Are You Tech-Ready for Tax Season?

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Tools, tips and insights for how to manage your tax business the smart way.

Are You Tech-Ready for Tax Season?
December 4, 2014

by William Hamilton

Tax season is coming fast. You can feel the energy ramping up as we get closer to the end of the year.

We believe that tax season doesn’t have to be hard, if you do some critical work upfront to get ready for it.

One key way to make sure this tax season is as easy as it can be is to take a little time now and make sure all your in-office tech is on point for your needs.

With everything you have to do to get ready for the season, having a checklist to make sure you’re not forgetting anything can go a long way to alleviate some of your stress.

Here‘s a checklist that you can download and use in your firm to make sure you’re tech-ready for this season.

Let’s take a minute to highlight some of the key points.

The 5 Pillars of Tax Pro Tech

When you look at the technology needs of most small tax firms, you can break them down into 5 key categories:

  1. Hardware
  2. Software
  3. Data
  4. Personnel
  5. Procedures

Let’s dive into each category so we can really understand what to watch out for.

Hardware

Your hardware is all about the physical devices in your office.

Your tech hardware is comprised of your phones, computer towers, monitors, printers and the like.

Hardware definitely begs your consideration because of its physical nature. It can break, become obsolete, be stolen, or simply not have the features or configurations you need to do your job anymore.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to your hardware:

  • Do you have all the computer equipment you and your staff need for all of your locations?
  • Desktops
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Monitors
  • Servers
  • Printers
  • Routers
  • Smart phones
  • Desk phones
  • Etc.
  • Is all your equipment functioning correctly?
  • Is all your equipment fully updated with the latest version of its operating software or firmware?
  • Do you have the correct internet bandwidth to match you/your staff’s current usage?
  • Are your phone systems currently up to date and functioning?
  • Are your voicemail greetings updated based on current staff?
  • Do you need new phone devices for any new employees?
  • Are your call routing and dial extensions all current based on your staff and work schedule?

Software

If your hardware is the body of your car, then your software is your engine.

Your software encompasses the cool tools you need to help prepare your returns, do your accounting, and keep everything going in your office.

Software can further be categorized into 3 main types:

  1. Installed software: Lives on your servers or personal computer, in your office.
  2. Hosted software: Lives on a 3rd party’s servers – those servers can be “hosted” in the cloud or in that 3rd party’s physical location.
  3. Cloud-based software: Hosted entirely in the cloud by the software provider – no data is stored in any one physical location.

The type of software you need will vary based on what your specific needs are.

Many in the tax industry are moving towards implementing cloud-based solutions whenever possible due to its affordability, scalability, and the benefit of being able to access your software without having to be in your office.

Here are some things to think about when it comes to your software this tax season:

  • Are you comfortable with your tax prep software package, or do you need to start researching alternatives?
  • Are you comfortable with your accounting software package, or do you need to start researching alternatives?
  • Do you have a sound email communication client (e.g., Outlook, iCloud, etc.)?
  • Do you have practice management software in place?
  • Managing all your client data (CRM)
  • Managing all your client touches & activities (CRM)
  • Managing your workflow for each piece of business (task management)
  • Managing your secure (and backed up) document storage (online document management)

Data

We live in the golden age of information. We have super computers in our pockets and can learn anything about anything by performing one quick search. If you’re not careful about the data in your office however, all that valuable “gold” can turn to worthless lead pretty quick.

Here are some things you should think about regarding the data in your office:

  • Do you have all of your most recent client contact data in one electronic list? If not, why?
  • Is all your data safe & secure from theft, accidents or corruption (not stored in physical files)?
  • Is all your data routinely backed up to a secure, off-site location (away from the immediate geographic events that could happen at your location)?
  • Is all your data easily accessible & manageable from anywhere you are (not just in your office)?
  • Is all your data organized and searchable so you can easily find what you’re looking for?
  • Is your simple client contact data stored somewhere separately from you tax software (so retrieving some one’s email address won’t lead to accidently deleting tax data)?  

Personnel

Unfortunately, we’re not quite at a stage where technology can run itself yet (sorry Skynet). Humans still need to operate it in some form or capacity.

As the owner of your firm, the buck stops with you. You need to make sure that you have the correct personnel in place this tax season to operate your technology and get the work done.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to your personnel and tech in your office:

  • Are you trained on all of your systems in case a staff member is out or unavailable?
  • Is your entire staff cross-trained on all your tech systems in case a team member quits or is unavailable?
  • Does your staff have updated login information to all the systems they need to access for their jobs?
  • Does your staff know, understand, and agree to how they should interact and treat company property and assets, including social media profiles?
  • If your current staff is not able to use your technology, do you have time set aside to implement training, or replace that staff member with someone already trained?
  • Can you leverage any of your technology vendors to provide additional tech training or support for your needs?

Procedures

This recent post did a great job emphasizing how important it is to have policies and procedures in place this tax season.

Making sure you have documented procedures in place regarding your tech can be an absolute lifesaver when you’re in the middle of tax season and Murphy’s Law jumps into effect.

Here are some points you should think about when it comes to your tech procedures:

  • If you have technologies in place to help with certain jobs, do you and your staff understand the procedures for how to use the technology for these jobs?
  • In the event of a technical failure, do you and everyone on your staff know the procedures for getting technical assistance?
  • Do you have procedures in place for the fastest way to restore data, should you have a critical failure and need data backup?
  • Do you have written policies for your company’s stance on the use of technology in the workplace (inappropriate websites, practices for keeping client data safe, use of company email, etc.)?

Key Takeaway

No doubt about it, this is a lot to think about. But this list wasn’t designed to overwhelm you – we wanted to empower you by giving you a holistic roadmap. We hope this was helpful.

The good news is, the sooner you go through this checklist, the better prepared you will be come January, when it’s time to start knocking out those first returns.

Doing this exercise now will also give you the time to really implement changes if you discover you are lacking in one or several areas.

Remember, tax season doesn’t have to be hard.

If your technology is an area that you struggle with every year, do something about it! Find an IT firm in your area that can give hands-on support, make time during your year-end vacation to really learn some of the programs that you struggle with, or better yet, replace software that’s difficult to use with easier solutions!

The world will continue to get more technical, but managing your tech isn’t impossible.

I hope this post helps you identify your roadmap for getting tech-ready this season :)

If you have questions or would like to share your thoughts about this post, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

About William Hamilton William is the co-founder of SmartCenter and a huge Lakers fan. All about finding ways to do things faster & better, he loves discussing anything that helps make life easier. Follow Will on Twitter - @Williamh4La