The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated technology innovation for both CPA firms and their clients. Some pundits suggest that 2020 forced five years of innovation into one. While work-at-home became a “new normal” during the stay-at-home orders, partners discovered that many of their professional team were more productive and happier to
work from home (WFH). So, does WFH become the common way to do business? Is work from home the “next normal”?
While the answer to the WFH question remains to be seen, the factors that drive this decision seem clear.
- Can client service be maintained or improved?
- Does realization improve?
- Are engagements and projects appropriately covered?
- Does the firm culture remain?
- Is business development expanded?
- Can the firm maintain team member satisfaction without losing key personnel to competitors?
I am sure you have a few questions of your own to add to this list. Further, technology is a must-have component to make this all work.
What changes are we likely to see in tech after we emerge from the pandemic?
Besides the traditional firm technology of tax, audit, and practice management software, WFH required sound document management systems (DMS), workflow, and Voice Over IP (VOIP) while adding software for collaboration and web meetings. For firms that had not embraced Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, WebEx, or various other video conference software tools, these became a must-have part of the practitioner’s tool kit. Firms running a private cloud or using a hosting company had a minimal impact during the transition to WFH. However, integrated silos of information will become more common over the next decade instead of using a monolithic suite of products using centralized computing. My firm to decided to move to WFH in the morning and completed the entire move in less than 90 minutes. By the way, we had never had a work from home culture or a desire to have our team working from home, sO this was quite a cultural transition for our firm.
But the real question is about the technology we will see emerge as vaccinations allow businesses to return to an adjusted normal, that IS. the next normal. I believe these technology adjustments will become permanent fixtures of the future:
- Collaboration in the cloud will become mandatory
- Client Experience tools will improve
- Workflow will gain more automation from Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
- DMS will become more sophisticated and easier to use Integrated web meetings that will blend a hybrid of physical and virtual meetings evolve
- There will be more transition to Software as a Service introducing more silos of information and integration with digital plumbing tools
- Security improvements with ease of use such as passwordless access must occur
- Audit and trial balance tools will improve
- Tax planning, compliance, and other tax advisory services will experience a notable change
- Client accounting services tools will become more seamless and comprehensive
- Cash flow forecasting and other business advisory tools will become commonplace
- Practice management will evolve to enable hybrid workforces, collaborative workflows, and interactive team member and client experiences
While this list seems long, the initial transition accelerated during the pandemic year. Vendors and software publishers had time to focus on their products and discovered new needs and opportunities, while firms and their clients considered if the conditions were a new normal or the next normal. Many found that they enjoyed not commuting to an office and that productivity went up. While the comradery and culture of interacting in an office were missed, perhaps two or three days of time in the office was enough. Scheduling time on Tuesday through Thursday or on Tuesday and Friday was sufficient to handle all administrative work and needed face-to-face meetings.
Scheduling time on Tuesday through Thursday or on Tuesday and Friday was sufficient to handle all administrative work and needed face-to-face meetings.
Can your firm make the transition to embrace and adopt all the technologies mentioned before?
First, vendors may not give you a choice as older technologies are discontinued. Second, you will need to adopt many of these technologies to provide a better team member experience. Technology remains one of the best recruitment levers available to firms. Third, your clients have come to expect ease of use and convenience. Firms cannot continue to business in this third decade of the 21st century the same way they did in the 20th century! Clients may stay with your firm because they like you and your work, but they may not tell you that your client experience is terrible!
What are some potential tools to use today?
While this article cannot provide all the details to make the transition, I would encourage you to participate in CPAmerica events this year and beyond. Presenters will cover every topic above in the technology conference, and many will be covered during other events.
Consider this “best of the best” evolving product guide below for each category named above. There are many technologies to consider, but remember to look at your firm’s Mission, Vision, Goals, Strategic Business Plan, and Tactical Business Plan before adding these tools to your Strategic Technology Plan and Tactical Technology Plan. So, what can we review and select in each of these categories? While your firm strategy, size, and expertise could change these products, these recommendations should be directionally accurate.
1. Collaboration requires the right platform
- Google Workplace
- Microsoft 365 (best for CPA Firms)
- Zoho One (best for start-up businesses)
2. Client Experience is going through one of the larger transitions
- CCH Axcess Client Collaboration Portal
3. Workflow RPA tools will notably improve productivity
- Diligence for fling automation and other functions
- Microsoft Power Automate
- XCM with Automation Anywhere
- GetBusy Virtual Cabinet
- Microsoft Teams for DIY instead of a network share
- Thomson Reuters ONVIO Firm Management Document Center
5. Web Meetings
- Microsoft Teams
6. Core accounting firm options using Software as a Service with digital plumbing tools
- CCH Axcess
- Intuit QuickBooks Online and ProConnect Tax
- Sage Intacct
- Thomson Reuters ONVIO
7. Passwordless security
- FIDO2 keys like Yubico YubiKey
- Microsoft Authenticator, Hello, Edge
- Microsoft Azure AD PREMIUM P1
8. Audit and trial balance tool evolution • CCH Axcess Engagement
- Dynamic Audit Solution
- Validis with Valid8
9. Tax planning, compliance, and other tax advisory will experience a notable change
10. Client accounting services tools will become more seamless and comprehensive
- AccountantsWorld Accounting Relief
- BaCo Tech
- SmartBooks Genie
11. Cash flow forecasting and other business advisory tools will become commonplace
- Commercial Loan Success
- Complete Advisory Solution (F3C Advantage)
12. Practice management will evolve to enable hybrid workforces, collaborative workflows, and interactive team member and client experiences
- Aero Workflow
- Clarity Practice Management
- Empire RESOURCE
Rarely would I caution you with “buyer beware” since the initial vetting of these products is already complete. However, with uncertain financial times still ahead of us, many businesses will fail because of unexpected cashflow shortages and sales that do not materialize as expected. You probably would not miss the offerings of the large publishers of Wolters Kluwer, Thomson Reuters, and Intuit, so I focused on interesting alternatives.
Can we do things the same old way?
Of course! However, you know that the definition of insanity
is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Your firm may be wildly profitable today, particularly since 2020 produced extraordinary financial results for most firms. What about five years from now or even ten? Do you want your team to be prepared for the future? Picking the right technology tools today can make a notable difference in your firm tomorrow.