Practice productivity tips with Microsoft Office 365by
Accountants are quintessential knowledge workers, and how they use technology in the modern workplace plays a big part in their success.
At the end of November, Dunkley’s partner Mike Dunkley and Will Shilson, VP of client technology at Microsoft Office 365 experts and Microsoft Gold Partner, Calligo, joined AccountingWEB head of insight John Stokdyk for a 45min webinar exploring how emerging technologies can support new approaches to accountancy practice. This article presents an overview of their findings.
Build technology into your strategy
Practices that entered the 2019 Accounting Excellence Awards told us how they are adopting new technology, but often their primary motive was to address the specific compliance obligations of MTD.
Firms are also focusing more on flexible working and wellbeing initiatives this year – a sign that skills shortages and staff retention are starting to bite in the wake of training cutbacks following the 2008-9 financial crisis.
With self assessment season getting into full swing, the overriding issue for practices is recruiting and retaining skilled staff, according to Dunkley. For several years, his firm has been running hosted systems that allow staff to work remotely.
“In the first instances, we needed to do something for people who came back after maternity leave and were looking to work for two days a week. If we could support them remotely, they would be able to avoid the need for extra daycare,” Dunkley said.
“But it’s become an area we now use as an incentive. It has made a big difference. We only require people to attend the office once a week.”
Calligo’s Will Shilson amplified the challenge accounting firms face: “If you do not provide your younger staff with what is important to them – flexibility, access to data and easy collaboration – then they will go somewhere that does, or, assuming they have the skills, build their own workplace modelled on what they lack from yours.”
Microsoft’s tools for Teams
Shilson’s company is an international cloud consultancy and managed services provider that puts a big emphasis on the capabilities that are built into Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. Having worked with accounting firms for 20 years, he gave a rundown during the webinar of how different Microsoft Office 365 modules could be applied to common practice challenges.
Teams is a relatively new addition to the Office 365 Professional menu that is making big inroads within the profession. According to Shilson, after Microsoft acquired Skype, it added new capabilities to Skype for Business to create Teams. The result is a platform for “customisable, shared workspaces, where you can chat, meet, share files and collaborate”.
Teams integrates with dozens of third party apps and is an ideal platform for workflow management during audits or personal tax season, he added.
Dunkley’s adopted Teams after the end of last year’s self assessment season. “Teams allows us to share the same information at the same time with the whole office, but we also have dedicated teams for payroll, admin and two for accounts work,” said Mike Dunkley.
“These groups set up and manage their own workloads and can share planning boards. Requests come into Teams and they can take work out.”
Advisory opportunities with Power BI
During the session, Shilson expanded on several other apps that come with Office 365 including Planner (a stripped down, online version of Microsoft Project), the “enterprise social media” tool Yammer and Flow, which brings the ability to build automated processes to users of the Office suite.
Power BI, meanwhile, is the not-so-secret weapon within the Office 365 suite. As many AccountingWEB readers will be aware, its ability to mine a wide variety of data sources for analysis and easy dashboarding options make it a boon for management reporting.
Power BI is gaining a lot of momentum in accountancy, Shilson confirmed. “It allows firms to extract data and put together informative presentations that can be delivered for internal use or for clients as an advisory service,” he said.
“Those results are more translatable to end users when they can see them on screen.”
Invest in training
Faced with all these alluring new technologies, Mike Dunkley brought the conversation back to where it started – team skills and retention. Life might have become a lot easier for ambitious startups of the kind Shilson described, but things are different for the staff and clients of an established firm like Dunkley’s.
An Accounting Excellence Award Client Service and Medium Firm of the Year finalist in 2019, Dunkley’s has invested in training as well as new technology.
“For us, it’s all about getting people educated so they are confident using these tools,” he said. “We give them time management training alongside Office 365 training so they can manage their time better in Calendar and provide a more consistent level of service.”
Firms that set out to support those aspirations will get happier, more satisfied staff and clients, which has been shown by our award programme and other sources to be the foundation for a profitable, thriving firm.
Find out more about how to implement these ideas by listening to the AccountingWEB webinar, How Office 365 tools can support accountants.