• Colin Doyle CFO

What is your IT strategy?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

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 “future- ready?” 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.

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.

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