Build your tech stack with CAS purpose
by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA
Client Accounting and Advisory Services (CAS) are being touted as the future of the accounting profession and are being supported by the transformation happening within today’s business information automation platforms. Traditional accounting systems utilized by bookkeepers for compliance work have evolved from stand-alone systems where all data had to be manually entered, into integrated platforms where information from multiple sources are digitally connected to create real-time or near real-time business information systems. These systems allow for more timely and accurate business reporting, fostering more proactive decision making, which in turn supports the advisory practices that CPAs are evolving today. This business information platform is commonly referred to as the firm’s technology stack (or tech stack) and can be most effectively built if focused on the firm’s future advisory opportunities. Most CAS tech stacks are centered around the accounting products utilized by clients to integrate applications, automate data transfer, and present business reporting in a more visual format.
The first step in building your tech stack is to identify the accounting information systems most utilized by your clients, which is of particular importance within any specific niches the firm may be targeting (and may not be using standard bookkeeping applications). According the latest CPA.com CAS benchmarking survey, QuickBooks Online and Desktop were the top two accounting applications selected by business users followed by Sage Intacct, Microsoft Dynamics and Xero. To optimize access and integration within the tech stack, these applications must be maintained in the cloud either as a native online application or as a cloud hosted application. Cloud hosting allows QuickBooks desktop and other desktop applications to have the same remote access, maintenance, security, and tech stack integration advantages that native cloud applications have without losing existing functionality. Another added benefit is that the client does not have to learn a new system.
The next step is to surround that accounting application with supported services such as banking, payables, receivables, expense reporting, etc. that can be integrated directly through application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs allow data to be digitally connected which is much faster and more accurate than manually rekeying the same data. Most firms begin with automating accounts payable, payroll and banking applications and then expand to areas such as expense reporting, inventory, time keeping, etc. depending on specific client needs. The key to success is picking the one or two applications that can be integrated for the largest number of clients and becoming an expert at integrating them. Accounting vendors have setup “App Stores” with products that are already approved for integration (see below) which is a great place to start.
Some niches/industries have unique applications with significant amounts of data that must be transferred but do not have APIs. In this case, firms should automate the capture, processing and inputting of that information into the accounting application which is performed with data transfer and robotic process automation (RPA) utilities. Data transfer utilities such as Transaction Pro/Autofy*, EntryRocket and SaasAnt can import and export data from multiple formats so they can be digitally transferred to accounting products, minimizing re-keying errors. For more advanced users and client data transfer needs, RPA tools such as Automation Anywhwere, UIPath and BluePrism can be “scripted” to emulate the keystrokes that an accountant would use to capture, process, and input data from one application to another.
The final component of the CPA firm tech stack is the use of data visualization tools which create dashboards and reporting to help clients better understand key business indicators and be more proactive when making business decisions. Tools such as Tableau, Domo, Clik, and Microsoft Power BI (Business Intelligence) have been heavily utilized for this purpose in the FinTech (financial technology) space so it is important that firms select a product that they can connect to their tech stack to handle such reporting. One great way to become familiar with using these tools is to automate the firm’s internal reporting so that all members get exposed to the concept.
Client accounting and client advisory services go hand in hand and will be bolstered by building a tech stack that supports and improves clients’ business needs. Now is a great time to take a step back, review your current tech stack, and ensure it’s built with purpose.
Accounting AppStore Marketplaces:
Intuit QuickBooks: https://apps.intuit.com
Sage Intacct: https://marketplace.intacct.com
Microsoft Dynamics: https://appsource.microsoft.com/en-us/marketplace/apps
Oracle Netsuite: https://suiteapp.com
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA is Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and partners exclusively with accounting firms on production automation, application optimization, and practice transformation. Roman is also the author of the 2020 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization,” which is available for download to members of the AICPA PCPS section.