'Consider assigning a champion ...'
From accountant to consultant: I went to work for the CPA firm of Henry+Horne (H+H) in the '80s. I happened to have an interest and be good with PCs. Every time new computers were acquired or there was an IT-related question, I responded to those questions. Before I knew it, I had become the IT guy for H+H. Later, I became a special partner, then an equity partner. At the time, the technology office was also the administrative office, and I became the firm's first dedicated administrative partner, overseeing both the administrative and technology aspects. As I began sharing what my firm was doing at industry conferences, other firms started asking me for the same assistance, and I transferred into consulting. I left H+H in 1996, and I've been consulting as an outsourced IT/production partner to CPA firms for the past 22 years.
Staying on top of technology trends: CPAs can stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends by attending conferences that expose them to trends and the applications that firms are using. I also listen to a number of webinars and TED Talks. I attend CES [Consumer Electronics Show] each year, where I can see trends happening on the consumer side. Many innovations happen there first before moving to the business side.
Effective cybersecurity strategies: When it comes to cybersecurity, you've got to have multiple layers. For access controls, we all need to have some kind of multifactor authentication and make sure we're changing passwords and not reusing passwords between different applications. Second, I think CPA firms will have to outsource continuous monitoring of their network environments to external security firms. We'll need to use a team of people that provide 24-hour coverage, that are updating firewalls, running intrusion detection and prevention applications, etc., and updating these applications as soon as they come out. That will push a lot of firms into using more cloud applications, where the cloud provider has depth of personnel and depth of applications, and is actively updating and monitoring security protocols.
Develop technology expertise within your firm: After every software implementation, firms should provide training and reminder training and follow up to make sure it's implemented correctly. When you have an application, consider assigning a champion to that — not a partner, but an active everyday user. Allocate hours to that person and make sure that they get chargeable credit so that the time is viewed as billable time. Send them to user conferences to network with experts and to document best practices so that when anyone has a question, there is a firm standard. In this way they are not penalized for being the expert; instead, they're actually rewarded.
— As told to Lea Hart (email@example.com), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.