The quest for success in all businesses is a complex mixture of greater efficiency, greater creativity, better marketing and better management. The role of technology in this mixture has generally been positive, though not always. Likewise, company policies aimed at enhancing this mixture do not always achieve the intended results. In fact, some policies and technologies cause more disruption than the problems they are designed to fix.
At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Dutch factory workers bristled at the introduction of new technologies into the production line – and demonstrated their displeasure by throwing their wooden shoes into the machinery to damage it. The shoes were known as sabot, and the practice became known as “sabotage.” In England, textile workers who rejected efficiency-enhancing technologies in the workplace became known as “Luddites.” Legend holds that the term was based on the folkloric figure Ned Ludd, a worker who gained fame for destroying factory machinery to preserve the jobs of manual laborers. Akin to Robin Hood, no one has proven that Ludd ever really existed.
In the 205 years since, one might assume that such problems have been overcome, and that we have learned to deal more effectively with disruptive policies and technologies. Sadly, this is not the case – such policies and technologies remain a critical impediment to productivity, even within tax and accounting firms.
Here is our list of eight such things your firm can survive and thrive without:
- Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi, even at its best, is highly insecure. To communicate sensitive client information over an office Wi-Fi network is foolhardy, and the use of a public Wi-Fi network – particularly in hotels, restaurants, airports, or trains and planes – is an invitation to hackers looking to commit identity theft.
- Personal scanners and printers. Scanners and printers should be placed in a central location for all staffers to use. The only exception might be a dedicated data input person, who may need a dedicated scanner. By cutting down on the number of printers and scanners, the firm will reduce operating costs and supply costs.
- Hidden cameras. A 2005 survey by the American Management Association showed that more than half of the employers who responded use video surveillance at work to counter theft, violence, or sabotage. And 16% of the employers surveyed used video surveillance to monitor employee performance. So long as there is a legitimate need for cameras for security, and employees have been notified of the surveillance, it is likely legal. But is it a good idea? The firm’s management may see video cameras as necessary for security, however, video surveillance may be viewed by staff as a tacit acknowledgement that management does not trust them to perform their jobs.
- Servers. In the era of cloud operations for file storage, the use of an in-house server as the sole means of backup and file archiving is a bad policy. Ultimately, an in-house service cannot provide the level of protection, service, redundancy, and data recovery provided by a cloud-based storage service. At the same time, in-house access to the most current set of client files is necessary in the event of an Internet service disruption. A better strategy is to use an in-house server for immediate access, and remote servers for archiving and backup.
- Corporate credit cards. Partners, firm owners, and the senior administrative assistants are the only people who should have a corporate credit card, and then only with a demonstrated need. It’s not just a matter of the potential for abuse of the card – it is also a matter of the time it will take to monitor and reconcile each card monthly.
- Undesignated cash accounts. The same is true of undesignated cash accounts – such as “slush funds” and petty cash. As with corporate credit cards, these are an invitation for abuse and a waste of time to reconcile. A cleaner way is to have purchases made only by the senior administrative assistant, or have employees pay for the item, with immediate reimbursement when they turn in the receipt.
- “Alternative” light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs have been scheduled for removal from the marketplace as early as this year. That is not a major consideration for firms that use fluorescent bulbs, but the other alternatives have proven less successful. The CFL bulbs that hit the shelves immediately after the ban on incandescent bulbs now turn out to have mercury levels so high they can’t be taken to the dump but rather require HazMat disposal procedures. According to research reported in Psychology Today, they are also unkind to people prone to seizures. The LED bulbs are only slightly better than CFLs, but demand a premium price.
- Big Data. So-called “big data,” which scours massive databases in order to glean business insights and marketing intelligence, is an essential part of management for large enterprises. Proving their value to a seasonal tax preparation or small accounting firm is a different matter altogether. If the firm doesn’t have a need for such data, or someone who can spend the time analyzing it, it is simply a high-cost concept that will not enhance efficiency or profits.
These are not the only technologies and policies that have less than the desired effect on a small business. They are, however, the top 8 on our list of efficiency killers and money wasters.