“We overestimate change in the short-term and underestimate change in the long-term” – Bill Gates
Technology can transform your practice, increase control and enhance efficiency. Yet, introducing it is far from simple.
With the Efficiency Masterclass just around the corner, we turned to the experts – Will Farnell, cloud accounting pioneer and founder of Farnell Clarke, and cloud conversion expert, Matt Flanagan – to share their experience in the right and wrong way of tackling tech.
1. DECIDE ON THE ‘WHY’
Before you bring in technology, first interrogate the ‘why’. What problems do you want to fix? This is the first building block.
“If it’s not fixing a problem, don’t do it. If it’s not improving client relationships, don’t do it,” says Will. “Before you buy anything, decide on what you’re hoping to deliver. Do you want to save time or give a better experience? At Farnell Clarke, our vision was (and is) to make accounting simple and easy. Match your tech to your vision.”
If it’s not fixing a problem, don’t do it. If it’s not improving client relationships, don’t do itWill Farnell
“A common mistake I see firms make is rolling out new tech out to just 1% of their client base then reviewing after 1 month,” adds Matt. “You have to invest time, not just money, into making it work. The worst possible way of approaching technology is to dedicate just 10-20% of your time (half a day a week) and try to fit it into your day job where you’re likely already overstretched.”
2. GET STAFF BUY-IN
Once you know your why and are set on your vision, it’s time to talk to your team and, crucially, win their support.
“When we talk about changing systems or bringing in new technology without bringing in the ‘why’, people switch off,” says Will. “The immediate response is, ‘Well what’s wrong with the systems we have?’ Accountants always want to do best by their client. Rather than talking tech or systems, talk about changing what you do to make sure your clients get the best service.”
It’s critical to persevere, even in the face of pushback.
“When firms find that something doesn’t work or is taking longer than expected, many will default back to their old way of working or end up with a hybrid of new and old systems. Don’t give up. Keep ploughing on through those teething problems. Splinters appear when you let clients or staff do things differently,” adds Matt.
3. MAP TO YOUR CURRENT PROCESS
Where do you see inefficiencies in your current process? Chances are you have several processes for the same task. Introducing new technology offers an opportunity to review and refine your current ways of working, or completely overhaul them.
“It’s a common mistake to bolt technology onto 15-year-old processes, which can result in tech living in isolation. You have to fundamentally change your processes, structure and people,” says Will. “It’s a pyramid of people, process and technology. If one’s not there, you have a problem.”
So where do you start when rethinking process, particularly if your firm is established? Processes naturally vary from person to person but having twenty different processes for bookkeeping just isn’t efficient.
“Identify what your current ideal process is. Even if everyone has a different way of doing their day job, choose the most efficient one or create something new if you need to. How do you think you should be doing things? Then map your technology against it,” recommends Matt.
4. BUILD A ROADMAP
Now you know your ‘why’, have staff buy-in and know your ideal process, you can start planning. For Matt, roadmaps and action plans provide an essential common reference point for your team. Matt and Will recommend dedicating resources to project managing the implementation and choosing those resources wisely.
“Personally, I’m more driven by the bigger picture than concerned about the details. I need someone who’s tenacious, results-driven and has a great attention to detail,” says Will – a belief that’s echoed by Matt.
“Many firms give ownership of the project to someone just because they like cloud technology. You need someone who’s not only interested but has all the traits Will mentioned – someone who can deliver on time, ” says Matt. “You have to invest time, not just money, into making it work. That’s more than just half a day a week fit into your current day-job, where chances are you’re already overstretched.”
5. REVIEW AND REFINE
The next step is to review the roadmap continuously and remain open to change.
“I often work with firms who plan to review their roadmap three months down the line, only to find out that it fell apart a week after they made it. You have to constantly review it. Even if you don’t know where you’re going with it (it’s ok, no one really does), you’ll have something to work towards,” advises Matt.
This evolution is mirrored in Will’s approach to his internal structuring: a pod structure that increases collaboration, innovation and efficiency.
CASE STUDY: THE IDEAL COMMUNICATION STRUCTURE
The Special Air Service (SAS) often use teams of four to patrol. While guerilla fighting and jungle combat is quite different to day-to-day life in an accounting practice, Will Farnell adopted a similar team structure. He devised his current approach at Farnell Clarke through several iterations.
“In the first few years of running Farnell Clarke, I could happily manage everyone. As our team grew, this became increasingly difficult. I replicated other firms in building teams for each service, such as tax and payroll. Yet, it just didn’t work. Clients wanted a single point of contact (POC), so we elected staff who were often too junior to efficiently answer queries or prioritise workload. So we brought in another layer of management. This resulted in the pod structure we have today.”
“This pod structure enables daily bookkeeping. That’s the first thing we do before moving onto other tasks. It also helps us scale. I know that if we build a new pod, we can bring in another £250k revenue. Yet, ultimately it’s all about delivering a better experience to clients.”
Ultimately, the key to success? “Leadership, structure, and understanding what you need to deliver,” says Will. “Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and be prepared to own your processes. If you do this, you’ll also control data quality, profitability of work and client relationships. It’s all about taking risks in a controlled planned way.”