Last month I wrote an article titled, "Bridging the Gap” that discussed the importance of aligning business and technology strategies within your firm. In this article, I will highlight one firm that is turning the tag line into a reality. In the fall meeting for Boomer Technology Circle #7, we facilitated a panel of partners and I.T. professionals with the goal of building the bridge. The group provided several valuable insights into the communication between the I.T. department and the management group, including a number of tips and ideas for implementing these practices in your firm.
Applying the Circle Model in the Firm
Watkins Uiberall PLLC is a single-office firm in Memphis, TN with about 65 employees and 9 partners. The firm has been a member of the Boomer Technology Circles since 2006. Sherry Perry, the partner in charge of I.T., recently came up with an idea to help bridge the communication gap between I.T. and business, a common issue in accounting firms. She proposed that the firm take the model from the Boomer Technology Circle program and apply it internally. According to Perry, "This is one of the things we’ve done that has really had a strong impact in a short amount of time and took off in a way that I never really imagined.”
The firm implemented the technology circle concept this year and recognized immediate success. "We formed the technology circle and it meets three times the year after each of the Boomer Technology Circle meetings. We selected folks from across the firm. Every department has a representative on the technology circle serving a two-year term,” said Perry. The highest level represented is Senior with no Managers or Partners in the group. The one-day meetings are run by the firm’s Information Systems Administrator, Nicole Chatham.
"The first thing we do is talk about the strategic vision of the firm and what our primary initiatives are within the firm. We then conduct a Mad Lab where we introduce some new technology ideas for them to think about. We also break out into smaller groups by department to review 90-day accountability reviews.”
Although the program is in its infancy in the firm, the group has bought into the concept and feels like part of the decision-making process. "They are able to make an impact from a technology standpoint now,” said Perry.
During the first meeting, the group was introduced to desktop scanners, multiple monitors and Verizon hotspots. They were able to get their hands on the technologies and experience first-hand how each would benefit them in their daily tasks.
Based on what they learned, the tax and audit representatives drove the I.T. purchase decisions to align with their business needs. "They were heroes when everyone received scanners for their desktop. And, it has been very empowering to those involved because they now have input in the decision-making process,” added Perry.
Based on the initial success, the firm plans to continue the internal technology circle model. In fact, the partners now want their own circle, which Perry plans to implement in 2011. She plans to select partners she thinks are strategic to the direction of the firm in terms of technology.
Effective Communication is Critical!
The example highlighted above underlines the importance of opening the lines of communication between I.T. and business and our entire panel from Boomer Technology Circle #7 agreed it is critical to bridging the gap. They pointed out that if the I.T. department doesn’t have someone that is a good communicator, the firm needs to send them to training to improve those skills. This might seem like common sense but it simply isn’t happening in enough firms. When there is a barrier to communication, it leads to frustration and complaints from both sides. This further increases the barrier to communication.
Some of the tips for better communication that came out of the panel included:
- Show Respect – No one appreciates being talked down to or made to feel incompetent when learning new information processes. Whether it’s an I.T. or accounting concept, keep in mind it may not be their specialty and it might take them a while to grasp the concept.
- Meet Regularly – Schedule time on a recurring basis to sit down and update each other on what is going on. Don’t expect to bridge the communication gap without regular conversations. This will also strengthen your relationship that will serve as the foundation for trust. As trust increases, the likelihood for successful communication also improves.
- Celebrate Success – Too often, the I.T. department receives attention only when something goes wrong. It’s uncommon to recognize the I.T. department when the technology is working as expected. Celebrate the technology successes of the firm.