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When it comes to technology, small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) have a lot in common with other types of small businesses in that they tend to collect technology organically, often without long term goals in mind.

“Very few practices in the SMP space would have a strategic plan, let alone a technological strategic plan,” says practice consultant David Smith, founder of Smithink. “Many just react to what they see in the market and adopt that technology. But they should be thinking about where they want to see their practices heading and what technologies they need to implement to get them to that goal.”

SMPs are often stretched in both on time and resources, and that could be the biggest challenge with any technology plan. Client portals are a time-saving technology solution but there’s a whole of lot of staff and client training that needs to be carried out before such a technology can be successfully embedded. “I’m forever saying to firms that’s it’s not about the technology; all that does is enable process change. So, you should be thinking first about how you want to improve your processes and client service, and only then decide which technologies you need to deploy to enable that,” notes Smith.

Five Steps to Help You Embed Technology in Your Firm:

1. Address your long term business strategy

The first step is to look outwards and not inwards. “First think about what’s happening in the world around you and how that’s going to affect your business. There’s a whole range of environmental issues to engage with in terms of positioning the firm to go forward into the future, and technology underpins a fair bit of those.” Think about how you need to save time, lower costs, maintain your clients and attract staff and new clients. Second, ensure that the technology plan is aligned with the overall strategic plan for the firm e.g. growth targets and service offerings. The firm may seek to harness technology developments to improve its efficiency, client service or profitability. This could include remote access, document management and scanning, multi-screens or website improvements.

2. Do an environmental scan of the technology that you currently have and want

Once you’ve decided on your strategy, take the time to go to vendor events to educate yourself about the new technologies out there, and identify what technology could best fit into your strategy. Issues to consider when choosing a supplier include the quality of its executives; its track record; profitability; investment in research; and development and engagement with its customers. The selection of a supplier should be approached as a long-term relationship investment.

3. Formulating a realistic implementation plan
SMPs often don’t have unlimited resources and need to make sure their plan and approach is effective. “The biggest mistake I see firms doing is taking too much on initially and collapsing in the heap,” says Smith. He suggests a plan that is bite-sized so you can manage the process while savoring small successes along the way. It is important to review the training, support options, costs and contract conditions as part of the decision-making process.

4. Support your technology champion

Identify and position a passionate team member to take the reins in implementing the new initiative. Empower them to think through the process change and what training needs to be provided. They will need the support and guidance from the firm leadership to proceed with change. “Process change is hard and people can be very resistant to it”, says Smith. Identifying a technology champion can also be an effective talent retention initiative where young ‘rising stars’ take on extra responsibility – see Searching for Stars: Youth & Talent Management.

5. Involve your clients

Clients want to hear about developments that can save time and money. Introducing new technology and changes, and involving them through video conferences and client portals will build confidence and trust for the journey. This method creates transparency and highlights the long term thinking for everyone. For example, holding seminars is necessary if your technology plans require their input.  

IFAC has recently launched an updated the Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices which includes a new chapter on Leveraging Technology and covers topics such as Developing a Technology Strategy; Hardware and Software Options; Technology Risks; and New & Emerging Technologies.

Peter Docherty

General Manager, Public Practice, CPA Australia

Peter Docherty is the General Manager of Public Practice at CPA Australia, responsible for strategic oversight of issues impacting public practice members globally, developing member services and advocacy. Peter is a regular speaker in Australia and overseas on regulatory oversight and practice management. He facilitated the development of the IFAC Guide to Practice Management for Small to Medium Practices, CPA Australia’s Firm of the Future Report and Practice Management Portal.