Editor's note: Also read, "Technology and CPAs: Visions of the future" in the June 2012 JofA.
JofA: What do you foresee being the most important technologies CPAs will use in their jobs over the next decade?
Bezugly: Whether they are client portals, mobile apps, or cloud computing, technologies that continue to increase mobility and productivity for CPAs and their clients will be the most important over the next decade.
Boomer: The most important technologies to CPAs over the next decade will fall into the categories of mobile, global, and social. Some of the more important applications might be described in today’s terms as:
- Relationship management: CPAs will leverage cloud-based solutions to maintain client relationships and economic data. Much of the data will be automatically aggregated from a transactional level, and the CPA will provide wisdom as the most trusted business adviser.
- Knowledge management: Knowledge currently resides primarily with people. Cloud-based technology will provide the CPA with access to resources both internally and externally.
- Content management: Content will be aggregated from a variety of sources (transactional) and then analyzed (analytics) to provide real-time knowledge for decision-making.
In my opinion, relationship, knowledge, and content will become blurred, and someone will name, package, and deliver this data in a useful format. The CPA has a great opportunity as the trusted business adviser if they have the vision and are not caught in the past, performing commoditized services.
Bourke: Undeniably, it will be the utilization of the power and reach of the internet in everything that we do. Today, it has a name, cloud computing. Tomorrow, it will simply be how we do business, applications, data, and systems. Our clients, customers, and vendors will all be connected in multiple ways, using the backbone of the internet as our pipeline.
Cieslak: Cloud and mobile devices (phones, tablets, ultrabooks, etc.) will continue to help further integrate technology into all aspects of a CPA’s daily duties. We refer to this as pervasive computing.
Collins: I predict a new generation of business intelligence tools will emerge to help CPAs better analyze detailed data and financial information. Tomorrow’s tools will likely combine data from multiple sources to produce more insightful results. As an example, imagine the merits of producing detailed sales analysis reports by item and city coupled with population age data from the Census for each of those cities. These new tools will likely use XML and XBRL tags, large databases, and sophisticated algorithms to quickly analyze a company’s financial activity—sliced, diced, and stratified by many criteria to identify risks, concerns, and potential improvements and opportunities.
Johnston: Analytics, ERP, CRM, and content management for industry CPAs. Practice management and document management for public practice.
Parthun: There is an increasing trend for CPAs to leverage mobile devices and cloud-computing vehicles in their daily routine. However, many new tools continue to be developed, and CPAs should be agile, willing, and open to learn new tools and software to remain competitive.
Richardson: Mobile devices, tied to secure cloud services and platforms.
Shimamoto: Email will continue to grow as a primary
means of communication and data exchange over the next decade, but we
will see it shift to be accessed more on phones and tablets. In
looking further out, I see more data analysis applications coming to
the fore of the CPA’s technology tool kit—whether these are business
intelligence tools to help CPAs in business and industry support
better decision-making in their organizations, or audit data-analysis
tools to help shift the auditor’s job from gathering data to analyzing
data to provide assurance.
Vetter: Mobile, mobile, and more mobile! Mobile technologies are going to help CPAs streamline their work flow and work smarter. For example, the ability to take pictures from a smartphone to scan documents—supporting material, expense receipts, etc.—and upload them to the CPA’s workspace in the cloud removes duplication in the work flow process and helps work to get in faster. Other products that will change the way we work with our clients include business intelligence dashboard reporting, tax deduction tracking, and apps that assist with approval processes in the accounting work flow and payments from customers.
JofA: What CPA firm revenue streams might technological advances hurt, and what opportunities might be created?
- Hurt—Aggregation of tax data for tax returns. Currently much of the time (value) comes from the aggregation of the data and interpretation of the federal and state tax laws.
- Hurt—The value of assurance services performed after the fact.
- Hurt—Any service related to human aggregation of the data.
- Help—Real-time management information that will reduce work in progress and accounts receivable in CPA firms to $0.
- Help—Presentation of real-time knowledge that can be presented digitally on a mobile device.
- Help—Assurance services certifying the authenticity and accuracy of the data and knowledge.
- Help—Providing cloud-based services to private companies that will be named, packaged, delivered, and priced based upon value rather than effort. The economic engine of a CPA firm must change in order to compete.
The truth is we don’t know what many of the services will be, but firms will prevail by assisting clients in reducing dangers/risks, taking advantage of the best opportunities, and leveraging their strengths. This is all about entrepreneurism. Entrepreneurs take resources to a higher level of value while bureaucrats take resources to a lower level of value.
Bourke: I see operational and financial technologies eating into current write-up and bookkeeping fees. CPAs who migrate to a form of technological annuity service for their clients will be the pacesetters and clear winners with new revenue streams.
Cieslak: Technology will continue to push the commoditization of all “low-end” (simple) services. Practitioners across all disciplines will need to focus on higher-end, more specialized, and industry-specific services. Technology will support better work product, user experience, and service delivery.
Collins: Technology has opened the doors to outsourcing. This creates great opportunities for CPA firms to grow their practices by employing talent from around the world, but it also opens the doors to the possibility that U.S.-based companies may seek advice and financial services from outside the U.S.
Johnston: Hurt—Audit and tax; Create—Outsourced CFO, HR management
Parthun: In our global economy, technological advances are creating an increase in startup businesses and services as well as a trend for companies to leverage other technologies to become more efficient. These trends give firms more opportunities to engage in new business (from additional client base to an increase in other attest engagements, such as SOC (Service Organization Control reports), etc.), but the advances may also require firms to be more efficient and create engagement pricing shake-ups that could hurt the revenue stream goals.
Richardson: Some low-end tax preparation services may be soon lost to other competitors or the taxpayer directly. New consulting opportunities abound for CPAs who can act as chauffeurs for their clients into the new technologies the CPA firm has already embraced and mastered.
Shimamoto: As more user-friendly bookkeeping and tax preparation tools grow in popularity (think QuickBooks and TurboTax), CPA firms will need to shift their services away from these lower-end transaction- and compliance-focused services to higher-end financial planning and information analysis/advisory services.
Vetter: I believe traditional write-up work is going to eventually go away as the client demand for real-time information continues to create a new expectation for the CPA market. The change in technology to the cloud allows clients to have access to real-time information from wherever they are. This enables them to make the business decisions faster and will require their accountants to keep this information up to date. This changes the CPA revenue stream to monthly oversight with CFO/controllership work so that the financial information used by the client is accurate. I believe there will be less of a reliance on after-the-fact accounting because of cloud technology and being able to access dashboard financial information in real time. The days of a client asking for a monthly or quarterly compilation report that has stale financial statements will be archaic.
JofA: What technology improvements would you most like to see?
Bezugly: More robust business intelligence application cloud offerings from the larger BI application software companies.
Boomer: Ubiquitous high-speed bandwidth. Integration of existing databases in firms. Systems that are hardware agnostic. Too many vendors are holding customers hostage. The good news is that consumer technology is now driving business technology, and we will see this happen shortly.
Bourke: Take the current scan-and-populate technology utilized in the tax arena, perfect it, and expand it into the attest area. This technology has made an already profitable area in most firms that much more profitable. A solution such as this on the attest side is long overdue.
Cieslak: Better, more seamless integration of data/information across disparate applications and ecosystems, i.e., Windows, Apple, and Android.
Collins: I would like to see:
a. The “instant on” capability found in tablets and smartphones in my desktop computer.
b. A camera aimed at the paper on my desk that can convert and display my handwriting instantly to my computer screen as text.
c. Smartphone and computer batteries that last for weeks at a time without recharging.
d. A spam filter that actually filters out all of the emails I don’t want to read.
e. My Outlook calendar (and calendars for my family and employees) instantly available on all of my devices with no extra effort on my part.
f. All virus threats completely eliminated.
g. Even faster internet.
h. High-speed internet available to all locations.
i. Easier-to-use accounting systems and far superior financial reporting produced by those systems.
j. A budgeting tool that uses a company’s historical data and worldly economic data to automatically produce a more accurate budget.
Johnston: True virtual desktops hosted in cloud data centers. Higher-speed communication lines.
Parthun: More user-friendly and 3-dimensional technology.
Richardson: Standardized telecommunications protocols for cellular networks (unlikely for 3G technologies, but possible for LTE 4G technologies).
More emphasis on speech as a primary data input methodology.
Shimamoto: I would like to see more CPAs in business and industry starting to use more of the budgeting, planning, and reporting tools to improve the accessibility of information in their organizations, which should lead to increased organizational agility and better decision-making. In public practice, I think there could be huge audit efficiency gained and a higher level of assurance provided through the adoption of data-analysis tools.
Vetter: Auto-population of data into accounting
systems, eliminating manual entry work. Additionally, more ways for
OCR technology to scan documents and read them in more areas of
JofA: How should CPA firms or other organizations respond to the demand by employees to use their own technology devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) for work?
Bezugly: On the surface, this can seem like a win-win idea for both employees and employers. Employees get to use devices they like and are most comfortable with, and employers are able to outsource some of their IT functions. But there are security and legal issues involved in taking this approach to employee devices. There should be careful and thorough research of the legal issues, and I would definitely recommend that a remote-wipe feature be available to protect sensitive company information in the event of employee termination by either party.
Boomer: Embrace it, don’t resist. This is part of the new economic model. Firms are learning that it makes employees happier and reduces cost. It requires management and procedures. The market determines relevance.
Bourke: Simply said, embrace it! Why demand that every employee carry a company-issued identical device? So long as the employer has the ability to remote wipe and exercise some controls over these employee-owned devices, they are fulfilling their client responsibility of protecting and safeguarding their confidential and private information. Let it happen!
Cieslak: All types of consumer electronics (phones, tablets, etc.) will continue to find their way into organizations, so it’s essential for companies to find ways to integrate and leverage these devices, while ensuring they don’t threaten application or data integrity.
Collins: I think employees should be given the freedom to use any tools they want, provided they are compatible with the other tools used within the organization and do not result in file format conflicts or other communication problems.
Johnston: BYOD (bring your own device) will increase costs and security risks. I would allow these with policy changes and increased technical spend.
Parthun: Firms and organizations should adjust/accommodate since the trend will just continue to increase.
Richardson: The trend of BYOD is in full bloom and has to be addressed by CPA firms directly. In firms that have developed closely integrated mobile-computing initiatives, the variety of BYOD may significantly dissipate possible bottom-line contributions. In other firms that haven’t set device standards, adopting (and aggressively embracing) BYOD can significantly contribute to better productivity and cost savings when the costs for the devices (and, in many cases, their data plans) are borne by the employees themselves.
Shimamoto: Management needs to balance accommodating new ways of working (including use of new technology devices) with risk to the organization. With the increasing use of cloud applications, the device itself will just become a means of accessing cloud applications. Management will need to address the risk of managing the devices, cloud applications, and data (whether stored on the cloud, on the device, or both) and implement the appropriate controls to manage that risk.
Vetter: Accept it and build the right policies and procedures around privacy and security to get comfortable. Fighting where technology is going is just going to lose clients and potential employees in the future. Too many times, firms get too busy to plan and document how to address these issues. To be attractive to potential employees and prospects, CPA firms need the ability to allow their employees to access these devices, or their employees are going to move to firms that are more technologically advanced.
JofA: What technology skills will CPAs need to be successful over the next decade?
Boomer: Who knows? We don’t even know what the service offerings will be. It is said that the majority of knowledge learned in universities is obsolete by the time the student enters the job market. I believe CPAs who have change, knowledge, and project management skills will have a head start. This requires vision, a quest for lifelong learning, and a global perspective. Much of the competition for CPAs will come from people outside of the profession.
Bourke: CPAs will need to be open to adapting, as rapidly changing technologies continue to be deployed. The CPA’s knowledge of the key role of data extraction tools in the mining of business intelligence will be extremely important.
Cieslak: Technology devices are tools, much like the prehistoric calculator. CPAs will be able to provide even greater value to their clients when they are better able to understand, master, and leverage the various devices. CPAs will need to have a better working knowledge of connectivity and IT security going forward.
Collins: The same skills that have always led CPAs to success will continue to dictate success in the future—a strong work ethic, intelligence, good writing skills, good communication skills, the ability to make a good impression, etc. Moving forward, the trick will be to convey these same skills and competencies through today’s newer media channels (such as email, text messaging, web publishing, social media, and video conferencing). It is possible that some CPAs who successfully mastered these skills in the past (via face-to-face meetings and phone calls) may be challenged to showcase those same talents via video conferencing, text messaging, and Twitter updates.
Johnston: Fundamentals—Microsoft Office, Adobe PDF, Windows. Advanced—Industry-specific applications, project management, and systems-integration understanding.
Parthun: CPAs should have the foundational understanding of information technology at a minimum and stay abreast of any new technology trends that can be applicable to their business environment. This foundation can help a CPA better assess how to leverage technology to ensure accurate information or provide business insight quickly and effectively. Having related credentials, such as the Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential, can also help CPAs distinguish themselves in a competitive marketplace.
Richardson: CPAs will need to know secure methods of communicating with others in their firm or the firm’s systems and even more secure methods of communicating with their clients. Understanding and utilizing client portals will be crucial along with mobile device standards.
Shimamoto: We saw in the CPA Horizons 2025 report that technology competency will no longer be a differentiator, but a part of the CPA’s base skill set. Use of communications programs (e.g., email), word processing, and spreadsheets will all be considered must-have skills at the intermediate level rather than just basic. Additionally, use of tools that support data modeling, data analysis, and reporting will also become part of the CPA base skill set.
Vetter: They need to understand how software integrates and feeds data between the different applications and the web. They don’t necessarily need to understand how to use every software from an end-user standpoint, but they do need to make sure that the accounting is flowing through accurately so the client’s desired result is achieved. The clients will be reliant on CPAs to understand how accounts are mapping together, where transactions are flowing from one application to another and how to get data to “magically” appear from the web. CPAs with some knowledge on how applications integrate will be able to verify that the accounting is accurate.
Additionally, in order to design a reporting system that is right for the client, CPAs need to begin with the end in mind. They need to understand how the accounting software works that they specialize in so that, when they design the setup of a system, it drives the desired reporting results for a client. Being able to know the accounting software deep enough to customize reporting will drive additional revenue streams to the firm.
JofA: Which technology has done the most to transform your job during your career?
Bezugly: Remote access and mobile technologies have had the greatest effect on my career. They’ve allowed me to have dinner with my family during busy season, stay home with a sick child, work permanently in another state than my employer, and give my clients exceptional service by having information and tools at hand anywhere, anytime.
Boomer: The internet and remote access have redefined work. Today, work is what you do, not where you go. The aggregation of data has changed my life (for the good) and allowed me to travel the world developing relationships, the opportunity to meet leaders and creative people. All value is created through leadership, relationship, and new capabilities.
Bourke: Beyond any doubt, the utilization of mobile and remote technologies to access data and applications previously locked in a physical office. I spend 90% of my time away from the office. I have the ability to service my clients 100% of the time.
Cieslak: The PC and Lotus 1-2-3 changed the accounting profession back in the 1980s, the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s, and today, cloud computing is poised to be the next transformational technology.
Collins: Having a web presence has done more to attract attention and create opportunities than any other technology by far. In the past, CPAs established office space in a small retail location and served the local community. Today, a $50-a-year website can expose the CPA to more than a billion potential customers and business partners. The key is having a stellar website loaded with useful information, checklists, links, explanations, and case studies. Unfortunately, many CPAs still think that publishing the equivalent of a three-panel brochure on the web is good enough, then they wonder why no opportunities ever resulted from their efforts. A CPA’s website should not read like a business card or brochure, it should read like an interesting “how to” book.
Johnston: Portable computing (laptops).
Parthun: I would suggest mobile devices, as communications occurs much more quickly and is more accessible than when I began my first job. It is no longer the norm that, when you leave the office, you are not communicating to colleagues or peers. I would also suggest the increasingly extensive reliance on the internet to conduct business. There are many more external factors to consider now and be worried about for businesses, such as cybercrime, data loss, privacy, and other matters.
Richardson: The internet, combined with smartphone and tablet technologies.
Shimamoto: Database technologies underlay practically all of the systems that support the work that we do as CPAs. As these technologies have evolved and enabled data management to shift from a programming task into an information management task, they have transformed the value that I can provide to an organization. Before, it was just about capturing and storing the data. Now it’s about taking that data and transforming it into useful information that can support better business decision-making.
Vetter: Client access all available in one place in the cloud. You are able to access your clients all in one place and consolidate reporting among multiple entities, which used to take hours and hours and was non-value-added work. True cloud collaboration drives a better CPA/client relationship. The CPA is able to use the tools they need to do their job best and provide dashboard business intelligence reporting to their clients either as a single client or for consolidated entities.
Mobile payments—being able to take payments from customers electronically by check, ACH, or credit card online, through the accounting system or through a mobile phone. Giving the clients control of how they make payments, and making it easy, takes the collection discussion out of the customer relationship. It allows CPA firms and their clients with their customers to do the work they are good at, and let the payments technology take care of collections.
JofA: How do you see accounting software evolving over the next decade?
Boomer: Data entry will become a thing of the past. All transactions will be automated at their source and aggregated into the accounting software. The reporting and analytics are already changing, allowing for “triggers” and real-time auditing. Accounting software should become the engine or heart to which other components can be attached, e.g., content management, knowledge management, and project management. Payroll and HR compliance are also driven by the economic engine. CPAs should hold onto this franchise and expand it with services that are relevant to clients. Naming, packaging, and pricing are all important. He who names the service/package owns it. Packaging multiple services that go beyond accounting is also important. Some of those services are technology, human resources, training, and the management of customer data/business intelligence. New entries into this market are coming from around the globe and will threaten established vendors who do not leverage the cloud and play nicely with regard to integration.
Bourke: I really believe the term “software” will be a thing of the past. Applications, previously known as software because of their delivery method, are changing and will continue to change. CPAs in the future will not be buying software, instead they will be buying access. That access will provide them connectivity to applications, data, resources, etc. … so much more than we have today.
Cieslak: The future is already here! More and more companies will do the daily data entry and look to their outside accountants to help with closing, reporting, and analysis, all via cloud-based products! The cloud will allow users to participate in the process in an optimal way.
Collins: There is dramatic room for improvement in accounting software, especially when it comes to ease of use and financial reporting. I predict that, someday, transactions will record themselves, using logic and database references to assign account numbers. Credit card companies and banking institutions will one day provide user accounts that are seamlessly integrated to the client’s accounting system—so reconciliations become obsolete as real-time data rules the roost. I predict scheduled delivery of financial reports customized to each user and packed with expert data analysis will stream to relevant users of this information. In my opinion, this industry needs an urgent wake-up call.
Johnston: More integration with other systems as well as more visibility throughout the system
Richardson: Given changes in mobile and the cloud, I see a radical realignment in the accounting software marketplace. Traditional service providers may seize the moment and succeed or fade to newer, more agile competitors in the space. Today’s accounting software market reminds me of the seismic shift we made from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel. This time it may take longer for the new players to gain market dominance this time around.
Shimamoto: At its core, accounting software has remained the same for a long time and will remain the same for a while to come. Debits and credits will be debits and credits for a while. However, as the actual recording of transactions becomes more automated, we will see a shift in the focus of features provided by accounting software from recording transactions to analyzing trends and improved reporting.
Vetter: More cloud, more mobile, less data entry
required with seamless integration with the web. Additionally, more
integration with other applications that are best in class. Rather
than building out features that aren’t the vision of that particular
software, seamlessly integrating into other applications that
specialize in those niches is going to become more and more important.
JofA: What role will social media play in the work lives of CPAs over the next decade?
Bezugly: Social media will play an important role in the work lives of CPAs over the next decade. CPAs looking to grow their firms and engage current and new clients have no choice but to get on board. Social media will continue to help facilitate firm branding, PR, and a higher level of customer service.
Boomer: The social media platform is the important part of social media. We have learned a lot about relevance and the willingness of people to join a community. Now the trend is more toward “purpose-driven” communities. Social media will continue to evolve. CPAs are already experiencing sites that provide feedback on firms and individual CPAs. The platform is a valuable tool in marketing and sales. Like it or not, CPAs can’t control social media and should learn to have a positive influence. Email is old school.
Bourke: I believe that social media will continue to evolve, but the basic premise will remain the same. This platform will continue to allow CPAs to connect and interact with an unlimited number of connections on a near instantaneous basis.
Cieslak: There is presently a lot of buzz around social media, and practitioners are laboring to understand and leverage it in their organizations. We believe social media is largely about “engaging” with clients and prospects and, to a lesser degree, attracting and securing new clients. The frantic interest will fade somewhat, and social media will become a meaningful communication tool.
Collins: Social media is today’s foursome on the golf course. If you are not on the inside, you are on the outside. No matter who you are, your social group needs bankers, lawyers, insurance representatives and, of course, CPAs. If you fail to exert yourself as your social media group’s CPA, someone else will … and you might be left on the outside looking in. All CPAs should get involved in social media and become part of the game; failing to do so is like leaving your clubs in the trunk.
Johnston: One source of communication.
Parthun: I see the role increasing as the new generation of professionals will thirst for this type of interaction.
Richardson: I have a feeling that there will be a split in the profession regarding the adoption of social media as part of the practice. There will be firms that embrace social media early and develop much of their client communications and marketing around this technology. There will also be another group of firms that will consciously avoid social media and tout that fact to their clients and potential clients.
Shimamoto: Because CPAs are held to a higher standard of conduct than many other professions, the increasing use of social media will have two effects: (1) increased blurring of personal life and professional life, and (2) increased need for discretion in whom CPAs “friend,” or include in their social media networks, due to the implied extension of trust from these relationships.
Vetter: I believe social media is a way to reach
clients to drive them to the CPA’s website, which goes in more detail
about the CPA’s services. The general population utilizes social media
to communicate with their friends and colleagues. It is a different
skill set that the younger generation is accustomed to. So, rather
than having fear of networking this way, learn best practices to be
successful and drive in business through another outlet.
JofA: How do you think CPAs will be using the cloud over the next decade?
Bezugly: The cloud is a great match for CPAs and their firms, and CPAs will increasingly be using it to create an anywhere-anytime environment for themselves and their clients. Done right, it brings speed, convenience, ease of access, collaborative qualities, low costs, and scalability. Firms that are already 100% cloud have a competitive advantage over their more traditional counterparts. As a consequence, this will drive the traditional firms to the cloud over the next decade.
Boomer: The cloud will allow CPAs to become hardware and device agnostic. Security, privacy, and accessibility are important. Security through obscurity is not a viable option. Read and become more comfortable with the cloud. It is more secure than the computing environment in most firms. That does not mean we should not take the appropriate cautions, but it does mean firms need a plan for how they are going to leverage the cloud to provide services to clients. The cloud opens the opportunity for higher value services that are not commoditized or high risk.
Bourke: They’ll all be in it instead of talking about it. It will be how we will do business with each other. It will be how we access our clients. It will be how we deliver our products and services and, most important, it will be the primary tool used by CPA’s on a day-to-day basis.
Cieslak: Cloud computing will become critical in the years ahead. It is the foundation that will ultimately support all of the applications and data that run our organizations. It will enable pervasive computing and the further virtualization of professional talents.
Collins: Asking how the cloud will be used over the next decade is like asking how water will be used. They will drink it, bathe in it, wash their car with it, swim in it, water their shrubs and lawn with it, freeze it, boil it, carry it, store it—you name it. In other words, the cloud will be used in every way imaginable. Specifically, the cloud will help CPAs store and share information, access applications, sync data to all devices and all locations, connect individuals and groups together, hasten communications, and develop synergies on a level not yet seen.
Johnston: If technological problems are resolved, and communication lines are reliable, most applications will be available in the cloud.
Parthun: I see the usage of cloud will continue to grow/increase. While we have primarily reached the early adopters and some of the early majority, this market continues to grow faster than other markets.
Richardson: It will replace in-office servers and paper-based filing systems and provide the necessary tools and security to allow firms to move to a more paperless practice. It will also be a repository for accounting and taxation software used in the office, at the client, or on the road by clients and CPAs alike.
Shimamoto: We will see an increased use of the cloud over the next decade, as CPAs realize the value of moving their core back-office technology infrastructure into the cloud. As more and more accounting-related applications move to the cloud, we will see an increased usage of the cloud as a whole by CPAs.
Vetter: For everything over the next few years. If firms don’t use the cloud, they are going to be left behind. It is time now to plan on how their firm is going to be a CPA firm of the future. They will also eliminate their IT work on internal servers and change these jobs to monitoring how cloud apps are integrating client privacy and security while also doing billable customization and reporting services.
JofA: With more and more online traffic coming from mobile devices, how do you see CPA websites changing over the next decade?
Bezugly: In less than five years, the number of mobile internet users is predicted to overtake the number of desktop internet users. What’s needed in addition to the traditional CPA website is a “mobile” website. These are becoming common enough that there are some good tools available to help you quickly convert your existing site into a mobile site. It’s just one more way of helping your firm stay connected with clients and potential clients.
Boomer: CPA websites should become community driven and advertising billboards. This requires self-service and graphic design. Let the marketing and younger members of your firm participate. He who owns the portal will own the client. Leverage your status as the most trusted business adviser. There are many resources that firms can turn to. Don’t be afraid to spend some time and money on the design and maintenance. Remember in social media you have to give in order to receive. The same rules apply today as they did with Rotary or Kiwanis 20 years ago.
Bourke: Current static CPA websites as we know them today will be transformed into more collaborative tools, allowing us to take client and contact relationships to the next level. They will become the primary portals for the delivery of work product and services by CPAs.
Cieslak: Websites are part of a greater online presence, and, as such, firms need to have a strategy for engaging with their clients and prospects that involves email, websites, blogs, social media, and even text messages to phones. Firms that are consistently engaging with their clients in valuable ways will strengthen and grow their client base.
Collins: I’ve observed that many CPAs have generally done a poor job with their websites. In many cases their websites represent weak attempts to sell their services, and few have anything of real value to offer (such as checklists offering tax or financial planning advice). The result is a plethora of websites that are barely worth reading, therefore readers simply move along to other websites. I hope CPAs will improve their strategies and begin to add useful content to their websites, and, as they do, I hope they will format some of those pages to be readable on a smartphone or mobile device.
Johnston: Must be mobilized, tappable, and sensitive to the device reading the site.
Parthun: I see a trend to cleaner content (less word usage) and information being presented in more a mobile-friendly format.
Richardson: They are going to have to provide portals for desktop PCs as well as mobile devices (including tablets, smartphones, and laptops). Engineering the sites so that touch technologies are incorporated into the overall user interface experience.
Shimamoto: I honestly don’t think that CPA firm websites are that important. You have to have one to prove that your firm exists, and it does help to convey the firm’s brand. However, when it comes down to it, I believe that most people select their CPAs based on referrals or on their experience working with the CPA during the proposal process. CPA websites therefore just need to focus on getting the clients to the CPAs, then it’s the CPAs themselves who have to seal the deal.
Vetter: Being more interactive and changing from canned websites to customized ones with more videos and up-to-date content such as blogs.
JofA: Among CPAs, who should learn XBRL?
Boomer: The plumbers. Seriously, this is technical reporting language, and not every CPA needs to know it. There is an old saying that you don’t have to know how to build the watch in order to tell time. While I have been around XBRL for years and understand the importance, I have yet to see the broad-based economics from the small business perspective. Capturing transactions at the source and embedding metadata seems more relevant to me. I am always open to learning and hope someone will educate me if I am wrong.
Bourke: I believe learning it is different than understanding it. As CPAs, we all need to understand the importance of XBRL and the role that it plays in bringing together financial information, allowing for comparability between many different companies. I view XBRL for financials like I view HTML for web content. I understand the importance of it and the role that it plays in the visual delivery of content to my desktop, but as a CPA, in my role, I don’t need to learn the technical aspects of it.
Cieslak: XBRL promises to be a terrific data reporting technology. Not sure many CPAs need to learn or master this technology. At present, it’s still a pretty narrow audience that needs to be XBRL proficient.
Collins: I foresee that someday, XML and XBRL could ultimately become the fundamental basis CPAs use for storing, managing, analyzing, and reporting data; and if this does materialize, CPAs will need a greater understanding of how these underlying XML and XBRL tags work. In order for this to happen, new financial tools and accounting systems must emerge, utilizing XML and XBRL technology. When this happens, CPAs will become keenly aware of XML and XBRL’s capabilities and will devote significant attention to learning these technologies.
Johnston: Auditors and outsourced CFOs.
Parthun: Auditors and controllers as the SEC now mandates filing in XBRL for public companies. Organizations should also gain a better understanding of how to leverage XBRL capabilities to create better data for business reporting.
Richardson: Some computer audit personnel and technical people responsible for assimilating client data into final annual reports.
Shimamoto: I work primarily in the small business and middle-market arenas, and at this point XBRL is really for those practicing in the public company space. Unless XBRL becomes a lot more accessible and useful for smaller businesses and their stakeholders, I don’t see the value in learning more about XBRL unless you’re working with a public company.
Vetter: The IT staff or people assigned to onboard new clients.
JofA: How do you see speech recognition tools, such as Siri or email-writing assistants, impacting the CPA profession?
Boomer: Consumer technology drives business technology, and I expect Siri or Siri-like apps to quickly gain momentum. Help desk and support are one of the first areas I see in CPA firms. The convergence of communication tools is also important and becoming device independent. The phone is now used as a computer and for email. The computer is being used as a phone and video device. You will choose your weapon of choice and take it with you everywhere.
Bourke: At this time I don’t. Speech recognition and interpretation tools have been around for quite some time. Although fun (and sometimes frustrating) to use, I don’t see this technology making a major impact upon our profession in the near future.
Cieslak: Speech recognition will become more commonplace across all devices (phones, tablets, computers, automobiles, etc.). Sounds like all of us will need to brush off/brush up on our dictation skills!
Collins: I think that more CPAs would be using speech recognition tools more if they weren’t buried in Control Panel. When Microsoft adds the speech recognition tools to the Start menu, more CPAs might start using such tools to dictate text.
Johnston: Voice recognition will be more commonly used. This is the biggest disappointment of the last 40 years. Voice recognition was working in the 1970s.
Richardson: I believe that the AI (artificial intelligence) portion of Siri, combined with its conceptual understanding of speech, will be pervasive not only in work but throughout life. Imagine Siri as part of 911. Dictation to increase writing productivity is important, but the intelligent assistant has just made its way into our technology, and its impact will be as profound as the entire mobile device phenomenon of the past few years.
Shimamoto: Speech recognition tools may help with crafting emails and other documents, but they won’t really help with data analysis and risk analysis, which are differentiating competencies for CPAs. Thus, while these tools may help make correspondence easier, they won’t have a significant impact on the profession.
Vetter: It will allow for easier and quicker documentation. Being able to record your thoughts in real time immediately after a client meeting should help with client service management, so that the staff working on the job will be able to capture what the client expectations are.
JofA: Do you see in-house video production becoming common for CPA firms?
Bezugly: In-house video productions can be useful in two ways for firms. Creating training videos is a great way to enhance your service offerings to clients. Also, some of those same training videos are useful marketing as “free” content on your website. Prospective clients searching for the “how to” on something come across your embedded YouTube training video. They like it, and, if you are a match for services and locality, you potentially could gain some business.
Boomer: Yes, from a training perspective. If you don’t produce in-house, there are many sourcing options via the internet. This is called meshing. You don’t have to own or control the resources in order to utilize and leverage the resources. Look at companies like 99designs and Elance. You would be surprised about the quality and breadth of business services offered via the web platform. It gives you access to resources around the world for a fraction of the cost of doing it in-house. Faster, better, cheaper, and easier.
Bourke: I do. Price points dropping and ease of use, coupled with the ease of delivery of the final product via sites such as YouTube, will cause many firms not currently using video to embrace the concept.
Cieslak: Video production is valuable for increasing the interactivity on a firm’s web site, creating training materials, etc., but not sure in-house video production will become commonplace within firms. For the foreseeable future, this can be handled on a one-off basis by outsourcing or using the Blair Witch (hand-held camera) technique!
Collins: Most people probably don’t see it yet, but I’ve noticed a growing trend away from reading articles, news stories, and training materials to watching video clips of news stories and educational content. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth 10,000 words, and it is quickly becoming the new medium of choice in many circles. For example, I personally learned more about raising honeybees by watching 30 minutes of video clips than I did from reading two hours of articles on that same subject. Content served over video can be vastly superior than content served via text, or even pictures. I predict huge opportunities to embrace video production technology as a means for better educating their clients, and CPA firms who embrace this trend will likely prosper more than those who don’t.
Johnston: Yes, but special training will be needed to create better content.
Richardson: Yes. It’s one of the communication tools we can use in a paperless world, and, as we get better connected with one another, it can be used to increase marketing efforts, educate our staff, or market to potential clients.
Shimamoto: I believe in the business strategy of keeping your core strengths in-house and outsourcing the rest. So, no, I don’t think CPA firms should start including a video production arm in their organizational plans. Big firms might, but smaller firms should stick to their core.
Vetter: Yes, in order for their websites to be more
engaging, exciting, and relatable to prospective and exiting clients.
JofA: Are web portals, cloud-based solutions, or something else the future of CPA-client information sharing?
Bezugly: Web portals and cloud-based solutions are the future of CPA-client information sharing. Web portals have been around awhile but mostly at large firms. What’s great is that the offerings are becoming more sophisticated and more accessible to solo and smaller firms. Being able to exchange files quickly and securely through the portal increases productivity and creates value for the firm. Cloud-based solutions offer many of the same benefits as portals but in a different way. For example, firms running a payroll service can use a payroll provider whose software is a cloud-based application. The client enters their time directly into the cloud application, and the CPA seamlessly processes it from that same application.
Boomer: All of the above, including something else. The tools are all relevant and affordable. Value is created by relationships, leadership, and creativity. The human is very adaptable and will continue to develop new tools. Technology helps develop new technology tools that are relevant to new problems. You need to be on the right side of the microchip, if you want to remain relevant and provide value.
Bourke: Many leading-edge firms in our profession, both large and small, are using bi-directional portal technologies to both receive and deliver private and confidential information. This use will become more prolific into the future.
Cieslak: As detailed in a previous question, the cloud will enable CPAs and clients to collaborate in increasingly effective ways. The cloud is the platform of the future.
Collins: It seems evident that futuristic communications between CPA and client will continue to move toward electronic, paperless media, because this medium is easier to access, store, share, drill, chart, copy and paste, and perform what-if analysis. Whether these electronic reports will be sent as emailed PDF documents, stored on the CPAs’ hard drives, and accessed viewed via web portals, or shared via links to cloud-based hard drives is irrelevant, as all of these methods will likely be utilized. The important point is that CPAs should take note of the trend toward paperless sharing of information and implement the encryption methods and procedures to secure their electronic communications.
Johnston: Web portals are the most likely solution. Synchronized data may win in some situations.
Richardson: I think we’ll see today’s portals blend with new secure storage platforms in the cloud. In a couple of years, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Shimamoto: I don’t know if it will be within the next 10 years, but I definitely think that, as stakeholders want more trusted information about entities sooner and more in “real time,” we will see CPA-client information sharing evolve into an ongoing flow of information and continuous auditing rather than the current once-a-year or once-a-quarter audit process.
Vetter: Cloud-based applications incorporate all of those requirements. More accountants are starting to grasp the concept, and adoption is taking hold rapidly.
JofA: Do you foresee CPA firms needing to develop their own apps for mobile devices to serve clients?
Bezugly: I really don’t. Maybe some of the larger firms might have the resources to do this, but the numerous offerings available from third-party vendors should eliminate the need to do this, and it’s unlikely to be cost-effective to develop in-house. I can see firms working with third-party vendors to create enhancements to existing applications.
Boomer: Many will develop apps as part of their community. App development is not rocket science. Elementary school kids are developing apps. Automated solutions to complex problems have always had value. It is getting cheaper and easier to develop these tools.
Bourke: I do not. I do, however, see CPA firms needing to use such apps to create additional touch points with their clients. However, I believe that the best development could be done outside of the CPA firm environment.
Collins: Most CPAs would be ill-advised to focus on application development, because they are not trained programmers and they lack the infrastructure and experience to develop, package, and market new applications. There is an entire software industry ready and able to fulfill this need. On the other hand, CPAs do have the insights, experience, and know-how to recognize opportunities for a clever application to solve a critical accounting or reporting issue; so never say never.
Johnston: Only if they serve a specialized vertical
Richardson: The bigger ones will. I also think there may be opportunities for smaller firms with expertise to make money providing such tools to other firms that can’t afford the in-house talent needed to build them.
Shimamoto: Again, CPA firms should stick to their core. Let the accounting software vendors do the development work for the mobile apps. CPA firms should evaluate the applications provided and determine which ones are the best fit for their approach to client service and would best integrate with their other applications.
Vetter: They don’t “need” to, but it is a differentiator. Not sure they have to develop it themselves, but having the ability to brand an existing app would be nice with the CPA firm’s name for apps that help the client get documentation into them.
JofA: How do you foresee business intelligence (BI) software evolving and making an impact on CPAs in their jobs?
Bezugly: The emergence of cloud-based business intelligence software is allowing small and medium-size enterprises and firms to enter this area, which previously was too cost prohibitive. Public accounting firms can now benefit from BI without a large budget. Good BI systems can highlight useful information such as client data, profiling, and support, along with market research and segmentation, service profitability, and the list goes on. The CPA in business and industry should continue to play an active role in the development of their business intelligence software and, like their firm counterparts, will enjoy new benefits from cloud BI.
Boomer: Data grows exponentially, while knowledge is dependent upon human experience and the ability to analyze the data. Business intelligence is being used in marketing, sales, and accounting. Don’t worry about change, worry about relevance and moving up the value chain. The tools are already available and getting faster, better, cheaper, and easier on a daily basis.
Bourke: CPAs will need to learn and understand the importance of using business intelligence tools. I do believe that CPA firms will find ways to create new revenue streams by assisting their clients in analyzing their data to more efficiently run their businesses.
Cieslak: BI software is one of the essential tools that CPAs must better master going forward, i.e., will enable them to deliver more value to their clients.
Collins: When push comes to shove, virtually every software application, computer system, or gadget ever developed could be argued as a “business intelligence” solution. The real question is how well future solutions will aid CPAs in analyzing data and identifying opportunities and measures for improvement; and I think the answer is obvious. Solutions will continue to evolve and march forward to yield better information. I expect that sophisticated logic and methods will be employed to mine larger amounts of external and internal data from multiple sources in an effort to flush out observations and hypothesize possible measures based on those observations. If we are careful not to inundate ourselves with too much useless information, we can expect technology to yield superior results down the road.
Johnston: More key data will be readily accessible.
The CPA’s job will be to make the information meaningful.
Parthun: As companies increasingly receive pressure to be more nimble, the demand for operational transparency will be necessary. Business intelligence capabilities will be in the front line to address this demand.
Richardson: Yes, but I think that’s many years out. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s eight to 12 years away. I think BI products will be used in both auditing and consulting and that the audit uses will be as striking as some of the computer-assisted audit techniques that were developed when we first moved to computers in auditing in the 1980s.
Shimamoto: Business intelligence software is already
way ahead of the CPA profession. Thus, it’s not the software that I
see evolving; I see CPAs evolving their work processes and actually
figuring out how to incorporate BI technology to add value to the
services that they provide their clients or management.