• Accounting
  • Intapp Workspaces

How to fix ‘silent killers’ of growth, innovation, and client delivery with accountant collaboration tools

In the world of professional services, knowledge and experience are everything. The success of an accounting firm hinges not on tangible products, but instead on the connected insights, expertise, and guidance its professionals provide.

That’s why data silos and communication breakdowns are “silent killers.”

When different service lines within a firm operate as separate entities and use their own systems, collaboration suffers. Critical information needed by other teams is communicated slowly, ineffectively, or not at all.

In a competitive market where every advantage counts, this silently kills a firm’s ability to grow, innovate, and meet client expectations.

We spoke with Marc McNicholl, Intapp’s Managing Director of Professional Services, to better understand the collaboration and communication challenges accounting firms face — and how an accountant collaboration tool can help overcome them.

Why do so many accounting firms have data silos, and how can firms fix them — along with the collaboration and communication issues they cause?

Marc McNicholl: At many accounting firms, audit, tax, advisory, and other service lines operate independently of one another and prefer different ways of working. So the audit team will buy software that meets their needs, for example, then the tax and advisory teams will each purchase different solutions aligned with how they like to work.

Collaboration and communication between service lines winds up suffering because information is stored in siloed systems that only fellow team members can access. People end up sharing information via email, which is not ideal because emails can easily be missed.

Email also causes problems because professionals can locally edit documents they’ve received. This creates new versions that other colleagues might not be aware of — either because those edited documents remain on someone’s desktop, or because they’re uploaded to siloed repositories. As a result, professionals can end up using outdated or inaccurate information to make important decisions and service clients.

The most impactful way to improve accountant document management is to standardize on an accounting collaboration tool that breaks down data silos while supporting how firms work. Solutions like Intapp Workspaces — which connect Microsoft 365 applications like Microsoft Teams with other systems — make collaboration easy while allowing each service line to work the way it wants to.

These tools eliminate versioning problems and accelerate the engagement lifecycle by making all information accessible from one place: Professionals can collaborate on all documents within a single location, and quickly find what they need without wading through emails, chats, and multiple internal systems.

What other issues impede collaboration and communication, and how can accountancies solve them?

MM: Delayed workspace provisioning also makes effective collaboration challenging. There’s typically a delay between when an engagement is won and when a collaborative workspace is created for it in an application like Microsoft Teams.

This is because IT has to get involved — someone has to submit a ticket to IT requesting the workspace. It takes time for IT to fulfill the request, and many professionals will start working on things during that waiting period. As a result, information is siloed right off the bat.

Using collaboration solutions that automatically create workspaces with the proper access permissions eliminates the lag time that often drives users to store documents locally and share information via email.

Another issue is user adoption. Even if a firm provides collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or SharePoint, not everyone is going to use them all the time — especially if the culture doesn’t encourage open dialogue. Every person has different preferences, and if knowledge sharing isn’t a firmwide priority, many people will stick predominantly to using email or other tools they’re more comfortable with.

To ensure maximum user adoption, firms should look for technology solutions that are built specifically to meet the needs of accounting firms. With Intapp Workspaces, for example, Microsoft Teams becomes a collaboration hub with engagement-centric workspaces and workflows tailored to each department’s requirements.

Fostering a culture of openness is also critical for improving technology adoption. Firms should actively encourage teams to share information. Promoting an Activator mindset, which includes connecting with colleagues and creating value through collaboration, can also go a long way towards building an open culture.

Educating professionals on why collaboration is critical — and how to do it effectively — also improves adoption by demonstrating that knowledge sharing is a firm priority.

What are the biggest impacts of fixing collaboration and communication issues?

MM: The way professionals collaborate and communicate impacts every aspect of the business, so when firms fix their issues, it can have a substantial impact.

Take business development. When teams are trying to win new business, they want to leverage the best examples of the firm’s previous work. If they have visibility into everything that’s been done firmwide, they can put their best food forward and mitigate the risk of losing business to another firm.

Client satisfaction and retention are other areas that are significantly impacted by addressing collaboration and communication problems. Clients today have sky-high expectations — everything has to be fast and accurate. When everything is in one place, professionals can quickly find the data needed to complete audits and other projects instead of waiting on colleagues to track down information for them. This accelerates the engagement lifecycle — and ultimately leads to happier clients.

Many firms offer the same services, so if firms can differentiate themselves by providing an exceptional experience, clients will be more likely to stick around.

Also, firms that address collaboration issues by providing one “source of truth” for all data have a complete picture of firm performance. It’s no longer challenging for managing partners to figure out if the firm is improving, or just treading water. It also provides the accurate insights and intelligence they need to confidently make strategic decisions that support growth and other firm objectives.

The accounting firms that get the most benefit from fixing collaboration and communication issues are those that make data from all internal systems available from one centralized repository — regardless of where it resides. For instance, with Intapp Workspaces, information from practice management, billing, and other internal systems is easily accessible from Microsoft Teams. 

Can siloed data and ineffective communication have an impact on compliance?

MM: Yes, absolutely. Compliance with data retention policies is an especially big problem when professionals store documents on their local desktops. If the proper retention policies aren’t assigned to these documents, people wind up having access to them long after retention periods expire.

If you’re in the EU, this situation can potentially result in non-compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Article 5(1)(e), which states personal data should be kept only for as long as it’s needed for the purposes for which it was processed. Violations of this regulation can result in substantial penalties, with less severe violations subject to fines of up to €10 million, or 2% of a company’s worldwide annual revenue – whichever is higher.

In addition, professionals who rely too heavily on channels like Microsoft Outlook may miss email communications about new policies or regulatory changes —accidentally exposing their firms to compliance risk.

Firms can mitigate compliance risk by implementing accounting collaboration tools that automate and maintain their security and governance standards. Features that support lifecycle management are especially important. Intapp Workspaces, for example, will automatically archive information and apply the proper retention policies after an engagement is complete.

Data silos and poor communication can erode even the best-run firm’s competitive advantage by silently killing growth, innovation, and client delivery. Taking steps to support frictionless collaboration and knowledge sharing is critical to ensuring your firm’s future success.

Schedule a demo to learn how Intapp Workspaces can help your firm achieve its full potential by enabling effortless collaboration and communication.