5 Steps to Leverage Technology Toward Increasing Efficiency and Profit

How often do you take a giant step back and take stock of what your firm is doing day to day?  Now answer the same question with respect to how technology within your firm either helps or hinders your processes. The frequency of these reviews can have a large effect on your ability to execute and fix potential gaps.

We all know that the most valuable resource within our firm is our people. How we use their valuable time determines how profitable we are. This includes managing slumps in productivity when employees join and leave the firm. As partners and managers, we are responsible for putting our firm’s best foot forward. It all starts with evaluating our technology, the tools and processes we touch every day, as early and often as possible to make sure that it is supporting the most profitable staffing model we can create. Two industry shifts have made the math very simple: value billing clients incentivizes us to be as efficient as possible since revenue is fixed, and subscription cloud services make adopting tech far cheaper than the old buy and install model. If you have an average labor cost of $30 per hour and can identify a tool that, for $50 per week, saves 20% of a staffer’s time, you’ve just created an entire day’s worth of new billable client time.

I propose a 5 step plan to drive up that bottom line:

  • Review process stakeholders’ pain points
  • Document your technology processes
  • Assess current technology and newly available technology
  • Review proposed changes with task stakeholders
  • Have an implementation plan

Now let’s dive a little deeper into these steps. Our first step is to review current processes and technology with the people who are working with them every day. This process can produce some fascinating results.  Have you noticed how comfortable people get with the status quo when it comes to software? It’s unfortunate how infrequently many firms review what more substantial opportunities there are out there. For example, consider a desktop tax application that has been in place for several years. How would a move to the cloud or adoption of scanning and OCR technology increase efficiency? Would you understand the benefits of that functionality if your current vendor didn’t offer it to you? I know within our firm we have about an every 10-year cadence of changing tax applications. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t perform reviews much more often. We constantly watch what is out in the market and what is available to us to switch to, and assess our efficiency at least annually. When you are out at tradeshows take the opportunity to see what’s out there.  In fact, a quick demo with an existing technology vendor might even reveal key functionality you didn’t realize had been released.

Would your firm or team be prepared if you or one of your team members left suddenly? This is the second step. Process documentation maintains continuity for day to day tasks, and it keeps your long term strategy on track when new stakeholders come in. It can be a bit of a project so budget time and make a plan you can keep. Setup repeating calendar invites for you and your team to focus on getting this accomplished. An additional benefit of this end to end documentation process is that it can reveal inefficiencies that technology can plug easily.

Now that you have reviewed all of your technology and verified that you have documented processes it’s time to move on to the third step: evaluating those processes with a focus on how the technology is helping. Some firms will establish a specific role for this, but usually it’s just an added responsibility for one champion. Some firms pause what they are doing and spend some time, perhaps in an offsite meeting, to focus heads down on this analysis. Some just add it incrementally to their regular work.  In my experience the latter option does not work.  You have to show commitment not just to completing these tasks, but demonstrating that the exercise is valued by management. This is essential to make it through the potential change implementation hurdles you might face later on.

Alright, you have made it through your assessment and found the “perfect” technology stack for your firm. Congratulations! You’re done, right?  Not even close. Step four. Before you buy, before you commit time and resources to implementation, you need to take a step back again and go and talk to the staff who will be affected. Your goal is to explain what changes you are making and how you expect daily processes to change. They will have excellent feedback on why things perhaps won’t work the way you expect. This can also be a dangerous step if your team is perhaps feeling apprehensive about technology stealing their jobs. That makes this is a great time to explain that their value will actually increase as they adapt quickly to newer technology and become more versatile and agile. Help them understand how they will be able to help in many different ways than before.

Finally, you must have a plan to implement.  Leverage your software vendor’s resources. They have done this before and probably have a laundry list of best practices for implementing, or perhaps they offer some services to help with the process. Don’t try and throw this at your teams without the proper support. That never works, and failed technology implementations will cost you more time, money, and staff in the long run than not making changes at all! You can also look to the community of other users. More likely than not there are Facebook and LinkedIn groups out there for each piece of technology you’re considering where you can go and ask questions.

Remember that change is hard and most people don’t want to go through it. I know personally I have had this issue come up time and time again. The answer is to make change a part of your routine. Instill a consistent review and change management process within your teams and you will be able to drive profitability quickly within your firm. On the other hand, if you put your head down and don’t push yourself a little out of your comfort zone, you will miss a lot of opportunities.

Dave Emmerman – Partner at Emmerman, Boyle & Associates, LLC