Integrate your business strategy

In today’s knowledge economy, it makes no sense for any business to have a stand-alone digital strategy or even an IT budget: an integrated business strategy is all it takes.

During a recent chat I had with partners of a public accounting practice, they told me they’re investing in CaseWare Working Papers and Excel training. When I asked why, they were at a loss other than to say the investment had already been approved in the firm’s IT budget. Huh?

Why were these partners talking about training on an application rather than training by objective? They should have said, “We need to reduce the time required to perform consolidations in CaseWare and we need to increase our managers’ comfort level when reviewing Excel-based data analysis.”

It’s 2016. It makes no sense for any business to have a stand-alone digital strategy or even an IT budget. You only need a business strategy with departmental budgets because in today’s knowledge economy, technology is core to how we work and deliver product. This is most obvious with game-changing companies such as Uber, Tesla and Instagram, which are each transforming their industry. For these organizations, digital thinking is integrated into the core of their company’s environment, not something that is contained in a sub-budget.

In his book Thinking for a Living: The Coming Age of Knowledge Work, Kenneth Megill states, “To the knowledge worker in the Knowledge Age, effective automation is about more than wires and computers. It is all about how we use it. It creates the atmosphere, the conditions, the culture and the tools that make possible a new way of working.”

Integration will only become effective when your team adopts common standards to enable the seamless integration of today’s specialized toolsets. That will only happen when CPAs stop thinking about technology as separate from our professional expertise and instead use the latter — our tacit knowledge built on our experiences and years of honing our skill sets — to inform the technologies we work with and how we use them.

Most firms still look to their IT system provider for all things digital, including the installation and configuration of our industry’s many specialized applications. Sure, we need IT infrastructure specialists to look after our servers, connectivity, security and many common cross-industry tools. But why do we consult them about tax, data analysis, working papers and the approaches these specialized tools are bringing to our workbench? Probably because most of us are not comfortable relying on our tacit knowledge when it comes to technology.

This is a tough concept to explain. A post on Serendip Studio explained it this way: “the knowledge that we have without knowing we know it and that once we know we know it, it becomes harder to know how we know what we know.” It’s all that implicit knowledge that is hard to communicate and harder yet to mentor. These are the experiences you accumulate; the things that make a good professional good.

We’ve all had many years using digital tools at work, at home and even in our cars. We are accumulating experiences to fuel our gut feelings and yet we’re reluctant to see and trust them.

Instead, in many practices, we’re reaching out to millennials who have grown up in the digital world and are willing to experiment with new technologies. That’s fine, but when it comes to establishing the standards necessary for effective integration, they might not have the professional expertise to suggest new procedures and ways of working to provide team members with the ability to succeed. That’s where experience comes in.

So, as senior practitioners, remove the words “IT” and “digital” from your business strategy and budgets. Learn to trust your gut. Act on it or bring in specialists whose integrated practices feel right to you. A connected integrated business strategy is the only methodology of success for the future.