What is your IT strat­egy?

Accounting Today - - Technology - By L. Gary Boomer

What is your IT strat­egy? Do you have a writ­ten plan? Does it in­te­grate with your firm’s strate­gic plan? Is it trans­for­ma­tive? These ques­tions of­ten get a re­sponse like, “We don’t have a writ­ten plan, but we have an IT budget.” In other cases, the re­sponse may be, “IT is mov­ing too fast to have a plan.”

There is noth­ing wrong with op­er­at­ing with a budget, but I rec­om­mend a one-to-three-year IT plan along with an IT budget. Many firms are work­ing with an IT project list, which is bet­ter than noth­ing, but the value of an IT plan comes from the plan­ning process and get­ting the firm to think dif­fer­ently about the fu­ture.

Main­te­nance is no longer enough. IT must be in­no­va­tive and trans­for­ma­tive for many ac­count­ing ser­vices to re­main rel­e­vant.

Some crit­i­cal ques­tions firms should ask dur­ing the plan­ning process are: 1. What are the firm’s strate­gic vi­sion and plan? 2. Why do we do what we do? Will it be rel­e­vant and can we com­pete in three years? 3. Who will lead IT and to whom will they re­port? 4. What new ser­vices will we add to re­main rel­e­vant as well as com­pet­i­tive?

5. What is the eco­nomic model to en­sure we get a re­turn on our IT in­vest­ment?

6. What train­ing will our peo­ple re­quire to be “fu­tur­eready?” Do we have the right peo­ple in IT?

7. How much are we cur­rently spend­ing on IT and what should we spend to re­main com­pet­i­tive?

8. What per­cent of our cur­rent IT ex­pen­di­tures are fo­cused on main­te­nance and what per­cent on in­no­va­tion?

9. Do we have an IT roadmap that we can eas­ily ex­plain to our firm and clients?

10. Do we have a process to en­sure our firm is on the right path?

These are dif­fi­cult ques­tions that re­quire time to think, and most in­volve risk and trans­for­ma­tion. As my good friend Al­lan Koltin puts it, you have three op­tions:

1. Do noth­ing and ig­nore the changes that are oc­cur­ring in the pro­fes­sion. 2. Ask ev­ery­one but you to change. 3. Ad­dress the is­sues and make the dif­fi­cult changes. Al­lan uses the anal­ogy of three doors; you can take your pick. The re­sults of Op­tions 1 and 2 will ul­ti­mately im­pact both you and your firm neg­a­tively. Op­tion 3 re­quires change and strong lead­er­ship. It is also the best so­lu­tion for the long term.

There are sev­eral re­quire­ments a firm needs to de­velop an IT strat­egy. The strat­egy or plan is just the start, and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan is where the re­turn on in­vest­ment oc­curs. The re­quire­ments to de­velop an IT plan — or any plan, for that mat­ter — are: A firm vi­sion; The sup­port of the CEO and firm lead­er­ship; An It-savvy leader; Ac­cess to lead­ing peers and busi­ness part­ners (re­sources); and,

A plan­ning process.

Re­mem­ber, IT strat­egy is about progress and not per­fec­tion. Changes in IT are oc­cur­ring at blaz­ing speed, and the plan should be up­dated an­nu­ally. Don’t pro­cras­ti­nate — set the dates for your IT strat­egy plan­ning meet­ing to­day.

Each firm is dif­fer­ent with the age of their hard­ware (in­fra­struc­ture), sat­is­fac­tion with ex­ist­ing applications, train­ing, and in­te­gra­tion of data from mul­ti­ple applications or databases. An out­side fa­cil­i­ta­tor for the plan­ning process can sig­nif­i­cantly ac­cel­er­ate the process and en­sure a fo­cus on strat­egy and in­no­va­tion, rather than tac­tics.

You may also want to con­sider in­clud­ing an ex­ter­nal It-savvy peer or client in the process. (Sev­eral Boomer Tech­nol­ogy Cir­cle mem­bers now par­tic­i­pate in peer firm IT meet­ings to pro­vide an out­side per­spec­tive.)

You should de­velop the plan first and then the budget. We uti­lize a “quick budget” tool that takes just a few min­utes to pre­pare and works well with get­ting part­ner or ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee buy-in with­out spend­ing days pre­par­ing a de­tailed budget that may never get part­ner ap­proval.

Here are some of the crit­i­cal ar­eas your IT plan should ad­dress: Gov­er­nance; Lead­er­ship; Ac­count­abil­ity; Train­ing; Cloud and work­flow strat­egy; Se­cu­rity and pri­vacy; Mind­set, staffing and sourc­ing; The tech­nol­ogy stack or ecosys­tem; Client ser­vices; and, In­te­gra­tion and growth. We rec­om­mend our one-page plan for­mat, as it forces firms to iden­tify their ob­jec­tives, mea­sure­ments of suc­cess, pri­or­ity ini­tia­tives, due dates, and re­spon­si­ble par­ties. This ap­proach lever­ages re­sources as well as of­fer­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous, rather than se­quen­tial, so­lu­tions. From ex­pe­ri­ence, we have found that mul­ti­ple-page plans cause peo­ple to lose fo­cus on the “big rocks” and of­ten get caught work­ing in the “sand.”

Here is a quick check­list for de­vel­op­ing a strate­gic IT plan and budget: CEO or MP sup­port and par­tic­i­pa­tion. Dates and venue away from the of­fice (rec­om­mended one-and-a-half to two days).

Par­tic­i­pants — rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire firm, in­clud­ing non-part­ners.

Fa­cil­i­ta­tor — some­one with in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­po­sure to a large num­ber of firms.

Agenda — struc­tured, but flex­i­ble enough to al­low par­tic­i­pa­tion and dis­cus­sion.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the plan — con­sis­tent, con­cise and un­der­stand­able to the end users.

On­go­ing ac­count­abil­ity reviews — rec­om­mended quar­terly.

Re­mem­ber, IT strat­egy is about progress and not per­fec­tion. Changes in IT are oc­cur­ring at blaz­ing speed, and the plan should be up­dated an­nu­ally. Don’t pro­cras­ti­nate — set the dates for your IT strat­egy plan­ning meet­ing to­day.

AT

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the vi­sion­ary and strate­gist at Boomer Con­sult­ing Inc.

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