Your Firm and Your Providers
While a December column would frequently predict or suggest changes for the coming year, it is time to take a longer view.
Dec. 12, 2022
A Top Technology Initiative Article
The fall conference season has been enlightening. Perhaps you attended the CCH User Conference in Tampa, the Thomson Reuters Synergy conference in Washington, DC, Digital CPA in Austin, QuickBooks Connect, Ensuring Success, the Unique CPA conference, or one of the K2 conferences in your state. Of course, if you didn’t attend, you can look at the innovations announced in press releases. Still, the benefit of these conferences is only partially what you learn about product direction. In addition, you benefit from the interaction with your peers. Unfortunately, these personal interactions were more difficult during the COVID pandemic. Partners and team members have been starving for innovation despite being exhausted from the compliance work of PPP, PPP2, ERTC, tough tax deadlines, and more.
When Wolters Kluwer CEO Jason Marx was asked about his favorite business insight at the close of the CCH User conference, he responded that it was watching CPAs experience the augmented reality lab using Microsoft HoloLens 2. I was fortunate to experience using Microsoft HoloLens 2 setup myself and to simulate how augmented reality could help review a tax return. Wolters Kluwer wanted their customers to appreciate the potential of these new technologies. It was a good use of my time. While I didn’t get a great picture of my experience in the lab, perhaps you can appreciate the setup with this image.
One word of caution, the marketing engines are in full swing. As a result, the solutions sold aren’t necessarily in the best interest of your team, the partners, or clients. On the other hand, we must have software tools, like tax software, to provide our compliance services. However, caveat emptor (buyer beware) is as accurate now as I’ve seen at any time in the last four decades. Between public company profitability, private equity demands for performance on their investments, technology stack recommendations without independence, automation opportunities that frequently don’t work as advertised, and staff shortages, partners and managers may be in the most challenging (dare I say interesting) time of managing professional firms that I have ever observed.
What are some of the top ideas?
Each major publisher has made efforts to improve its portfolio, and I appreciate them. Every practice area has experienced change: Practice Management, Tax, Audit, Document Management, Workflow, Portals, Client Accounting Services, and Advisory. We’ve written about these items in prior columns, or spoken about them in The Technology Lab podcast. One thing that has not changed is your firm’s decision to purchase most of your products from a single provider, such as Wolters Kluwer (CCH) and Thomson Reuters, OR to acquire best-of-breed solutions from Intuit, IRIS, or smaller competitors. Be thoughtful about your one suite or best-of-breed approach.
Also, at the Wolters Kluwer conference, their survey results suggested the top issues for CPA firms were: 1) Late or Unprepared Clients, 2) Keeping track of new or emerging regulations, 3) Working with the IRS, 4) Servicing clients effectively, 4) Economic uncertainty, and 5) Retaining and attracting top talent.
What are some of the top tools?
Remember that you can find up-to-date information on the website CPAFirmTech. Consider the K2 Quality award winners on the CPA Practice Advisor site in the announcement at https://tinyurl.com/t7abrj84. All, some, or none of these may help solve issues in your firm. In his latest book, Starry Messenger, Neil deGrasse Tyson suggests that there are fewer discrete issues (Y/N, Black and White), but problems tend to be along a continuum. Beyond (and including) these winners, consider these best-of-breed solutions sorted by these categories:
- Portals, document management, and PBC (prepared by Client lists)
- CCH Axcess IQ (now with state information)
- Corvee (tax planning)
- Forms gathering and recognition
- Ledgible Crypto Tax Pro by Verady (for cryptocurrency)
- Tallyfor (for Trial Balance)
- Practice Management
- Accounting Software
- Services from others
These issues and these solutions may be reasonable short-term AND long-term solutions. While The Technology Lab Podcast (https://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/resource/podcast) can give you a tactical view of product solutions, co-host Brian Tankersley and I have many strategic discussions and thoughtfully advance individual solutions for your technology stack. Please listen in to hear our latest takes on solutions of all kinds.
In the last few years, innovations, consolidations, and strategic changes have occurred. It has become apparent to my colleagues and me that it is time to rethink our technology stacks from top to bottom. While a December column would frequently predict or suggest changes for the coming year, it is time to take a longer view. 2023 will become the year of the stack as we make strategic recommendations that we believe will be different from what you have seen in the past. We expect to build toward the new technology of the future, including the business use of the Metaverse, which includes evolving concepts like self-sovereign identity, web3, blockchain, and augmented reality. Most important will be the business reasons accounting professionals should use the technologies with their clients.
Of course, we’ll add sprinklings of CES‘s latest and most significant advancements and other vendor product announcements. But we’ll also be mindful of the practical use of the technologies while being innovative.
So, What Do I Do Now?
OK, I understand you have a firm to run and another season to prepare for. But first, if you have not taken some downtime at a conference, on vacation, or in some other way to disconnect, do it now. The holidays are upon us, and schedule some time now to take extra days off with family and friends.
Look at your most pressing issue or the item taking you or your team the most time. How can you solve for or eliminate that problem? Consider if fewer tools that you learn to use better would serve you better. The annual Wolters Kluwer survey suggested that 26% of firms use less than 50% of the software products they own. In my experience consulting with firms, I think it is far less. How do you solve your most pressing problem? Focus on solving just that one item before your busy time.
Secondarily, consider one item you would consider helpful to know more about. Then, either schedule a (CPE) course or time to focus on learning more about that one item. While your newfound knowledge may save you time, I’m confident that learning something new will help recharge your batteries for your coming workload.
Finally, consider something you are doing that you should stop doing. Ceasing a time-consuming activity can be done either from work or at home. The goal of eliminating something is to immediately net more time in your day. One friendly piece of advice I received 40+ years ago was not to watch the news. It can take 30-60 minutes, is frequently bad, and will depress you, and if something is noteworthy, others will tell you about it anyway. Alternatively, consider one highly summarized news briefing like Semaphor, 1440, the Skimm, or Axios. Don’t read the details of any more than one item.
You’ll be surprised that you’ll know “the big stuff” and have extra hours back in your day. While I enjoy reading The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist, Time Magazine, and National Geographic, these can all be time-consuming. Perhaps a better use of your time is spending your reading time on books you have thoughtfully selected. Years ago, I was taught that the value of “printed” material declined with the frequency of publication. In other words, newspapers are less valuable than magazines are less useful than books. Consider the effort, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness of what you are reading in today’s digital world.
With the three pieces of guidance above, I hope you’ll still find my columns and podcasts of the past and future providing valuable ideas. You see, I want the time you spend reading one of my columns or listening to one of my podcasts to save you more time than you spent or to give at least one or more executable ideas. So, for now, celebrate, relax, and have a profitable future.
See inside Dec. 2022 - Jan. 2023
When Flipping Burgers Beats Being an Accountant, You Know There’s a Problem
Imagine a world where a CPA enjoyed his time working at a fast food restaurant more than he enjoys working at his current large regional accounting firm.