The Key to Strategic IT for CPA Firms

Lorita BaCloud Computing, Financial IT

In our last blog post, we highlighted the importance of making IT a partner when defining CPA firm strategy. In this post, we’ll talk about some of the barriers to being able to do so.

While IT has taken an increasingly more strategic role over the past decade, the demand on IT has also increased exponentially.

Consider: in the past 10 years, we’ve seen a dramatic expansion in application adoption and a rise in complexity via the use of virtual machines, remote desktops, public and private clouds, the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, and more.

In addition, organic adoption of tools and software by accounting staff as well as the rise of software as a Service (SaaS) applications and the proliferation of mobile devices expands the footprint the IT team needs to secure.

As more data is held online (and email addresses become the de facto key to unlock that data), cybercriminals have actively targeted CPA firms both for their access to sensitive client data, but also as an easier entry point to penetrate the more secure walls of firm clients.

All this is to say that even if a firm has continued to invest in IT with more resources, the demands on IT have likely outstripped your investments.

A Bird’s Eye View into IT

Let’s look at that claim more closely. At a high level, the image on the right outlines the challenge IT teams face today.

In red are the critical, urgent activities that every IT team must execute against. Very few of these are strategic in nature, but they’re all necessary to “keep the lights on.” And while some may be occasional (depending on the size of the firm), many – if not most – of these responsibilities require constant, time-consuming vigilance.

Across the board, each are impacted by rising complexity, shadow IT, application adoption, and an increased threat surface. Even those that seem less urgent (disaster recovery & business continuity plans as an example) need attention as the recent COVID-driven remote work mandates recently illustrated.

In the face of a constant barrage of urgent tasks, it’s no wonder that strategic IT initiatives are frequently de-prioritized in favor of an immediate crisis or action item.

Creating IT Capacity

As firms continue to push productivity and profitability initiatives, staff capacity is always both a concern and a focus. Moving your IT staff up the value chain to align and support your overall firm’s strategy is key to unlocking the significant value that they can provide.

A list of tasks that often take up a tremendous amount of time and are “urgent” and “critical” – but rarely strategic. Such tasks typically eat into time internal IT is supposed to be pending on strategic initiatives.

Proper execution of many of the responsibilities outlined previously depend upon a highly specialized technical skillset (e.g. cloud infrastructure and application support) that is costly to acquire or grow in-house.

What’s interesting, however, is that while such responsibilities typically require a high degree of firm familiarity, it does not require the firm intimacy that strategic initiatives do.

When we analyze that set of responsibilities through such a lens (i.e. what requires intimate firm knowledge vs “mere” firm familiarity), we quickly identify a rather large percentage of responsibilities that require specialized skillsets, but where firm intimacy is not strictly necessary.

These tasks could have a meaningful impact on firm growth and bottom line – but require concerted time and attention to plan and execute.

What does that mean for internal IT? By using cloud services and identifying a partner that has the cloud, networking, and application skills you need, you can transfer ownership for up to 50 percent of IT responsibilities and gain meaningful support for two-thirds of what’s left.

As a result, your highly skilled internal IT team can now prioritize and focus on the strategic initiatives that will enable your firm to achieve its long-term vision.

Create Capacity by Sharing Responsibility

How are you doing things at your firm? Are you seeing the same patterns impacting your firm’s ability to make IT a strategic partner to the firm?