Many longer-term plans for your IT have been fast-tracked over the past 16 months. As more organisations start to return to the office, business owners face many decisions about their IT strategy moving forward.
Typically, many accountancy firm’s technology choices have been driven by the products they’ve chosen over the years, perhaps by the relationship they have with software vendors, which can result in firms running lots of different packages with minimal data integration between different applications.
Based on our research and industry knowledge, this month we provide advice on areas to consider for the IT strategy of your firm or corporate enterprise for the new world of work. Having a clear IT strategy can be instrumental to your firm’s growth and success.
Linking your IT Strategy to your Business Strategy
It’s all too easy to just keep taking on shiny new IT products and adding them to your ever-growing list of business applications, without thinking how to make the most of IT to help deliver your overall business strategy. Now is an ideal time to stop, take stock, and identify your goals and the related benefits for your IT over the longer term. Our research reveals 55% of firms have changed their IT strategy since the impact of COVID-19, with examples such as accelerated adoption of remote working and cloud platforms.
Spend a day with your leadership team, ideally away from your normal work environment, discussing and documenting your longer-term vision for your organisation over the next 3, 5 and 10 years. Be creative in your thinking and consider how IT can support your overall aims for the business, your team and your clients. Improving your IT can help to improve client experience. Your IT strategy should be aligned to your overall goals and objectives. As business leaders, it’s now time for you to drive new technology to boost your longer-term business strategy.
Valuable Data Decisions
Along with the legal requirement to retain tax information for at least 6 years, accountants have to consider what to do with all the data accumulated over the years. The logical time to consider a data cleanse, would be when you come to move to a new server as you may only want to migrate essential information. To manage costs for your expanding storage needs, it’s helpful to organise your data based on attributes like frequency-of-access and planned retention period to optimise costs. You could move historic data to cool blob storage in the Microsoft Azure cloud, for example. The cool access tier has lower storage costs and higher access costs compared to hot storage. This tier is intended for data that will remain in the cool tier for at least 30 days. An example usage scenario for the cool access tier could be older data not used frequently but expected to be available immediately when accessed.
There have been fundamental improvements made in terms of the business intelligence you can surface from the data you hold in your organisation. With an application such as Microsoft Power BI you can get really valuable insights from your data. Business intelligence software enables you to make confident decisions using up-to-the-minute analytics, giving you more visibility into the data you hold across your systems. It builds on Excel concepts but enables even more powerful data manipulation.
Plan for a Cyber Incident
It’s vital your valuable and sensitive data is protected as cyber security becomes more important over time. Ensure your IT strategy is clear and explicit on how your data will be protected and build security into every layer of your IT infrastructure and systems.
Tighten down user privileges across your systems so people only have access to what they need to perform their role, and no more. No one should be working day-to-day with full admin access to the system. Put security measures in place to ensure internal people can’t steal sensitive information and external hackers can’t break in.
Hybrid working brings new challenges with team members working more remotely and no longer secured by the corporate network firewall. A layered security approach utilising cloud technology such as endpoint detection and response (EDR) and a cloud security service, as well as simple changes like forced adoption of multi-factor authentication, will bolster your security.
If you don’t already have a well-documented and tested incident response plan, now’s the time to create one. Ensure staff are continually provided with cyber security training specific to your organisation and foster a no-blame culture of reporting cyber incidents from the top down.
Vendors are continually developing new products, however it’s important not to make your business fit the solution or try to force fit new technologies to fit into your environment. Ensure the solution you choose solves a problem or enhances your offering to support your business growth. Make sure their solution fits your requirements and aligns with your business processes and operations.
Don’t be driven by industry trends and commit to not taking on new systems unless they support what you’re aiming to achieve as a business. Try to remain objective as to how their offering aligns with your overall business strategy.
Our research found most firms (85%) feel the software they use is fit for purpose. 40% of firms continually review, revise and streamline the software they use, but ¼ never go through such a process. As we all embrace the digital revolution, it is crucial to stay up to date with the tools, technology and ideas driving the industry forward. We recommend attending events such as Accountex to educate yourself on what’s at the forefront of accountancy and finance innovation.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ software solution for the accountancy sector. Firms tend to fall into one of two categories when deciding on their software strategy:
- Single ERP system ties together all functions of your business
- Best of breed
An ERP implementation is meant to streamline and centralise all your client and business data, providing you with a single source of truth. A best of breed strategy allows you to select your preferred products for each of the business functions. While best of breed systems can be less expensive at the outset and can help an SME grow, keep in mind that costs can add up as you integrate more components. With the increase in open APIs, it is becoming easier to tie together different systems, and connect directly to HMRC and Companies House, for example.
Considering a move to the cloud should be discussed as part of your IT strategy planning session, so let’s start by explaining the types of cloud architecture available:
- SaaS – Software as a Service allows users to connect to and use cloud-based apps over the internet providing a complete software solution that you purchase on a pay-as-you-go basis, e.g. Microsoft Office 365, Xero Tax, Sage Final Accounts Production, Silverfin.
- PaaS – Platform as a Service is designed to support the complete web application life cycle, e.g. Google App Engine, Azure SQL Database, AWS Elastic Beanstalk.
- IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service delivers essential compute, storage and networking resources on demand so you can create platforms for your services, e.g. Microsoft Azure, iomart, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Our research showed a number of firms see cloud as a future advancement to make their firm more efficient, especially in terms of ease of access and integration. It was also noted by a few that client service has improved since they’ve moved onto cloud bookkeeping and it was suggested, if you don’t move to the cloud, you’ll be left behind and clients will move to a more forward-thinking firm.
In terms of moving from physical servers in your office to a cloud solution such as Microsoft Azure, we see momentum now increasing. More and more firms are choosing to pay for their monthly consumption of virtual servers, rather than replace physical servers.
Our research revealed 30% of accountants feel they don’t have enough awareness to make knowledgeable IT decisions. Whether you have internal, external or a combination of both for your organisation’s IT support, do you have someone to turn to for expert technology advice specific to your business sector? Does that person have knowledge across your industry and an awareness of new developments in cyber security, automation, business intelligence and artificial intelligence? You need to be confident they have a clear understanding of your business strategy and the technology available to enable innovative growth for your organisation. If you’re thinking of moving your server to the cloud, it’s worth getting advice from an expert on how to smoothly transit to new technology.
Developing your IT strategy is critical to continued growth and success. If you are looking for some independent advice, Lugo, as the ICAS IT Partner, can arrange a free meeting to discuss working as your Virtual IT Director.
We also attend Accountex annually to ensure we bring the most up-to-date advice to our clients. For more information please email Liz.Smith@LugoIT.co.uk or click here to book an appointment at a time to suit you.