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By Thomas G. Stephens Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA
For many, the holiday season is a time to look back and reflect on the year gone by—and what a year it was! But it’s also a time to look forward, plan and consider how we can do better in the coming year. Often, this results in making resolutions for the new year, and in that spirit, let us consider five technology resolutions that you might consider adopting for 2021.
Collaborate More Effectively
In today’s work environment, collaboration is critical. Team members no longer work in isolation. Instead, they work collaboratively with customers, clients, vendors and others who work for different organizations. Recognizing this new reality, yesterday’s work methods are no longer optimal for today’s environment.
To illustrate, the age-old practice of emailing documents to others for review and revision is outdated. Instead, we can take advantage of collaboration tools to enable simultaneous, multi-user collaboration. For instance, we can use the co-authoring feature available in Excel, Word and PowerPoint to collaborate on common Microsoft Office documents. Likewise, we can use Adobe’s Creative Cloud to enable collaboration too. Further, tools and platforms such as Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams and Zoho One provide excellent collaboration options. No matter the technology used, recognize the benefits of collaboration. A recent Forrester report indicated that team members save almost two hours per week when they use collaboration tools. No matter the type of business you are in, seek out opportunities to improve collaboration in 2021.
Information Security Will Be a Part of Everything We Do
You have, no doubt, read the headlines and know that cybersecurity attacks continue to rise. Ransomware, spear phishing and Internet of Things attacks are just a few of the ever-evolving cybersecurity threats we face from external forces. But we also need to address internal security issues, such as team members sending sensitive and confidential information as unsecured email attachments, failing to use encrypted internet connections and not taking advantage of multi-factor authentication when a device or application.
Information security must become an integral part of each of our businesses. A single security incident—such as a ransomware attack—could cost millions in remediation expenses and perhaps more in reputation damage. Further, with ever-expanding data privacy laws and regulations, fines for non-compliance could cripple organizations of all sizes. To address these threats, resolve to make information security a fundamental part of every activity in your organization. Among other actions, encrypt all your data, and mandate multi-factor authentication wherever possible. Consider adopting a “zero trust” security model to minimize risk. Above all, train every team member on identifying and responding to the dangers that will inevitably arise. The issue of information security is not going to disappear, so address it now and ensure that all business processes incorporate appropriate security measures and all data remains secure.
Equip Work from Home Team Members Appropriately
In the understatement of the century, 2020 was a year of unprecedented business change. At the outset of the pandemic, business leaders told millions of workers to “pack up your computer, take it home and figure out how to work from there.” And these team members did an outstanding job of making the best of the situation. Along the way, many realized they prefer to work from home and will continue to do so in the future. In these cases, we must ensure that our remote workers have the equipment and tools necessary to be at least as productive at home as they were in the office.
In addition to addressing hardware issues and fast and secure internet connections, also carefully consider issues such as desks and chairs. Remember, employers typically have a responsibility to ensure that team members have the equipment they need to get their jobs done efficiently and safely. In most cases, workers’ compensation laws still apply, even if a team member works from home. Hence, it remains necessary to address workstation setup and safety measures, including those related to ergonomics. Further, do not let relatively inexpensive technology expenditures hamper productivity. For example, purchasing an inexpensive scanner or other hardware devices may pay big dividends in increased productivity for team members working from home or other remote locations.
Leverage Our Investment in Existing Technologies to Improve Efficiency
Most organizations have invested heavily in technology over the past two decades. But are these same organizations receiving the promised return on investment? The unfortunate answer is a resounding “No!” One of the biggest reasons for this failure is that most organizations have not committed to training their team members to use the tools provided or discover some of the newer features in core applications. For example, although almost all accounting and financial professionals use Excel daily, they do not know how to work with data models, create formulas based on dynamic arrays, utilize Flash Fill or perform “what-if analysis” using Solver. Thus, tasks take longer than necessary, and results are often not as precise as needed. For 2021, commit to leverage the investment already made in core technologies such as Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat DC and Windows 10. Incredible improvements in accuracy and efficiency await!
Adopt New Technologies to Improve Productivity
Just as we commit to leveraging existing technologies, we also resolve to adopt innovative technologies, where appropriate, to improve productivity. One example lies in Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA allows businesses to automate rote, repetitive tasks such as manual data entry. With tools such as Automation Anywhere, Microsoft Power Automate and Blue Prism, you can build custom applications to automate virtually any repetitive task performed in your organization. But do not stop with RPA! Consider how you can use other technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve productivity. For example, is there a role for artificial intelligence to help audit employee expense reports for errors, irregularities and fraud? Tools available from companies such as AppZen can help you do precisely that, identifying out-of-policy spending and enhancing internal control at the same time. Once considered to be “bleeding-edge” technologies, these tools are now mainstream and offer new productivity plateaus.
Go Forth & Prosper
Another new year is soon upon us, and with it, we will gladly say goodbye to what was a most tumultuous 2020. As we do, let us look forward to all that 2021 has to offer, including the opportunities to become more efficient, more effective and more secure with technology. Resolve to improve your business with the five items outline above: collaboration, information security, equipping remote workers, leveraging existing technologies and adopting new and transformative technologies. Next year, when you look back at the year that was 2021, you and your bottom line will be delighted you adopted these five technology resolutions for 2021.
All the best to you and yours for a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous New Year!
Thomas G. Stephens Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA is one of the shareholders of K2 Enterprises. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.