A CIO perspective on learnings from the Covid_19 pandemic

Greg Swift

Accountancy practice management software has come a long way. Today, features like automated billing and reconciliations are easily integrated into the day-to-day practice workflow of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK customers.

Our employees work side by side with our customers to create and manage these solutions – driven by a deep understanding of their needs and addressing the rapid changes in their environment.

However, it’s often hard to look beyond improving performance in day-to-day operations. Amid Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions, accountancy practices and their clients are dealing with an unpredictable economic landscape. Future business planning can appear daunting.

However, technology can support accountancy practices (and their clients) in making informed business decisions, and planning for the future. In the first part of our Accountancy Practice Management for Future-Fit Growth series, we’ll explore how they can use technology to define and easily track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Doing so gives practices closer control of performance tracking, and deeper insights that will inform strategic growth plans.

Saving Time

For several decades, business technology platforms have enabled practices to track performance metrics that they have customised. This highlights areas that qualify for improvement and underpins strategic planning.

Contemporary technology, such as CCH KPI Monitoring, makes setting up KPIs faster and easier for accountancy practices than ever before. This is vital today. The current business landscape demands that firms assess and amend KPIs more frequently, based on fresh market variables. KPIs such as client retention rate and business time-to-recovery have become increasingly prominent performance indicators in the past year. If clunky technology makes KPI management difficult, practices have less time and insight to plan future growth.

Reducing Risk
CCH KPI Monitoring makes it far easier to track KPIs and report on them. This is fundamental in minimising risk. For example, if a KPI is set to track and escalate debt filtered by overdue dates, the ability to easily set alerts and automatically generate reports is critical to practice performance management.

Some practices are manually running monthly reports to measure KPIs. Others are running real-time reporting engines, a key feature of CCH KPI Monitoring. This latter solution allows practices to review essential data at any time – covering both performance management and compliance requirements. They can do so remotely or on-premise.

This means that firms can assess issues before they become problems, and thus act proactively. Real-time reporting is a true asset in building a future-fit practice.

The Proof is in the Practice
A number of Wolters Kluwer customers have been using CCH KPI Monitoring for several years now. Our customers look to us when they need to be right. Ryecroft Glenton has successfully integrated CCH KPI Monitoring with its own system. This consolidates information from several sources, including CCH Central and CCH Practice Management.

“We can use the year end date to trigger a sequence of reminders. Have we asked for the books? Have they been received? If a request to a client has been outstanding for a certain period, the partner will receive an alert via email. For limited companies, we can monitor the corporation tax and Companies House filing deadlines – as well as the different deadlines for pension schemes”

– Ian Smith, partner at Ryecroft Glenton

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

When we all put away the Christmas decorations in January this year who could have predicted the change in all our lives over the rest of 2020 and beyond. It has been a challenging year on many fronts with familiar names disappearing from the High Street and people being subject to restrictions on their lives in a way most of us have never experienced before. The loss of lives of over 61,000 lives in the UK from the Corona Virus is truly shocking. 

As I reflect on the time since the Prime Minister announced in March “people should work from home where possible”, I have a number of emotions from pride in how my firm and it’s people have responded to the challenges, anger of late notification of it’s source in China and a cautious optimism on the future as vaccines start to become available.

There has been so much to learn and the staggering rate of adoption of the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom has been phenomenal.I thought I would share my own experiences during Covid.

I recall on the evening of 16th March a call with my CEO, where he asked me do I think there will be any issues tomorrow with 5,200 people working from home? We have had a flexible working policy in place for several years and had continually improved the IT service delivery to our people. I responded I was confident, however had never tested with our full population.

I am delighted this optimization was well founded! We experienced no issues, partly through the adoption of a ‘cloud first’ strategy, implementing Microsoft Teams 18 months previously, every person being provisioned with a firm laptop, appropriate security provisioned, implementation of SD-WAN and conditional access rules to our M365 environment. All of these reduced the dependency on our 27 physical office locations and the ‘hairpinning’ of traffic experienced with traditional VPN access to applications.

The focus very much turned to how we could support our people’s IT technical queries, in an environment where they were feeling naturally uneasy in the face of the Corona virus. The IS service desk applied the same principles as previously, which underpin the firm’s ISO20000 accreditation. There was a laser focus on fulfilling requests, together with incident and problem management. Satisfaction scores throughout have averaged out at an impressive 4.8 out of 5.0.

One of the greatest challenges was the logistics of provisioning laptops to new starters and the recovery of equipment from leavers. This included the graduate intake of several hundred people in September. Previously people would have collected and returned from an office. We established arrangements with couriers and worked hard to hold them to account on service and costs. 

We adopted a risk based approach. Security was an area we paid special attention to. Whilst initially adopting a cautious approach to auto updates due to uncertainty of people’s broadband capacity, within a fortnight, modifications to scheduling were made and shortly after, were being applied as before Covid.

As an organization, a strength has been our Crisis Management Team. The Team have met at least weekly – some weeks daily and there has been a focus on frequent and appropriate communications to our people and clients. Several pulse checks have been run and a wealth of tools and resources available to help our people’s wellbeing. The Team proposed and modified policy across a wide range of topics, including office opening / closure – including making locations ‘Covid secure’, positive Covid reporting, visiting client’s premises.

Whilst attention was given to our people, being sensitive to the enhanced need for flexible working to facilitate home schooling, the needs of our clients and potential clients were brought into sharp focus. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring we stay close to our clients, assisting them as appropriate and feedback from clients has been excellent.

During Covid we have taken the opportunity to accelerate elements of our digital strategy. Whilst the applications and tools were available to our people, we knew more needed to be done to ensure people were not just able to use the tools, rather they could use them to collaborate effectively in a remote working environment. To this end, a facilitated digital week in July, with strong sponsorship from the firm’s leadership and support from the network of digital guides generated even more creative ways of working.

We were conscious of people ‘burnout’ and introduced some practical measures, including implementing a policy of 25 minutes (previously 30) and 50 minutes (previously 60 minutes) meetings to at least give some breathing space between virtual meetings. M365 ‘coffee breaks’ were well received and encouragement given for teams to have non work check-in time.

Key Learnings
There is a renewed recognition of IT across the business. This enhanced standing enables being at the centre of execution of digital strategies and digital client offerings.

Businesses that have securely embraced ‘the cloud’ have transitioned to virtual working with minimum impact to their business operations and delivered new services.

People have demonstrated tremendous resilience during Covid, however must not be taken for granted. It is key to have a strategy to support people, maintain their wellbeing and check in regularly.

It is key that people make time for themselves or burn-out is a very real threat.

Clients are the lifeblood of our business and all efforts must be made to maintain effective engagement via omni channels.

Keep in contact with peers. During the pandemic myself and other leaders in our business have exchanged learnings with our competitors – we are all in this together.

Don’t postpone security updates and enhancements, the bad actors are still there.

In summary, to borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Whilst there have been and continue to be challenges to business, with the lessons learned and applied we will be stronger than before the pandemic.

Dec 2020

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