Bland & Associates, P.C. increases efficiency in firm operations, accounting and government consulting services with Smartsheet
With Smartsheet, Bland & Associates, P.C. can standardize and streamline firm-wide operations, audit, tax, accounting, and management consulting services, with secure access to key data for a diverse and remote workforce.
"The year before we got Smartsheet, we were either at budget or over budget on every task that I was involved in... The year after we got Smartsheet, we were under budget and on time, if not ahead of schedule, on every task. That’s pretty powerful."
Team Lead at Bland & Associates, P.C.
The success of an Omaha-based Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firm hinges on details, from its traditional services of audits, tax accounting and financial management to its government consulting solutions. Tracking those details requires the same scrupulous care regardless of whether the team is spread across regional offices or working from home during a worldwide pandemic. Bland & Associates P.C. (Bland) uses Smartsheet to automate and simplify firm operations, auditing, project management and oversight of government contracts, and other work. Its more efficient processes have helped it weather the disruption of COVID-19 while delivering high-quality results for customers.
“We saw an immediate project management need, and then we expanded into trackers, dashboards, and visualization tools,” says Bland Partner Jason Tonjes. “Then, over the last six months, we’re starting to see more and more teams use Smartsheet as a means of communication. It started before COVID hit, but as we went remote like most of the United States did, a tool such as this helps keep the clutter out of your inbox. We’re really getting into automation and trying to build a little more efficiency in the firm.”
Bland uses Smartsheet to manage work, including audit processes, business development, marketing content development, and firm operational request fulfillment. A newly formalized project management office is using Smartsheet Control Center to standardize its processes. Smartsheet blends powerful capabilities with ease of use and a flexible structure that helps managers balance firm-wide consistency with the unique needs of individual clients and assignments.
“Right now, each project manager runs their project how they see fit,” says Bland Project Manager Abby Fargo. “We recently created a project management office and we’re developing templates; the guideline is, as long as you keep the same columns, you can add as many rows as you need to your own contract sheet. We’re trying to move toward consistency across contracts so we can pull the same information across each of the contracts to get a better overall picture of where we are.”
Saving time and transforming management styles
Before adopting Smartsheet, teams at Bland managed much of their work through email and spreadsheets, with a few paper-based forms requiring signatures and scans. Ensuring colleagues had the most current and accurate versions of a file was difficult, especially when everyone rushed to enter their updates at the same time to meet a reporting deadline. Executives wanted detailed information to make decisions about projects in process without asking project managers to drop what they were doing to pull the data.
Tonjes says the firm’s first Smartsheet solutions were essentially high-powered spreadsheets, but users soon began to explore the platform’s rich capabilities. Dashboards, request forms, and reporting tools quickly proliferated. Perhaps most surprising, says Tonjes, was the ability to not just organize information but rethink how it could be structured and communicated.
“Smartsheet has helped us change our management style,” Tonjes says. “For the first several months when everybody went remote, there was all this reporting to direct report advisors. That was getting pulled together and communicated to our director of operations, and it was all being done in email. So we just put it into Smartsheet, and now all the information’s easier to put together, with less work for everybody to review. I’ll get an email that shows me where we have any issues or somebody’s going to be running out of work.”
It’s not just the managers who benefit; team members who are working from home can be more efficient if they’re not being interrupted for status updates. That helps keep projects moving on time and builds trust between colleagues.
“We’ve had one of the most active contracts during the last few months and pretty much the entire team is at home,” says Bland Team Lead Justin Iske. “Several of them are working with kids at home. You can’t just call somebody up on the phone because they could be homeschooling. Having the availability to look at a dashboard to see where an audit is at really increased our efficiency. There’s no way we would have completed the audits that we just got done in this environment if we didn’t have Smartsheet.”
More effectively executing current contracts and winning new ones
For audits, Bland integrates its Smartsheet workflows and tracking with document storage in Box. Reviewers can easily enter their comments, check off process steps, and confirm all the documents they need are available and complete.
The firm’s use of reports and dashboards has transformed the way managers plan and staff available projects. Before Smartsheet, employees would email their managers as they neared the end of an assignment to find new work, and then project directors would canvass their colleagues to find out who could add the individual to their roster. Today, employees communicate their status in a dashboard. Managers and project directors can see who’s available over the coming weeks, and automated notifications accelerate the process of assembling a team for upcoming work.
Winning new contracts is made easier with a Smartsheet business development portal. The firm can track the phases of an opportunity’s lifecycle, check off steps as a proposal is developed, and save the components of every submission as a resource for future opportunities. The dashboard includes visualizations, such as the count of opportunities over the next 30, 60, 90, or 120 days, or the amount of business with particular government agencies. It provides a single place for colleagues to find out how they can engage with upcoming opportunities.
“We operate in highly regulated environments,” says Garrett Gilbert, Senior Director of Strategy at Bland. “And with things like COVID, a lot of dynamics are changing that we’ve got to stay on top of. So being able to integrate our information and visualize it quickly helps us make better business decisions. The environment we’re in is highly competitive, with a lot of big firms performing the same type of work. We’ve got to think about what separates us from them. Smartsheet lets us better demonstrate the value we bring, so we’re better positioned to explain our value proposition to our customers.”
An easy-to-learn platform that fosters innovation
The firm is continually creating new uses for Smartsheet: managing the creation and delivery of marketing content, streamlining firm requests with a single online form, analyzing customer work to identify ways to add value, and more. Because Smartsheet is easy to learn, new users can spend less time figuring out how it works and more time envisioning how it can solve their business problems.
“You have people who are willing to take on something new, and those who are a little more hesitant,” says Bland Project Manager Rebecca Goodwin. “But as soon as you start showing someone a use case and let them see what the tool can do, I think the buy-in just comes automatically. People get excited and start saying, ‘Ooh, it can do that, can it do this? What if I apply it to this process or this task?’ That really helps get people excited to do their own research, attend some webinars, and then just try to use it for their specific scenario.”