Adviser: Strengthen your resolve

For many practices, technology is as important as offices and staff. But do you know as much about your IT systems as your employees or buildings? There are a few IT resolutions you should make for your firm.

Your first should be to review your firewalls and anti-virus systems. What would be the impact on your practice if all your contacts received an email purporting to be from you offering prescription drugs at a special price? Unsecured servers can be hijacked and used to spam thousands of Internet users – including all those in your address book.

The server infected could be yours. What would be the impact on chargeable time if your system became infected with a virus, and your company was unable to work?

New threats are constantly emerging. Make sure you have a process in place to ensure anti-virus and program updates are applied as soon as they are released.

Natural disasters can also have crippling implications for business, as the devastation in Boscastle and the recent flooding of Carlisle showed. How would you cope if your offices were unusable and what would you do in the event of a total systems failure?

Creating a disaster recovery plan should be your second resolution. The complexity of your plan will depend upon your circumstances – a simple reciprocal arrangement with a practice in the next town could be sufficient.

At the very least, don’t assume you will be exempt. And remember, you can only restore your data if you have proper backups.

Staff are the single most valuable asset for any practice and making the most of them should be your third resolution. Investing in their training should be a priority. They may go on an IT course when a new system is introduced, but what about when the system is upgraded or staff change?

Without training, employees often fail to make best use of the features and improved functionality of systems. Conduct a training needs analysis, then plan a training programme around busy periods.

Next, take the time to assess the true cost of your IT systems. Are partners spending valuable time supporting users? Are you reliant on otherwise chargeable staff to maintain the system? Relying on old, slow and unreliable equipment could also result in lost chargeable time.

Then review alternative solutions, including outsourcing some or all of your requirement, or even sharing resources with local practices.

Finally, consider the adequacy of your current practice management system and the reporting available from it. The more time partners and senior staff spend looking for information or preparing reports, the less time they have to devote to developing the practice and to chargeable work. The content and layout of your system will be unique to each practice, but an objective assessment considering efficiency and usability will be time well spent.

With these resolutions in place, your company can look forward to a profitable new year.

Mark Holland is a partner in the ISAS group of Baker Tilly

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