Technology Is a Cornerstone of Successful CPA Firms

BY ALEXANDRA DEFELICE

High-performing firms include technology in their strategic plans and leverage those tools to help them succeed in areas such as client service, practice management and staffing, according to a survey by Opinion Research Center commissioned by CCH. The survey included quantitative interviews with 100 partners at firms ranging in size from five to more than 100 employees that reported above-average revenue per employee.

 

Paperless practices topped the list of strategies these firms are using, with 75% having a paperless strategy in place, 52% of which have been executing that strategy for at least three years. Within three years, 90% expect to have such a strategy.

 

The top practices included in those paperless strategies are:

 

  • A document retention and destruction policy.
  • Policies and procedures for scanning and using scanned documents.
  • Storing information digitally.
  • Using tax software that takes advantage of multiple monitors.
  • Technology for secure remote access of digital information.

 

When it comes to the specific types of tools to help the paperless move, 83% of respondents use multiple monitors, with an additional 9% planning to do so within three years. Following close behind, 72% indicated they currently use document management systems, and another 22% plan to do so within the next three years. In addition, 47% use scanning tools to organize their documents or electronically input information on tax returns, and 21% use client portals.

 

Separately, social media turned up high on the adoption list, with 41% of partners leveraging social media tools for professional use, and the majority reporting at least weekly use. Preferred channels in order of value to partners included professional online communities, followed by blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, respectively. Marketers, meanwhile, cited blogs as their top tool, as did recruiters.

 

ANYTIME, ANYWHERE ACCESS

Adopting the right tools to give employees the ability to work any time from any place was a common goal among respondents. Tied into the theme of anytime, anywhere access is the move toward Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, also referred to as “cloud” or Web-based applications. Today, 30% of high-performing firms use one or more SaaS applications, and that is expected to grow to 55% within three years, according to the survey.

 

Benefits these firms expect to realize from SaaS adoption include:

 

  • Improved efficiency and time savings.
  • Improved business continuity.
  • Better client service and convenience.
  • Lower total cost of ownership and reduced capital expenses.
  • Improved application portability.
  • Easier software deployments.

 

Roughly 25% of firms reported they have professional staff working remotely and are putting solutions in place to support a growing number of mobile workers. When it comes to their devices of choice, 72% of those with mobile work forces support laptops that have wireless capabilities; 60% support BlackBerrys, iPhones or other PDAs/smartphones; and 25% support wireless minis/netbooks.

 

Firms that are using these mobile devices say they will want them to do more over the next three years. Thirty-three percent would like to see them support document management solutions; 32% tax and accounting tools; 28% knowledge-management solutions; and 26% tools for practice management.

 

Alexandra DeFelice is a JofA senior editor and AICPA CPA Insider e-newsletter columnist. To comment on this article or to suggest another article, e-mail her at adefelice@aicpa.org or call 212-596-6122.

 

A version of this column originally appeared in the AICPA CPA Insider e-newsletter. The AICPA Insider Group’s e-newsletters deliver need-to-know news, hard-hitting commentary, recommended products and professional development resources to more than 200,000 CPAs and professionals each week, covering individual and corporate taxes, corporate finance, wealth management and careers. To sign up for the free e-newsletters and read archives, please visit cpa2biz.com/newsletters.

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