Strategy is king, and technology is the army. But, if you get technology wrong, you can slay your best-laid strategic plans. Long gone are the days when all we needed to know was how to use Lotus (talk about a throwback) or Excel. Today, technology isn’t something you merely apply to accounting tasks – it’s the building blocks of the business model behind the Firm of the Future. And, the future is where your entrepreneurial sights should be aimed.
If you’re not a Firm of the Future, you’re a firm of the past. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. Make no mistake … I’m trying to light a fire in you and impart a sense of urgency. It’s that important, because, unlike the past, when technology was reserved for the internal workings of business, today’s landscape has technology driving client lifestyles and demands. Technological tools must be front and center in your thinking as an entrepreneur. In our age of rapid, disruptive change, fall behind for just a few months and you can become irrelevant.
So, how should a Firm of the Future think about technology? Let me break it down into a few key areas that will help organize your thinking.
The Big Mainframe in the Sky
In other words, “the cloud.” Someday, we’ll no longer use that phrase because it will be universal – everyone will be computing that way. For now, the term is still a differentiator, but not for long. Tax and accounting vendors are no longer developing desktop solutions (for that matter, I don’t know of anyone who is). The desktop solutions you’re using now, and your internal server, are already on the glide path to obsolescence. We’ll celebrate the day when everything is accessible online, but we’re squarely in the transition period at present.
Here is what’s important to know about the cloud: When the time is right and you make the move, you’ll be more efficient and more effective (emphasis on the qualifier, “When the time is right.”). The challenge is knowing when it’s your time. But, keep in mind that “waiting it out” isn’t a winning game plan.
Firm of the Future Strategy
A Firm of the Future has a technology transition strategy to get to that inevitable, big mainframe in the sky. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy – it depends on the nature of your business. For very small firms who have limited clients and provide only cloud-based accounting and payroll services, the strategy is easy. There are mature, cloud-based solutions readily available. With the right clients for their model, these firms can already be Firms of the Future.
But, for more complex practices, it’s not as straightforward. These firms must develop a hybrid approach for the near future, say the next three to five years. While the solutions aren’t going to be ready and mature all within the same timeframe, waiting for that day in lieu of taking action isn’t a winning plan. These firms have the complicated task of adopting available solutions within the context of a bigger picture that is still evolving. If you fall into this category of firm, be careful, yet deliberate about moving forward as solutions are ready.
Key Things to Consider
As you decide when to adopt cloud-based solutions, consider the following:
- The Quality and Vision of the Vendor: You’re entrusting one of your biggest assets to an external entity. Make sure that they are financially stable and have a vision for their product that aligns with yours.
- Integration: How well will this product integrate with others you already use, or will use, in your firm? One of the gold standards for efficiency is getting to a single database, so you only enter client data once to make it available everywhere you need it in your system. This is difficult, but it’s necessary for a Firm of the Future.
- Is the Solution Ready: Move too soon, before the product is ready, and you’ll destroy your team’s confidence and hurt your efficiency. Wait too long, and you won’t get the advantages of cloud-based collaboration, and risk being seen as a laggard.
- Client Collaboration:Real-time collaboration with clients is another gold standard of a Firm of the Future. Prioritize solutions that will give you the biggest bang for the buck. Chances are, they’re the ones that are the most mature. For example, consider the following:
- Your Website – Your place to do business with clients.
- Client Accounting – With products like QuickBooks® Online or Hosted QuickBooks, client accounting must be collaborative.
- Digital Documents – Whether it’s collection, approval, routing or storage, digital documents are a proven technology. Clients and the firm should no longer be handling paper.
- Payroll – All aspects of the payroll process, from information collection to the finished product, have matured enough to be collaborative.
You’ll achieve efficiency and effectiveness in your practice by transforming your business model with the power of technology – eliminating multiple databases, collaborating with clients in real-time, identifying and exclusively serving your ideal clients, and embracing the cloud.
It’s the strategy of a true Firm of the Future.