It is hard to imagine our practice without the level of technology that we use. I know the vast majority of our our peers have been slow in adopting technologies to manage and run their practice. I can not image the struggles of cost and quality associated with running a firm not heavily leveraged with technology.
Fortunately, I have a pretty significant technology background and credentials. Consequently, when we started the firm we comiited to this area and backed it up with time and money. We have always use the American Institue of CPAs (AICPA) Annual Top Technology Intitiatives as a mjor benchmark for how we were doing compared to our peer group.
We think it would be ofinterest to share the AICPA 2012 Top Technology Intitiavies and how we stack up.
- Securing the IT environment
- We made some great early decisionswith regards to our IT environment. We partnered with Thomson Rueters to provide use the infratstructure we needed. The technology environement is fully redundant and backed up. It is the highest level data center available and has a robust disaster recovery plan. It is not the cheapest solution available in the market, but itis cheaper than we could build ourselves and provides usthe technology resources of an international, mega-corporation.
- Managing and retaining data
- This is an ongoing issue in a CPA firm. We run a “paperless” environment which gives us the ability to manage our data through out our environment. This also gives us a relatively easy means of removing “old” data,butstill having it easily accessable. This sure beats the alternative of administrative staff removing inactive or files files and digging through storgage facilities for old records when needed.
- Managing risk and compliance
- IT risk is only as good as your ability to recover. You do not want your systems to go down in the middle of heavy processing times, nor do you want to have uncontrolled software releases enter your production environement. We rely heavily on our third party vendors to help us control these environements. We believe a small number of highly specilized vendors is easier to manage our risks and the ever changing compliance requirements.
- Ensuring privacy
- This is an ever moving target as the crooks become more creative. We lock down all our data and provide secure portals for our clients. We mask data where practical, but the IRS becomes a challenge for security at times. We overemphasis common sense. You know the basics – know who you are dealing with, preventing the ability to save login information to sensative information, make sure everythingis behind our firewall,etc. For a forward thinking firm, we do not have remote access to our physical site.I think it is a mestake for firms like ours with extremely sensative data to take such and unctrolled risk when there are significantly more secure means of having access without the risk. Obviously, there is a cost, but we do not beleive this is an area to be foolish.
- Leveraging emerging technologies
- This is near and dear to our hearts. Having done the basics well for so long, we are able to leverage the latest and greatest (of course after it has a proven track record). This is so numberous and incorporates a large piece of our annual technology spending. This ranges from device delivery (i.e. iPads) to new service software (i.e. Bill.com). We will continually push the envelope to insure that we are continually leveraging emerging technologies.
- Managing system implementation
- Unlike most firms,we dedicate resources before we bring anything new into our environment. There are some basic updates that we leave to dedicated vendors, but we incubate everything new in our world. We develop project plans for new intitiatives and run testing in a seperate environment. This allows us to work out the problems in a controlled environment and build the necessary knowledge before we “shave on our clients face.” This is clearly a differentiation for us and produced great results for us and our clients.
- Enabling decision support and managing performance
- As a small firm this is still very intuitive. As we continue to grow, we continually develop new and better tools to empower our people and monitor performance.
- Governing and managing IT investment/spending
- We are committed to investing inour technology we have continually invested 7% to 10% of our gross revenues to this year over year.This is higher than our peers, but we consider it essentialto our contuned growth. We budget the spending and have everyones input on what provides us the biggest benefit.
- Preventing and responding to fraud
- We have done a good job securing our environement that we have not had to respond to fraud. We have a whole host of early ditection systems in place to hopefully prevent this from occuring. We believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Managing vendors and service providers
- As stated earlier, we limit the number of vendors and service providers we use to help control and manage our overall IT environement. We review them at least annually to insure they are performing and outpacing their competitors.
How did we stackup? More importantly, how did your current provider stack up? If they can not address these issues easily it may be time to preasure them into moving to the next level of our profession. If you have any questions about our IT strategies please do not hesitate to contact us.