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The technology landscape has changed significantly in recent years, and the pace of change appears to be accelerating. Our research shows optimism, but also some critical areas of focus if the full potential of technology is to be realised.

Adoption challenges

From our research, barriers to adoption broadly fall into two themes:

  • the effort required to adopt software, including the time and cost involved, migrations and new integrations; and
  • the skills and capabilities required in adoption, including the need to get staff buy-in, retraining, or even the internal know-how to go through the implementation process.

This emphasises the importance of people in technology adoption – allowing enough time to implement and embrace new technology, and training in the use of new systems. It also highlights the role of system integration and a seamless user experience, but again, in many respects, this comes back to the design of technology solutions around the people using it.

We observed that, while the 'other' category was the most common response to the question of challenges, the reasons provided by interviewees aligned well to these two themes.

In the 2019 survey, 22% of respondents cited a lack of demand from clients as a challenge for adopting technology. That’s down to just 1% in this survey, a remarkable change and a sign that clients are increasingly ready for the digitalisation journey.

A plethora of software vendors are giving opportunities to smaller firms previously only afforded to larger ones, helping to level the playing field. There are nuances in our 2023 research in relation to software satisfaction, with smaller firms more satisfied with their operational software and larger firms slightly more satisfied with client-facing applications. 

While specialised software is widely used across most of the common software categories (accounts production, time and expense management, tax and so on), an area that fell short in our research was the use of software in business advisory. Just 37% of interviewees said they were using specialised software for this activity.

It is clear, therefore, that there’s huge opportunity for firms, software companies and ICAEW to explore how to grow the use of technology in the advisory space, and use technology to support the provision of robust, reliable advice to clients. This could include more sophisticated budgeting, forecasting and cashflow tools, data analytics solutions, or even tools that support benchmarking of clients against their peers. In short, recognising that advisory services tend to be more human-led, there’s clear potential for technology to better enhance those conversations.

Conclusions and next steps

If firms haven’t already, they need to embrace the human element of technological change, and the importance of the experience of staff when interacting with the software. Giving staff opportunities to voice concerns and share potential improvements, and supporting them in developing the skills needed to make the most of the software, are all more important than ever.

The move to the cloud is in full flight, but the picture is variable depending on specific software categories. When defining requirements for new software, ease of use and ease of integration must surely be top of the list in any conversations with software providers. Looking for opportunities to use specialist software to support advisory services stands out as a strong source of potential differentiation, while larger firms should strive to achieve the apparent agility of smaller firms when adopting new tools.

The message for software providers is clear – if your product isn’t cloud-first, integration-led and UX-focused, then you are not delivering on the needs of your customers. The noise around practice management in particular is growing to the point where it can no longer be ignored.

Most of those interviewed for our research play a key part in the decision-making process for technology adoption in their firms. However, while they may consider their firms to be eager to adopt new tech, it requires the entire firm to come together for its successful implementation.

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Further resources

Finance in a Digital World - support for ICAEW members and students on digital transformation and technology
Finance in a Digital World

ICAEW has worked with Deloitte to develop Finance in a Digital World, a suite of online learning modules to support ICAEW members and students, develop awareness and build understanding of digital technologies and their impact on finance.

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