Seasoned accountants know that running tax or audit processes require lots of communication, coordination, documentation and accuracy. Operating with manual, high-touch processes and outdated technology is a recipe for disaster. Best case, things run a little slower than they could and the client experience isn’t great. Worst case, your margin evaporates and both the client and employee experience are terrible, creating turnover with both.
There’s a better way to manage tax and audit workflows levering technology. If you’re not ready to talk to a specific solution provider (cough, Vsimple, cough), here are some recommendations to jumpstart the process.
1. Evaluate your current processes
Start this exercise by mapping all of the steps in your processes, whether you’re focused on tax prep, audit, accounting services or any other practice. Identify what happens at each step (the work), who is responsible (the persons), where that work occurs (the systems) and, ideally, how long it should take to manage the process between each stage. Now assess where there are bottlenecks, friction points and other common hurdles. Make note of them but don’t try to problem solve just yet.
2. Assess your existing softwares
Now that you have a clear process map, take a closer look at the system(s) used to manage the work. Don’t dismiss the use of emails, spreadsheets, calls, meetings, paper files; those are all systems (or places) in their own right, and ones that can be low-hanging fruit for consolidation. Identify your core heartbeat systems that were intended to capture the lion’s share of the work. Are they up to par, or are they missing key functionalities? How easy is it to communicate and collaborate within the systems? Is automation built in? Are there safety nets and escalations? Do the systems generate meaningful insights or reports? The answers to these questions will help to determine what new technology needs to be able to accomplish to achieve success in your firm.
3. Standardize your tax workflow (especially if you have a big footprint)
You’ve now inventoried your process and your software, so it’s time to look at how this may vary from person to person or branch to branch. The larger the firm, the bigger variance you may find in the way things get done. If you’re going to eventually integrate technology into the business to streamline the way you work, make sure you account for the inconsistencies which may exist. Now is the perfect time to create one true best practice organization-wide.
4. Inventory your needs or gaps
It’s wishlist time! Based on the gaps you identified in step two, assemble a requirements doc and circulate it to key stakeholders. This will be a key asset for when you start evaluating potential technology solutions and partners. Consider not just the technical needs, but also what you may need from the provider in terms of implementation, training and support.
5. Focus on collaboration
The ability to share, communicate, review and approve items is paramount to accounting workflow. Any technology you consider to optimize your business processes should exhibit strong collaboration tools. If communication, documentation, task management or data reporting becomes untethered from the process, it can lead to bottlenecks or failure points. For example, if a solution offers wonderful options for documentation (i.e. sharing, rev control, storage, etc.) but relies on email communication to fill gaps, expect things to move more slowly than it could.
6. Find the right partner
When evaluating technology solution providers, write down some of your key questions and considerations. Are they a business known for providing great support, or is it a DIY solution? Or do they leverage 3rd party sellers, implementers or technical support resources? Is the solution scalable, and are there other technologies which can be layered on Know what’s important to making the technology successful within your organization, and make sure the chosen partner checks all the right boxes.
The inclination to overhaul everything all at once is strong; while building a long-term roadmap is important, the implementation of new technology is usually best done through an iterative process. Set prioritizes on a schedule, then manage them to completion. As much as you’re able, lean on the technology partner to ensure a successful implementation. If you have a true partnership with the provider, you’ll be able to work through any curveballs or unexpected challenges throughout the project (and beyond).
If you want to see how we help practices around the country, schedule time with a workflow solution specialist here.