A savvy business owner realizes that having a CPA prepare his complicated tax return is a far better choice than trying to “figure it out” on his own or better yet, hand it off to an employee to figure out. Similarly, CPAs need to realize their need for a strong technology professional to run their networks and implement the strategic technology plan. How you obtain that expertise leads you to a decision to hire or outsource. This decision is based on the size of your firm and the complexity and sophistication of your technology vision. There are a few circumstances where outsourcing your technology management is the best solution. However, this article will concentrate on the issues of hiring a technology professional to meet the internal technology needs and desires of the firm.
Your first decision will be to determine what duties you will require from your technology professional by asking yourself, “What are the internal technology needs and desires of the firm?” Once you have thoroughly delineated your needs, you can begin your search for a capable individual through the use of a clear and concise job description. This will vary drastically based on the needs of the firm. You may first and foremost need a Network Administrator to manage the operations of your internal network. Therefore, the first task is to itemize what it entails to “manage the operations of the internal network”. Some of the essential functions might include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Maintain a stable network environment to assure maximum productivity of systems.
- Conduct daily backups of network files and test on a regular basis.
- Initiate virus detection policies and procedures.
- Implement, supervise and test the firm’s Disaster Recovery Plan.
- Implement all other security related procedures necessary to provide the highest level of secure services.
- Learn the basic system functions of all network and utility programs.
- Provide internal office support for all office software applications and validate licensing.
- Coordinate maintenance of PCs, printers and other hardware with vendors.
- Act as liaison with external software and systems support people.
- Serve on the office technology committee, regularly evaluate network resources and implement improvements.
However, there is a significant difference between a “Network Administrator” and the “Director of Internal Information Systems” which would require higher level of duties. Therefore, when developing your job description, you will have to consider whether he/she will be…
- Closely supervised by a knowledgeable professional.
- Responsible for managing and/or supervising the firms’ technology resources.
- Responsible for coordinating and managing the planning, implementation and the on-going system's support.
- Responsible for implementing the firm’s technology plan.
- Responsible for managing technology related personnel.
- Responsible for identifying and managing the testing of new technology.
- Required to chair the technology team and schedule and conduct meetings and the annual technology retreat.
- Required to consult with clients on technology issues.
- Responsible for marketing and selling technology related services to clients.
- Responsible for building a technology consulting practice.
Obviously, a technician that will make sure that your network is up and running takes one set of skills but an individual that possesses skills to carry out any or all of the above items is vastly different in experience, education and capabilities.
After you have designed a clear and concise job description, you must then consider the qualities of the individual that are necessary to carry out those skills.
The individual that can tinker with your system and keep it running efficiently is a valuable resource. However, if you are requiring more from your technology professional, you will need to evaluate the attributes necessary to carry out the required skills. Many CPA firms that hire a technology professional will look for ways to utilize that individual as a revenue producer. Not that I agree with that practice, but it is very common. Some go beyond and look for their Network Administrator to lead an effort to build a technology consulting practice. In that case, this individual must have qualities vastly different from the typical Network Administrator and will be harder to find all in one person.
Depending on the job description you have devised, you will need to consider the following: Educational background, hands-on experience, business skills, leadership skills, marketing skills and the personality.
It is important to understand what skills you need to purchase. Depending on the job description you have devised, you will need a certain indication of technical expertise. You can determine that in two different ways: certifications and experience. The type of certification will depend on the job description. If your job description calls for a Network Administrator and/or a technician to maintain your network and/or build LANs for clients, you will want to look for networking certifications (Microsoft; Novell; etc). If you were looking for a specialist in a certain area (i.e. communications; accounting software), you would look for an individual with a complimentary certification (i.e. Cisco; QuickBooks, Great Plains, etc). The number and types of certifications available is a topic all its own. For the purpose of this discussion, ensure that the individual can provide expertise in the duties you have slotted for him/her to perform.
Of course, if your job description calls for a leader of a technology consulting division, the depth of the knowledge in the “bits” and “bytes” isn’t as important. As our CEO, Gary Boomer says, “You don’t need to build the watch, you only have to be able to tell time”. Obviously a command of technology issues is still a must. But, this individual can be supported by a technician or team of technicians depending on the size of the organization to handle the implementation issues.
Equally important as certification and education, is the experience level of the individual. Education without experience is like hiring a graduating CPA as a tax accountant and handing over one of your most complicated tax returns to him/her without supervision. Remember, this individual will be charged with managing the technology needs of the firm. Therefore, you will need to require a certain level of experience in network management on a similar size of network, unless you can provide supervision by a knowledgeable technology professional. Often times the partners do not have the skills to supervise these individuals. Therefore, he/she is basically “on his/her own”. Similar to audit staff, if the experience level is low, the supervision level must be high.
If you are hiring an unsupervised individual to manage the technology needs of the firm, it is imperative for him/her to possess adequate business skills. In this case, this individual will need to manage a budget, make sound purchasing decisions, investigate cost efficient and effective alternatives without compromising operations, understand the interworkings of a business to assess the proper solutions, etc. How can the partner group judge if something is not only necessary for the network but also the best solution and the best deal? It is hard to put a value on a technical individual that possesses these business skills.
As the requirements of the job description increase to the level of building a consulting practice, I can’t say enough about the need for leadership skills. Someone has to take charge of the effort. If you can fill this need internally, that is great. But be sure the internal leader is willing and able to give up some of his time to devote to it. Your best leader will possess entrepreneur qualities to help bring the business in the door.
If you are looking for someone to head up a consulting practice - will you be requiring this individual to drum up the business of a new consulting practice? Although our profession has not been leaders in marketing, a new consulting practice will not survive without a full marketing effort.
The way a person interacts with others is very important in any position. The technician has the power to create a learning atmosphere or keep the information hostage. Technicians are known, as are CPAs to some extent, to not necessarily posses a great deal of “people” skills. However, they will deal with your employees, and possibly clients, on a day-to-day basis. It is important to hire a person that gets along with people; is likable; and is patient. Be sure they understand who their clients are! Many times, it is his/her coworkers.
So how do you determine who is a team player? That is a tough question. There are a number of personality tests available if you desire to use one. One I recommend is Kolbe.com. Kathy Kolby attempts to identify and determine how individuals act, react and interact with others. The Kolbe Concept has provided Boomer Consulting, Inc. recognizable assistance in our hiring process.
Once you have established a clear job description and have determined the individual qualities necessary to carry out the duties, you must then evaluate the “going-rate” for the technician you are seeking. With the increasing capabilities provided through technology, the need for technology expertise is in huge demand. As a result, the technology personnel market is red-hot. In order to attract a quality person to your firm, you will have to pay market price for the individual’s level of experience and expertise. In this market, like all other service industries, you will, most likely, get what you pay for.
As far as a starting point for a salary, you can look to publications and the Internet to give you an abundance of salary surveys that are weighted according to different variables: region of the country, title, age, length of experience, gender, certifications, etc. Although these surveys can give you an idea of the market value of technology professionals, it is not as easy as pulling a number off of a chart. Most of the time it will be difficult to find a survey that delineates exactly the job description you have created. However, these salary surveys could give you an idea of what is reasonable.
Now, How Do You Keep Them?
CPAs have heard for years that it is just as important to keep clients happy as to obtain new clients. With the hot job market and the soaring training costs, the same is true with your employees. After you have worked hard to hire the right individual, now you have to be concerned with keeping them satisfied and happy so they will stay.
As stated previously, the information technology field is in high demand. Therefore you have to be ready to continually provide a competitive salary. Be careful not to compare salaries with your CPAs on staff. Offer the market rate for the particular position as you would with any other position.
Finding what provides incentives to your staff is a challenge but can provide huge rewards in loyalty and staying power. In the past, the pension plan encouraged employees to stay around. With the advent of the traveling 401K plan, you must become more creative. Most of your technicians will be looking for a relaxed working atmosphere that will provide the challenge of new and existing technologies. Trying to get your technician to come to work in a suit everyday might be a “deal-breaker”. Also, a strict budget without opportunities for learning and investigation of new technologies might push someone to go somewhere else.
As we move up the scale of responsibilities, your Technology Directors and/or Consultants will be looking for monetary production incentives and a share in ownership.
Some CPA firms cannot seem to grasp the necessity of hiring a technology professional. However, even if they do make the commitment, they seem to jump into the middle of the process and determine the salary range first. As you can see, it is important to do the background work to determine what duties we will require from this individual before we can search for the necessary qualities and qualifications. Spend your time and your money wisely.
Article compliments of T. Rose Rovelto, CPA