Despite social distancing, mergers and acquisitions (M&As) have continued.

Despite restrictions in place due to COVID-19, accounting firms are continuing to acquire and merge in other practices and related businesses.

With the inherently confidential nature of mergers and acquisitions and the stunted ability to physically meet, most discussions are limited to participation by a handful of firm leaders who are most often focused on high-level practice valuations, practice production and synergy, and overall cultural fit.

During these discussions, information technology is often treated as an afterthought and unfortunately has been shown to come back and haunt the firm if not previously addressed.

In this post, I’ll focus on a few areas of information technology that often get lost in the M&A shuffle and provide actionable steps for firm leaders and influencers to take.

Before your firm signs on the dotted line, be sure to address these potential information technology pitfalls to ensure the best possible M&A outcome.

 

Create a standard set of applications.

Mergers have been ruined by acquired practices not adopting a single standard set of applications. The benefits of a standardized set of tax, assurance, and practice applications are many, allowing the firm to streamline licenses, training, and most importantly to share work.

Partners should consider the length of all licensing contracts, what the penalties are for early termination, and the process, timing, and cost to consolidate data from multiple applications into one, centralized system. And equally important: Don’t neglect to incorporate the costs associated with training firm members on how to use their new software.

→ Tax applications and their related tools.

Firms should decide on not only which specific tax program will be utilized, but also the related applications that integrate with it, including portal, eSignature, scanning/OCR, tax binder, PDF, and PDF annotation tools.

Redundant tax/assurance research and forms licenses are often one of the biggest wastes we find in firms when the reality is either of the top two providers are adequate and can become the firmwide standard after a minimal amount of training.

Also, inquire about multi-location licensing stipulations which can fluctuate depending on the remote access solution/approach utilized.

→ Assurance tools, work paper programs, and engagement binder apps.

The firm’s audit approach is often driven by the work paper program utilized and the engagement binder application, which can be from a mixed variety of vendors.

In many cases, this engagement binder is also used by the tax department for organizing their business returns, so standardization of assurance tools has a far-reaching impact.

Firms should evaluate the industry segments to be served by the combined entity after the merger and identify the most appropriate firmwide audit suite to set the standard.

→ Practice management, workflow, and collaboration software.

Firmwide applications such as practice management, workflow, collaboration (Zoom/MS Teams), and eventually document management and portals will be utilized by every person in the firm, so it is critical to work towards standardized usage as early as possible to ensure synergy as a single firm.

In addition, upgrading licenses to standardized versions of Microsoft Windows, Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), and PDF programs can be an unwelcome surprise if not budgeted for before the merger.

→ One IT infrastructure managed by one firm = a significant amount of unknown variables.

Running separate IT infrastructures duplicates hardware and personnel costs and makes support more difficult.

Combining everything in one location is better but requires extensive IT experience for capacity projections. And not only for server and/or disk capacity of the combined entity, but also the added backup and disaster recovery infrastructure required.

Add to this the skills needed to build a working remote access solution (and the anticipated amount of internet bandwidth required) and you quickly realize there are a significant amount of unknown variables and costs.

Firms that choose to maintain their own server infrastructure should be aware of these variables before the merger is finalized.

So, what can firms do?

Moving applications to the cloud or utilizing a cloud-hosted provider to manage the expansion, backup, and disaster recovery will simplify these discussions, as most charge a fixed fee per user per month and already include the application and hardware requirements needed to support future growth.

 

Software, applications, and tools have been set. Now, it’s time for hardware.

Firms should also create a comprehensive hardware inventory of workstations, monitors, scanners, etc. as there may be significant upgrades required to get the newly acquired practice to be able to efficiently operate the firmwide standard.

Agreement on the minimum processor, RAM, SSD storage size, and particularly the required displays for each workstation will help identify the number of workstations that will need to be replaced or upgraded.

These minimum standards should also include Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) and PDF licensing needed as these will need to be budgeted for annually.

If existing desktops do not have video cameras, microphones, and speakers, they will need to be budgeted for before collaboration tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams can be utilized.

Firms will also want to have the IT team review the scanner and duplicator models and contracts to ensure they are capable of adequately running the selected scanning applications.

 

Standardizing applications, tools, hardware, and software is an important step towards an inclusive firm culture.

Mergers and acquisitions are one of the fastest ways for firms to grow and expand but should be done with everyone’s eyes wide open and include a thorough review of the IT requirements after the deal is closed…directly after the deal is closed.

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