It’s often easy to get distracted by the cacophony of new technologies that promise to solve all the problems for a business and its customers. Businesses are people-driven, so any digital strategy used to drive innovation must be supported by its employees and align with broader business practices. How would companies go about creating a successful digital transformation strategy? More importantly, how are they taking their employees with them on the digital journey?
Recently, Accountancy Age hosted a group of senior accountants to discuss these issues in a panel discussion led by John Toon, Principal and Head of Technical Consulting at Beever and Struthers. He was supported by Joris Van Der Gucht, co-founder of Silverfin.
The group noted that for the accountancy industry to harness the true potential of new technologies, companies need to ensure they have the right digital transformation strategy in place, coupled with the buy-in of their people at scale. of the company. This report is a summary of the discussion at the roundtable.
Create a successful digital transformation strategy
The importance of technology is not in dispute. However, sometimes the importance of a digital strategy to support its implementation is overlooked. A digital strategy not only drives the effective use of new technologies, but ensures that all team members are working towards the same goals. John Toon opened the conversation to the group to share their experiences, good and bad, in creating a digital strategy.
For many, the biggest challenge in implementing a digital strategy is ensuring it is adaptable and nimble, or able to scale. The factors surrounding technology requirements never stay the same for long, especially when battling HMRC curveballs. With “Making Tax Digital”, many participants admitted that they are often much better at establishing technology and digital strategies for their clients than at using technology to improve quality and efficiency within their business.
One roundtable participant, a qualified accountant in a law firm, said his finance department has a dedicated technical team to support his finance function. As a result, they have seen their digital strategy evolve drastically and have consequently mastered the use of technological tools up to art.
The group discussed the importance of having a clear framework to underpin any digital strategy. This allows teams to innovate in a framework of trust to ensure consistency, while appreciating that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. It was agreed that a framework is equally important for business leaders to recognize and understand the goals they wish to achieve from any investment made.
Take people on your tech journey
Silverfin’s Van Der Gucht explained that it is often senior leaders who make decisions about technology investments and sometimes fail to communicate the ambitions of the organization using technology. High levels of communication must be coupled with a concrete digital strategy to ensure your employees feel part of the journey.
The benefit of establishing a champion to support technology implementation is something that many have used or considered. It was agreed that technology champions should be senior business leaders to support employee buy-in. The key question that dominated the talk was how to build and execute a strong change management process while managing current workloads. In short, it was agreed that a technology champion cannot be effective while being required to fulfill day-to-day obligations.
How does a champion go about getting employee buy-in? Do they start at the bottom and work their way up? Or start at the top and go down? One participant shared that it is usually the teams that sit in the middle of the organization that act as the biggest blockers. This participant explained that his proven approach was to start at the top and bottom in terms of engagement, then work your way down to meet in the middle. Therefore, adopt a two-pronged attack to convert those most resistant to change.
Training, communication and clear objectives were agreed upon by roundtable participants as imperatives for broadening business uptake of new technologies. The biggest problem the group said they face is staff: from lack of internal knowledge to suffering from limited resources. It was agreed that employees will always be skeptical of the benefits technologies can offer when they don’t know how to use them.
What is the biggest barrier to employee buy-in? Most attribute it to a fear of change, especially in traditional accounting firms. This fear is motivated by the prospect that technologies will replace their role. It’s all about the narrative a company is building, and investing in technology should be seen as an exciting strategic thinking and consultative opportunity for employees.
Accountants, as a professional group, are traditionally risk averse. How can you make sure they feel confident when considering new technologies?
It is important to encourage a “trial and test” discourse within your teams. If teams feel safe having the chance to experiment with new technologies, feedback on their use – what worked, why it worked, what didn’t work and why it didn’t didn’t work – creates a learning environment. It is the responsibility of senior team members to talk about their experiences of things they have tried and failed, to encourage a culture of learning in the workplace.
Document your digital strategy
All goals that feed into a digital strategy should be both clear and concise. One participant shared that he breaks down his digital goals into 12-month goals to stay adaptable to change, while maintaining the overall digital vision.
If the objectives are regularly communicated correctly to the teams, it promotes transparency and employee buy-in. Not all participants were as advanced as this in establishing a 12-month rolling goal plan for their digital strategy; some said they didn’t have one at all, or when they had one in place, it was disjointed.
Toon closed the roundtable by emphasizing the need to document a digital strategy to focus the minds of business leaders. The biggest takeaway was to ensure that a technology champion is not an IT rep, but someone who can lead digital transformation and implement a vision into future strategies. This cannot be a part-time role, customers will always come first and therefore a successful transformation requires a dedicated and self-starter to take the lead.