As CPAs we rely heavily on information technology to manage our practices and to provide accounting and advisory services to clients. Your firm’s technology and application decisions most likely evolved over many years (and maybe even decades) to get to the firm’s technology stack that you have today. But is it the best solution for your firm’s future or is it holding you back? Knowing the changes that are happening in our profession today, would you settle for the technology stack of applications you have in place right now?
This is a question every firm owner should be asking themselves and a well thought out answer encompasses understanding how you got to where you are today, identifying where you see your firm’s future, and putting together a modern information technology infrastructure and solutions to take you towards that future.
Understanding how you got to your current tech stack will help you address blind spots that keep you from moving beyond it. The technological understanding of most owners is huddled around the hardware and applications they personally utilized and implemented and then atrophied as they assigned that responsibility to other staff and relegated it to technology personnel. Firms that hired network administrators tasked them with building stable networks that would allow firm personnel to access, print and save data on central networks. Network administrators were rewarded for stability which often meant not implementing new technologies until they were absolutely proven, and the risk of implementation failure was incredibly low.
Exasperating the situation was firms having a legacy of adopting either a “best of breed” application selection approach where applications did not integrate well or a “suite” approach which had good integration but lesser functionality within the applications. This combination of situations gravitated vendors towards developing cloud solutions utilizing modern integration tools and slowly bringing along firms and their clients.
Technological evolution within many firms was also stunted due to understaffing of IT personnel and a lack of specialized accounting technology training while at the same time the volume of applications and updates to those applications steadily increased. Throw in the impact of hackers and the drive for better security, backups, and disaster recovery became paramount with firms striving for enterprise class solutions which only the largest firms, accounting vendors, and cloud hosting providers could deliver.
…and then came COVID making all these requirements immediately mandatory.
Without a doubt COVID accelerated CPAs towards adopting digital and remote access solutions, but it was what was happening alongside technology that points to the future of the profession. The ability to collaborate digitally not only within the firm but with clients became not only feasible but worked quite well. This was particularly true when firms created business information systems that allowed for real-time (or near real-time) integration so that discussions with clients could transition to be more forward looking or advisory in nature. Application program interfaces (APIs) and machine learning macros became commonplace linking together payroll, expense, payable and receivable data with accounting applications in the cloud so they were accessible by anyone authorized for access. This allowed firms to integrate “best of breed” applications into custom “suites” which created the modern technology stacks that firms could build their advisory practices upon, particularly when they also integrated reporting dashboards. Having the firm’s administrative department utilize the same tech stack as clients helped firm personnel better understand the features of those applications so they could then recommend and advise upon them.
Does your firm’s current tech stack have these capabilities? If not, here is how your firm can chart its path towards the future beginning with firmwide applications that all personnel utilize. Communication and collaboration is the first step and firm members must become experts at Microsoft 365 applications, and in particular, utilizing TEAMs to collaborate with clients. The next most important firm application is the utilization of a workflow tool that allows all firm members to see and update the status of every firm project at any time which is of particular importance to remote workers. This is followed by a selecting a portal solution that allows both the firm and clients to collaborate with today’s modern portals which integrate status updates and workflows. Selecting applications that natively integrate with the firm’s time and billing, tax, and document management applications build out the core suite for the firm’s tech stack at which point the firm can evaluate collections applications and electronic signature tools that serve both the firm and client needs.
So where can you learn about modern applications to upgrade your tech stack? The first place to look is your tax and practice application vendor’s user conferences where these products are not only on full display, but you have access to actual users that can validate their performance and provide supportive guidance. The next best place is the peer events and firm associations that openly share such information including the AICPA’s PCPS networking groups, the AICPA/CPA.com’s Digital CPA Conference, and AICPA’s ENGAGE conference. Networking with others that have already utilized these modern tools will accelerate your firm’s adoption.
Evaluating the components of your firm’s existing technology stack and comparing them to integrated tools that allow firm personnel and clients to collaborate more effectively will set your firm on the path to a more successful and efficient future.