or project champion. This is a person who takes responsibility for ensuring alignment of all the factors needed for a successful rollout. This should be one person, not a committee. This person should ensure that the project has proper executive-level support and that everything rolls out properly. The organization should empower the project champion so that he or she can say, “Hey, this is not working. We are not going to realize benefits,” and actually pull the plug on the project. You don’t want to waste time and money on an initiative that isn’t going to pay off.
- Find a business problem, and then find a technology solution. You don’t want to select a technology solution and then have to look for a business problem to solve. You need to understand your business processes and how technology could make them better.
- Adopt incrementally to ensure long-term success. Businesses have to respond to market shifts and other events so quickly that they can’t lock themselves into long—yearlong, year-and-a-half-long—technology deployments. Instead, they should look to use a phased-in approach that can get functionality and usability into the hands of users more quickly. One way to do this is to run a pilot of the project on a small scale before implementing organizationwide.
- Have a proven concept or run a pilot. Have a test group try to use the proposed technology to support an engagement or change a process. The pilot approach provides a couple of benefits. You learn more about the technology, and you can learn about tweaks needed to make the technology really useful for your organization. You can then use what you learn to present a business case for a final recommendation to the executives or the board.
- Manage expectations. Don’t oversell the technology you are looking to implement. Be realistic in what you tell users, executives, and other stakeholders the tool will be able to do. You don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.
- Adopt organically but set a deadline. A study of organizations, even leading-edge organizations, has shown that those that make a tool available to people to adopt without setting a deadline by which they are required to comply and start to use it, fail to achieve full adoption. While companies can allow people to adopt the technology organically on their own schedule or as it fits their projects, this can’t occur over an indefinite period. You have to set a deadline. CPAs are all about deadlines. If you set a deadline, then they’ll do it.
- Provide training through the system. We’ve found increased success with technology adoption if employees are provided formal training and access to experts or champions who can identify best practices for using the technology to meet the business objectives associated with the project. The champions should also ensure that staff members have access to whatever levels of training they need. Some people will pick up the system quickly, while others will need their hands held.
- Leverage time savings to produce more revenue. This is crucial to the success of a technology deployment. If you produce time savings but fail to monetize that time, then you haven’t affected your bottom line. Use the time savings to sell more engagements or spend more time on engagements to reduce risk. Also, accounting firms should look for ways to make more staff billable. For example, in the case of audit confirmations, have administrative staff do the confirmation. So you’re taking previously non-billable staff and making them billable, thus generating more revenue and freeing up professional staff time to focus more on value-added projects.
Editor’s Note: Shimamoto will present the “Eight Keys to Success for CPA Firm Technology” at the E.D.G.E.-Sharpening the Next Generation of CPAs conference Aug. 7–9 in Austin, Texas. Also, Shimamoto will present a webcast on the 2013 North America Top Technology Initiatives survey on July 16 at 2 p.m. Eastern.
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As told to Jeff Drew, CPA Insider senior editor.
Donny C. Shimamoto leads IntrapriseTechKnowlogies LLC, an auditing and consulting practice he founded in Hawaii.