Blog by Ashley Leeds, Digita Business Development Manager
Having worked for Thomson Reuters for nearly eight years, i’ve met many accountants around the UK and I have built up quite an understanding of the key issues faced by accountants in practice. I love that I get to meet a complete mix of people with very diverse businesses and needs, but they all face common problems.
They all have clients, deadlines and concerns. Some have staff problems while others panic with IT. Others are so organised that they’re in complete control and have plenty of time to invest in their clients and even play the odd game of golf too. There aren’t too many in the last category, so don’t feel too bad if that’s not you!
I see practices with all of their software on the cloud, who employ a team of IT personnel and maintain very high spend on the IT and communications infrastructure. They have free Apps for their clients and gather all of their data electronically.
Conversely, i’ve also had meetings with practices where the senior partner doesn’t use a computer. Once I was at a practice where, after I regaled the benefits of our software, I was informed that they didn’t have a network. This was a two partner firm with a dozen or so staff and it hadn’t occurred to me that a well established business wouldn’t have a network. And before you ask, this was only a couple of years ago! It just goes to show that you can’t assume anything, even today.
From talking to accountants it seems that the common thread is that data is king. Getting hold of the data when you want it, in a useful format is probably one of the biggest questions I get asked when speaking to partners around the UK. With practices gaining IT solutions over the years in an ad-hoc manner, some haven’t knitted the solutions together (“integration”) so their sits data in multiple locations and in varying states of completeness. Those practices that have some similar systems benefit from the data being in one location and can save a serious amount of time.
There are ways, and some practices have invested heavily, to get an overarching data solution that pulls data into one location so that you can still use your existing software or any bespoke software that you’ve developed. But as you can imagine, these solutions are heavily customised and rely on continuous management. Sometimes it’s worth taking the plunge and moving to an off-the-shelf solution. Perhaps not a perfect fit, but far more cost efficient and with the benefit of long-term commitment from the provider as there’ll be many other customers who they need to look after so will continually be developing new features.
When they get the data, these practices use it for a variety of different activities. One example is job tracking within the practice so that their finger’s on the button of their processes. Some use data to work out how efficiently they’re working. They set KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) to maximise their resources and ensure that the clients pays a fair price for the completed work.
Other practices like to manipulate the data to use it for marketing purposes to up-sell services to existing clients or to let potential clients know more about the practice. These marketing activities can be very simple in-house actions such as sending out a targeted mailshot to a specific data segment, through to extracting data to pass to a third-party marketing agencies for a full blown campaign.
I feel privileged to be invited into so many accountancy firms and i’ll continue learning wherever I go – sharing stories of how other practices have enhanced their IT systems and processes to become more successful. We all get a buzz from performing better – it’s a win-win situation.
Do you have any thoughts relating to practice change and technology, or anything i’ve talked about in this article? Please comment below. I’d also be happy to help any practices looking to change – get in touch.
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