The Changing Role of Internal IT : How Accelerating Cloud Computing Drives Strategic Initiatives

Colleen FureyFinancial IT, Partners, Performance & Availability

For internal IT teams at the nation’s CPA firms, their role and responsibilities have grown substantially over the past decade. From the expansion of the number of applications they need to support to the introduction of cloud infrastructure, virtual machines, and software as a service offerings, IT needs have exploded. And that’s not even addressing the increased need for security, for example, vulnerability and risk management and the need to develop and test disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

As IT becomes more strategic then, the challenge for the IT leaders of today’s CPA firms is to find the space to contribute to their firms’ strategic direction, while juggling all their existing responsibilities that are critical for a smooth-running firm.

In a recent webinar,  Kate Krupey, CIO of CoreBlue Advisory, and Bill Soreson, VP of Product at Netgain, discussed how and why the industry is shifting en masse toward centralized cloud services as well as how internal IT teams can not only drive the move but capitalize on it by exploiting newly available cloud services and resources to execute against their firm’s business strategy. We’ve put together the key takeaways from the webinar below.

Shifts in IT Roles and Responsibilities

As stated earlier, IT departments are often challenged with the rapid increase in the number of applications and the support and maintenance required for each. Expansion of technology and applications used by an organization is one of the main reasons for change in IT teams’ roles and responsibilities. Another challenge for internal IT teams is the demand for greater skillsets. This demand comes from the need to support mixed cloud environments of an organization. Krupey and Soreson note some of the tasks involved in supporting a mixed environment could be easily offloaded to a cloud partner, which will later be discussed in greater detail.

Organizations are always looking to maintain and expand their security, which leads to increased demands and responsibilities from internal IT teams. With expansion of security comes greater vulnerability and risk management tasks, including disaster recovery and business continuity. As a result, IT teams are often left with increasing, time consuming demands with escalated priority.

Impact of COVID-19

In addition to this macro view of the evolution of IT, we need to acknowledge the backdrop of 2020. We have all felt and experienced the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives and routines. Earlier this year, we specifically discussed the impact of COVID-19 on CPA firms and how cloud technology aided many firms in handling the crisis and successfully working from home. For IT teams, the shift to working remotely has come with increased security risks and threat factors to CPA firms as their boundaries have been expanded. With the impact of COVID-19 came additional updates to security and HR policies in organizations. These changes were necessary in response to working from home, in order to protect data. Many concerns for the IT teams about firms moving data back and forth, remote connectivity, and users working from their own personal devices all arose over the past few months, again expanding their responsibilities.

What the Firm Needs from IT

Despite all this increased responsibility in day-to-day IT management, CPA firms are also looking to IT to help them achieve the firm’s long-term vision. As more and more firms look to augment revenue from core accounting services, IT plays a critical role in enabling those new services, so strategic alignment of goals between a firm and their internal IT team is essential to the success of the business. That means, that an IT team’s project and vendor management skills are even more critical as they help their business by adopting new technology and assessing the future of the organization. The IT team’s ability to stay on top of advanced adoption of new technology helps businesses avoid greater costs in the future.

Cloud Strategy Facilitates Strategic IT

As mentioned previously, the relationship and alignment of goals between internal IT and an organization are important to the success of a firm. With the help of cloud strategy, an internal IT group can begin to shift their focus to productivity within the organization. By adopting the right cloud strategy, the team can not only gain greater efficiencies and productivity for the firm, but also actually increase the capacity of an IT team. For example, application and system updates, backups and other tactical, time consuming projects IT groups are typically responsible for can instead be done by a partner to allow for high-value impact. Based on a firm’s goals and internal alignment, firms can examine which tasks and responsibilities can be moved to a cloud service provider.

Shared Responsibility – Create Capacity

Now, we have a better idea of how the role and responsibilities of internal IT have shifted and recognize the benefits of working with a cloud partner. When breaking down the responsibilities of an IT team, as seen in the chart, we can see how these tasks can be shifted and divided more efficiently with the help of a cloud partner. Sharing these responsibilities and being engaged with a cloud partner creates capacity for the IT team.

Employee onboarding and offboarding is a great example of a shared responsibility with a cloud service provider. Partners can do the tactical piece while the organization handles the strategic piece. Cloud service providers can work on these strategic components because of their advanced understandings of the industry, giving your organization a leg up on managing applications and performance. Developing the relationship between internal IT team and service provider vendor is a key to success of the firm and provides great value to the firm by creating capacity. Combining the two groups allows for each to feel extended across one another’s responsibility. A partnership with vendors with strong communication and ability to leverage their strengths allows for great success.

Accelerating to the Cloud – Considerations

Accelerating to the cloud is not as complicated as firms believe it to be. Many firms fear lots of effort, time and disruption in their transition to the cloud. On the contrary, the cloud partner will do most of the work and this transition allows the IT team to have a fresh start in a clean environment.

Transitioning to the cloud allows IT to look at, clean up, manage and configure their data. For end users, they have a full desktop experience with the look and feel of Windows 10. Overall, accelerating to the cloud will create more opportunity for growth and development for your organization.

Microsoft Azure vs. Private Cloud

There are many reasons why organizations are shifting towards public cloud. One major advantage of public cloud is the cost because you only pay for what you use. Capacity of public cloud gives you unimaginable growth, with immediate availability. Public cloud is also located around the country and world, which helps with speed and performance. Security and reliability are top priorities for public cloud. Overall, there are many benefits to public cloud.

Next Steps for Cloud Advancement

As discussed, many firms have initial hesitations and concerns when thinking about making the move to the cloud. Once moved past these uncertainties, one of the first steps for cloud advancement is to conduct an application inventory and cost review.  It is important to understand your firm’s applications and general ledger. We recommend reviewing this information from the last 3 or 4 years. Additionally, take into consideration your firm’s direction around applications, whether it be best of breed, single vendor, or cloud first. Another step towards cloud advancement is to analyze current production of data footprint, such as user profile data and review network design.

Selecting a Partner

When selecting a partner, you want to make sure they’re aligned with your industry, know your applications, and have good relationships with software providers. To dive deeper into the beginning stages of selecting a partner, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask a prospective cloud partner to ensure project success as well as some of the red flags to review when choosing the right partner for your organization. Overall, keep in mind industry expertise is key and significant relationships inside the industry makes for success.