in recent years the profile of the typical accountant has changed from one of a relatively slow technology adopter to the young bright graduate who seeks an employer who acknowledges the need for a work-life balance.
“This new generation is adept at using all forms of communication from IM to mobile, text and Blackberry and expect to use it as part of their working life. Some of the attributes of accountancy jobs are long hours and tight deadlines, therefore having the ability to leave the office at 5.30pm, have some family time at home and then resume work later in the evening makes a big difference to their job satisfaction.
Customers are also becoming more demanding in terms of the quality of service and speed in which it’s delivered. This is partly driven by the constant new requirements for regulatory compliance and therefore it’s key for firms to be able to form a team of people that don’t necessarily sit together but have instant access to client information. They also need to be able to collaborate using video conferencing, audio conferencing and document sharing.
If a company was working on an audit for a multi-national organisation it could require a team of up to 20 people, and even smaller operations demand around six-person teams in order to get the job done within the tight deadlines that are the nature of their business.
For the channel it’s important to understand how accountancy firms deal with their clients so that they can understand their working practices and pressures. They need to be able to bring multiple, disparate parts of the organisation together, without requiring a fundamental change to the organisational structure. Don’t assume that you know how they work, spend time with them up front talking through the profile of their customers and speak their language. Finally, they tend to be quite cautious and go with tried and tested solutions so give them reassurance of experience and offer the chance to speak to other customers.”
Mitel distributor Crane tends to agree with their Andrew Saunders adding, “As free earning professionals, accountants and accountancy firms can gain some real personal efficiency benefits through Mitel’s Teleworker solution. This can create the opportunity for additional billable hours through teleworking unified messaging and collaboration applications, such as Your Assistant.”
Without doubt, if and when an avian flu pandemic hits, the authorities will strongly recommend home working. And while many companies can encourage – even support – staff to adopt broadband at home to enable access to core data systems, distributing the telephone calls is a tougher challenge. And those opting for Voice over IP (VoIP) as a simple solution will be disappointed: VoIP currently offers neither the security nor resilience to support business communication.
What is required is a solution that can automatically forward calls made to the traditional head office number – or individual direct dial numbers – to staff in their new location, wherever that may be. Furthermore, it also needs to be able to intelligently forward calls to a colleague should the intended recipient be unavailable.
Critically, this technology must be easy to use and set up, enabling organisations to remotely change call forwarding numbers and employee locations at the touch of a button. Furthermore, by locating the solution within the telephone exchange – a location that requires technical resilience of 99.999% up time – an organisation also has a solution in place to cope with the traditional business continuity requirements.
An example would be Horwath Clark Whitehill, a leading national provider of accountancy and business advice and in a leading position in a number of niche areas including notfor- profit, pension funds and professional practices sectors. In addition the firm is an expert adviser to owner-managed businesses, larger corporate organisations and private clients.
Recently HCW picked up a leading industry accolade, ‘Auditor of the Year’ (outside of the big four) which was presented at the Financial Directors’ Excellence Awards, hosted by the CBI. With 81 partners and around 570 staff based in 14 offices around the UK, the firm is a major player in the accountancy and business services sector.
Recent investment in a leading-edge OfficeServ communications solution from Samsung is bringing significant benefits to Horwath Clark Whitehill (Yorkshire). With its three sites now connected via a secure private network that delivers both voice and data services, the firm is quite literally counting the cost savings by the day, and delivering considerable new business benefits to its clients.
Their existing communications system was due for replacement as it was no longer providing the functionality now demanded in the professional services sector. In addition to reducing overall costs and improving client service HCW achieved the following after implementation of the new system: provision of hot desking facilities for visitors, access to voice mail access from any office, elimination of communication costs between offices, sharing and overflow of reception duties at times of high demand or holiday cover and provision for home working without loss of functionality
Samsung reseller Link Telecoms installed a three office networked voice and data solution, connected via a fully-managed ADSL-based Virtual Private Network. This supports the delivery of voice calls via the standard telephone network on ISDN lines to and from each of the offices, while inter-office calls and transfers are carried via the IP network, as if they were in the same building. The secure VPN also supports all file sharing, emailing and Internet access across all sites.
The communications infrastructure is based on Samsung’s OfficeServ platform configured on each site to support a combination of services including ISDN lines with Direct Dial Facility, digital extensions for system key phones with digital devices and analogue extensions for faxes, modems and other devices.
Tim Parr, senior partner at Horwath Clark Whitehill commented, “Our three regional offices are increasingly working together as a single unit and whereas I used to have to make external calls, I can now contact any of our offices internally. Since becoming a senior partner last year I have begun to handle a substantial portfolio of clients in both Keighley and Leeds, which involves me being increasingly based at our Leeds office. Being easily accessible is important to our clients and the Samsung system makes this possible.”
In general business terms, the system has in-built Caller ID (CLI) functionality – a vital tool that allows the reception staff to personalise response to different clients. Another area where the increased functionality has brought significant benefits is in the rerouting of incoming calls to other offices whenever receptionists in Leeds are unavailable. A prompt response is given by Keighley or Bradford, without the client realising that the transfer has taken place. The facility to forward calls direct to mobile phones has also proved extremely useful to partners and clients alike.
Parr went on to comment, “Samsung’s OfficeServ is vastly superior to our previous telephone system and while there is obviously an initial capital cost, we are already finding that we can better manage incoming and outgoing calls. We have also identified immediate day-to-day savings. The system gives us massive flexibility and we will be looking to develop its use across the entire business.”
The probability of survival for any business involved in a major incident makes sobering reading with some 80% of companies never recovering. A recent report by Touche Ross estimated a survival rate of less than 10% for a business without a crisis management plan. Yet despite this strong correlation the lack of business contingency planning in the UK prompted the Home Secretary to reiterate the importance of continuity planning earlier this year, stressing the duty of care for the safety and security of staff.
The take up of business continuity planning is not universally low. Larger organisations are more likely to have a plan of sorts while companies operating in heavily regulated economic sectors like financial services may be legally required to maintain a current plan. However, the absence of cogent planning in most UK companies can be attributed to a number of factors both historic and operational.
While UK companies traditionally faced business interruption from domestic terrorism and poor industrial relations, the proliferation of computer technology dramatically increased their vulnerability. The changing working practices that have accompanied the information technology revolution have increased commercial exposure. Just in time production techniques, global competition, knowledge workers, and an increasingly savvy and impatient customer base all serve to exacerbate the potential consequences of business interruption.
The very speed of computerisation resulted in an IT skill deficit at board level in many British companies. Unable to evaluate IT issues, the board frequently devolved responsibility for crisis planning to their IT departments. However, IT professionals were, in turn, often unwilling to highlight the true vulnerability of mission critical IT systems to a board seeking absolute answers to often unpredictable resilience issues. The resultant culture of untested plans and unfounded optimism is only now dissipating.
Graham Chick at GemaTech says that resellers should sell solutions to accountants and other companies that enable them to work freely, flexibly, wherever and whenever they want to for whatever reason. “This is relevant to any business and the channel needs to wise up, open their eyes and go sell to their customer base what they want to buy and not the hyped up applications you think they want to buy. I believe the applications they want include business continuity, call recording and home working.
Let me give you an example: a member of our staff who was poached to join KPMG’s business continuity team told me the other day that whilst at a seminar on the subject a major UK call centre asked, ‘How can we operate a call centre with our skills based routing from lots of remote locations.’
Right now we are seeing huge increase in sales as business continuity rapidly rises up the corporate ‘must have’ list to the point where action is taken and systems ordered and implemented.
Resellers should take note and look to incorporate BC solutions in to their portfolios.
Accountants are pen pushing bean counters that could work from anywhere but we all like to work from a prestigious address, say 1 Knightsbridge for example. With our BCM Lite product you can dial the number for 1 Knightsbridge and ask for Jim Smith, accountant, but Jim is either working from home, or in Reading or at a client premises in Basildon undertaking an audit. BCM Lite knows where is and routes the call appropriately but the caller thinks Jim is sting in 1 Knightsbridge, Apart form the flexibility it means that expensive office space at Knightsbridge can be dramatically reduced.”
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