In a recent survey, 86% of CEOs identified their use of technology as one of the primary differentiators for them in the marketplace. Due to the important role technology plays in business, Clayton & McKervey, P.C., used the June 2015 CFO/Controller roundtable as a forum to discuss how local businesses are using technology to make their operations more efficient. Timothy J. Hilligoss, CPA, MST, Shareholder – International Accounting, Practice Leader for Asia, and Bryan Powrozek, CPA, CGMA, Senior Accountant – SME, led the discussion which touched on various topics, including:
- Determining the needs of users.
- Resources required to implement and manage technology.
- Challenges participants have encountered in managing their technology.
During the roundtable, participants shared the top technology concerns facing their organizations. Among them were:
- Are we using our current hardware and software resources to their fullest extent?
- Is our technology out of date? How do we know?
- Can we trust the cloud or other solutions where our data is stored outside of our company?
- Should we use an integrated suite of software or a best of breed solution?
- Do we have the expertise to manage this ourselves?
While the answers to these questions will vary based on the company and situation, a number of ideas were shared that will help make answering them easier.
As with many business processes, the first step in managing a company’s strategic plan for technology is to begin with a needs analysis. Completing this can be particularly challenging because most business leaders do not come from a technology background, and if they do, technology may only be one small part of their job responsibilities. Attendees provided the following suggestions for completing the needs analysis:
- Consider appointing a champion within the organization who is responsible for maintaining the strategic plan for the company.
- Solicit feedback from users to understand where technology – or lack of the correct technology – is limiting their efficiency.
- There may be a need to translate the users’ needs into terms the information technology department understands. There is often a disconnect between what the users need and what those responsible for technology think they need.
- Consider whether or not your organization has the capabilities to complete the needs analysis on its own. Staying on top of the latest technological advancements can become a full time job. Where possible, leverage to individuals in your network who have the skills needed.
- Consider joining an organization where you can interact with other industry professionals grappling with the same issues. Some options shared were Automation Alley, Vistage, and user groups for a specific piece of software.
- The frequency of performing a needs analysis will depend on the company. Some of the factors that determine how often this takes place are:
- Financial resources
- Capacity needs / growth
- Tipping points – a change in the business forces a change in technology
Once a company has identified a technology they would like to invest in, the next step is to select the appropriate solution. The group had the following suggestions for improving the selection process:
- Consult with multiple vendors before making your selection. Explain the needs of your company and ask the vendor to assist you in identifying the best solution. Some recommended vendors are included in the resources section.
- Before deciding on a solution, try to solicit feedback from others who have chosen the same solution. If you do not have anyone in your network familiar with the particular hardware or software, ask your vendor if you can speak to some of their clients who have implemented it.
- Make sure you understand how the solution will work – or won’t work – within your existing infrastructure. One attendee shared the story of how their company’s cloud implementation ran into issues due to the quality of their internet connection. By implementing the cloud solution, they were forced to upgrade their internet connection in order for it to work properly.
- In an ideal scenario, the solution will integrate with your existing systems and provide efficiency improvements. One participant referenced their expense reporting system (Concur) that was integrated directly with their general ledger, reducing the number of systems in which the data needs to be entered.
Once the solution is identified, it must be implemented. In order to ensure this stage goes as smoothly as possible, the participants recommended the following:
- Obtain commitment from every level of the organization to support the change. Very often the initial reaction to change is resistance. As a result, they may fall back on old ways of doing their jobs and ignore the improved technology.
- Communicate to all users throughout the process. The better they understanding the reason for the change the more likely the buy-in. Solicit feedback early and often to identify the issues users are having and enlist them to help find solutions.
- If possible, set up a test group to begin using the solution before rolling it out to the entire business. This will allow the major bugs to be addressed before the system is used by the entire organization.
- Don’t stop with one training session when the new software or hardware is rolled out. Hold several follow up sessions allowing users to share what they’ve learned with others in the organization.
- Make sure your organization has a disaster recovery plan and ensure the plan gets updated for the implemented changes in technology.