Skip to main content

Artificial Intelligence

Do Your Best Practice Management

The accounting profession will change more in the next five years than it has in the last ten years. At a recent conference where I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel of other consultants and pundits in the accounting profession, the statement was ...


From the August 2019 Issue.

The accounting profession will change more in the next five years than it has in the last ten years. At a recent conference where I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel of other consultants and pundits in the accounting profession, the statement was made that “the rate of change will never be slower than today.” While I don’t know the original source of that statement, I do agree with the sentiment. You can read more “rate of change” quotes here. But the key thing that you need to know as a practitioner is that it is likely that every one of your key operational systems will be replaced over the next six years unless you are already on the CCH Axcess Suite or some other new generation product like BQE Core.

In other places in this issue, you will find guidance on tax document automation, which we first discussed with you almost ten years ago. While we still believe in products that scan, organize and populate 1040 tax returns, such as CCH® ProSystem fx® Scan with AutoFlow, SurePrep 1040 Pro, and Drake Software GruntWorx. While there are many additional products in this segment of the market such as Doc-It that integrate scan and organize functions as part of their product along with portal and workflow capabilities. Major competitors of CCH Wolters Kluwer and Thomson Reuters each have their suite(s) of products that include scan and organize, portals, and workflow. There are entrepreneurs trying to make the entire process easier with new products enabling evolutionary and revolutionary change.

Further, there are newer technologies for PBC (Prepared by Client) documents such as TaxCaddy and Suralink and more automation in tax delivery with products such as TaxCaddy and cPaperless SafeSend Returns. But these three products are only a few of the dozen or so products that have this functionality today after the capability was introduced by ShareFile’s Client Request list feature. An updated article may well be in our future together, but I’ve written a whole article on this topic alone two years ago (PBC Lists – Prepared By Client Lists Now Automated). Articles in this publication by my friend and associate, Brian Tankersley, have recently provided you recent guidance on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). While Brian and I have worked on Emerging Technologies in the profession for many years, our focus has become more clear in the last three years on specific technologies like RPA, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning.

But the main concern I’d like you to consider in this month’s article is how you handle the main operational systems of your practice. How do you automate practice management, document management and workflow to manage your day to day work? And, how do you plan to transition your practice over the next five to seven years?

So, How Do We Pick the Right Strategy and Then Manage It?

One of the recent pleasures of my career has been to produce an annual survey of Accounting Firm Operations and Technology (AFOT) that was the idea of Leslie Garrett, currently VP of Marketing of Newforma. Leslie, Brian Tankersley and I have run this free national survey for the last six years, and we invite you to take the survey when it is available this fall. My Canadian partner, Alan Salmon has done a similar survey in Canada for the last two years. Even though there are good MAP surveys done by Rosenberg, the AICPA PCPS division and others, none contained the level of detail we thought was necessary to make operational decisions based on statistical valid numbers. My individual learning from the survey has been immense. A key learning is that CPA firms below 15 and above 100 people are choosing more best of breed approaches, meaning they pick solutions from a variety of vendors and integrate them together. But now, how do we take all those facts and turn them into actionable items to help your individual practice?

First, what practice management products are available and the most common?

What other products are in use?

  • CCH iFirm
  • CaseWare Time
  • Client Track
  • Vohcom Page
  • Thomson Reuters DT Practice
  • Clarity Practice Management
  • Karbon
  • QuickBooks Online
  • QuickBooks Desktop
  • Templeton PracticePro 365
  • Practice Engine
  • Star

If we had point you to the dominant products by size of firm:

  • Small – BQE Core, OfficeTools, Power Practice, QuickBooks, TPS
  • Medium – CCH Practice Management, Practice CS
  • Large – APS, Practice Engine, Star

If you decide that you desire new practice management software, consider these characteristics and whether or not you need them AND if they are included or an option in the practice management system you are considering (in no particular order, but more popular current interests are listed sooner):

  • Realization and utilization reporting
  • Dashboards and KPIs
  • Published API (Application Program Interface) to connect to other systems
  • Management reporting

o   AR Analysis

o   WIP

o   Industry vertical/niche/market segmentation reporting

o   Forecasting

  • Electronic payments
  • Integration to GL/AP/PR/Expense reporting
  • Mobile entry and approval
  • Business development and/or integrated CRM
  • Due Date tracking
  • Custom invoices
  • Time and Expense tracking
  • CPE Tracking
  • Scheduling
  • Project management
  • Portal
  • Workflow
  • Document management

We have discussed in other columns the proper way to develop a requirements definition, evaluate alternatives, contract for the best choice and manage the implementation. One key learning for me in the past year is that with so many changes in our CPA firms, we must learn to manage projects better. While project management skill competency is represented by the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, we can use some of the principles of a PMP professional, just like we can use some of the principles of IASSC Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt™ (ICGB™) certification to optimize workflows. Further, most firms can only handle one project per year or in larger firms one project per department. We also believe a year of planning and a year of implementation is a reasonable pace. (These projects are an illustration, not a recommendation for your firm!). Conceptually, we developed this illustration of that concept:

But now I’m worried that change won’t happen quickly enough in your firm to remain competitive. Typically, most firms have waited for the major publishers to develop and debug applications and then the firms adopted products that were fairly tried and tested. At this pace, competitive firms and the market in general may move more rapidly than you. However, can your team accommodate a more rapid pace of change as illustrated here:

Like all good managers, we are going to have to determine what is best for the practice, look at our resources, and determine the return on our investment. Then we must build a project plan that is achievable that aligns with our business goals.

Are the Products Up to the Task?

Some are, many are not. However, this may be less about the products than it is about the selection, implementation and training on your practice management product. The vendors will want you to move fast, but not all their products are completely ready for the new world and many contain shortcomings or bugs. Additionally, you will need to spend on implementation and training and what the vendor offers is only the starting point of a journey, not the final destination.

You’ll need good change management, project management and process management skills to do your best practice management. And I can assure you this: the only constant is change.

See inside August 2019

2019 Review of Tax Document Automation Systems

Tax Document Automation capability can save accountants hours and hours of work. Imagine simply placing documents into a scanner and just scanning them. No need to worry about organizing the documents prior to scanning them.


The Human Skills Tech Can Never Replace

If you were to draw a picture of today’s accounting landscape, you’d find technology front and center, hogging up all the attention. It’s not hard to see why it’s gained such a place of prominence.