Monitoring changes in technology and managing the associated costs is one issue that’s definitely keeping small firm owners up at night. In fact, that topic was one of the five chief challenges for sole practitioners and for firms with two to five professionals, according to the PCPS 2022 CPA Firm Top Issues survey. There are a few ways that firms can stay current and make the most of their technology investments.
Set your tech strategy. Your firm doesn’t necessarily need to be cutting edge, but to make sure your technology remains cost effective you should regularly review your resources to ensure they continue to deliver value. For example, a single platform-based solution that incorporates all you need in one tool will simplify implementation and training. You can always add on to this platform if necessary. On the other hand, a best-of-breed solution is a variety of world-class tools to meet a range of needs. Which approach and individual tools are right for you? Even the smallest firms can devise a comprehensive tech strategy to help answer that question. Review what you are using now and what you would love your technology to do for you, then see what’s available in similar solutions or upgrades.
Don’t do it alone. Choosing the right tools and staying up to date may sound easier said than done, but networking with similar firms in your local community or through PCPS networking groups can help. You can also track technology developments and pick up some great tips in Digitally Speaking articles written for PCPS by IT consultant Roman Kepczyk, CPA.CITP. Also check out other AICPA IT Resources and Tools.
And did you know about the AICPA and CPA.com Startup Accelerator program, which identifies emerging tech companies that can support firms’ digital transformation? One example is Once Accounting, whose software functions as middleware between a client's ERP and a CPA’s tax prep, providing transaction-based workflow. It takes client data, makes all needed adjustments and imports it into your tax software. If you look into available resources you may be surprised at what’s out there and what it can do for you.
Make the most of the benefits. Maintaining technology does require time and money but remember that it can offer tremendous value. One bonus for small firms: Your lean organization makes it easier to pivot as needed and implement new solutions to address seasonality concerns and other needs. At my former six-person firm, our ongoing focus on technology helped us find products that, for example, made it easier to review a range of workpapers together on screen and to introduce new efficiencies in how work was handled. I know that many firms struggled with a large volume of extensions in the most recent busy season, but I think that by using technology to simplify and speed processes, firms will be able to finalize work faster and improve their cash flow. On another front, during the last tax season many firms sought to better leverage technology to address staffing concerns. Be sure to check out automation, communication and file transfer tools that can help alleviate this challenge.
Don’t overlook cybersecurity. At the start of the pandemic, firms did an amazing job of switching to a hybrid work environment but remember that technology risks remain. The risks associated with data breaches, for example, have not gone away. That’s especially true in a hybrid environment, where firm members may be using their own devices and where it can be tougher to secure those devices. Investing time now can prevent potential headaches or disasters later.
Small firm leaders can review the PCPS CPA Cybersecurity Checklist with staff members in charge of information technology to set priorities in combatting cyber threats. They can then communicate firm cybersecurity expectations and best practices to all firm members. It’s also a good idea to offload some of the burden and gain new insights by bringing in a technology expert to perform cybersecurity audits and alert you to problems.
Dealing with technology can be overwhelming, but tech tools can truly make life easier. By developing a sound technology strategy and making the best use of available resources, firms will find it easier to harness this great resource.
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA, is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on September 22 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.