The CPA’s guide to technology (and tech gifts)

Hosted by Jeff Drew

Few people in the accounting space know more about technology than Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget? The cartoon character with the go-go arms from the 1980s?

Good guess, but no. The man wearing the trench coat in this case is David Cieslak, CPA/CITP, CGMA, executive vice president and chief cloud officer for RKL eSolutions and a popular speaker whose Inspector Gadget session has been a highlight of accounting conferences for many years.

If you want to be clued into what's going on with technology, both in accounting and with consumer products, you can't go wrong talking to Cieslak. That's what we do in the latest episode of the JofA podcast, produced in partnership with the Small Firm Philosophy podcast.

Cieslak was also a guest on the JofA podcast over the summer, talking about how technology can simplify CPAs' work.

Podcast referenced:

Products mentioned:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • How robotic process automation software could help firms quickly improve their tax workflows.
  • The three steps accounting firms can take to make the most of their technology spending.
  • Why CPAs should not wait too long to update their laptops and desktops.
  • The importance of evaluating your home office technology configurations.
  • What true cloud is and what to look for in cloud-based applications.
  • What tech products could be great holiday gifts for CPAs to give or receive.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome to a special edition of the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. This episode is a partnership between the Journal of Accountancy and the Small Firm Philosophy podcast, which is produced by the AICPA's firm practice management team, also known as the Private Companies Practice Section or PCPS. Today's episode features accounting technology expert David Cieslak. He's talking 2023 tech with Jeff Drew and suggesting a few tech gifts this holiday season. You'll hear that conversation right after this word from our sponsor.

Jeff Drew: Welcome to the Small Firm Philosophy podcast produced by the AICPA's Private Companies Practice Section in partnership with the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I'm your host, Jeff Drew, a manager with PCPS. It's the holiday season, and, boy, do we have a treat for you today. Our guest is David Cieslak, a self-described CPA technologist, who has made a name for himself. He's one of the leading experts on all things accounting technology.

If you've seen Dave speak, you might know him by his other name, Inspector Gadget. Dave's Inspector Gadget keynote presentation has been a highlight at conferences for decades and always ranks among the most beloved sessions at AICPA's flagship engage conference. When he's not agitating conference attendees, Dave serves as chief cloud officer and executive vice president for RKL eSolutions, a business process automation consulting firm with offices around the country.

Today's podcast will have two areas of focus. First, we will discuss what CPA firms should be looking for on the technology front during 2023. Then Dave is going to share a few tech gift ideas for that special CPA in your life, and if that CPA is you, then you can go buy it for yourself or tell your family to buy it for you. Dave, welcome to the SFP JofA podcast. Thank you for joining us today.

David Cieslak: Jeff, thank you so much for the opportunity.

Drew: We have about a month until the start of busy season, is there anything firms should be doing to make sure their tech stack is in good shape heading into the new year?

Cieslak: Goodness, I dive right to your point that it's just a month away, so it's a little bit of a last minute to what can we do? Or where there might be opportunities to look at process, evaluate if there's something we can maybe do a little smarter better. My suggestion probably would be something along the lines of think about the processes around prep, and whatever those processes are, is there any opportunity for automation? I'm just going to throw out there that we've been talking about robotic processes automation, RPA, think macros for a number of years.

Yet, so many organizations really haven't said, where would that potentially fit, and so you think about what you could implement pretty quickly, it would be RPA, and so think about some of those high effort, low-value tasks. A lot of redundancy in a busy work, and if they might automate, they might benefit from some automation, and RPA software is not expensive or difficult to implement. A suggestion at the last minute here, go ahead and think about some of those tasks and look for automation opportunities.

Drew: If they have Microsoft Windows 11, they've got Power Automate, it's part of the package?

Cieslak: Yeah, so Windows 11 brings some nice additional functionality to the OS, but that shouldn't necessarily be your governor on this one. There are a number of really good RPA solutions out there in the marketplace, and so even if you're on Windows 10, you should absolutely have an opportunity to do that. We've got that available to you.

Drew: We did a podcast a couple of months ago for SFP, where we went more into detail on RPA, and I will link to that in the show notes.

Cieslak: That's perfect.

Drew: Well, let's look a little bit beyond just getting ready for a busy season. What three things can small firms be doing to maximize their technology spend?

Cieslak: Well, I think anytime we think about maximizing spending, one of the first things we think is don't spend money you don't need to, and so oftentimes that translates into hanging onto products longer than we should, and I always share during my presentations that just because the lights come on on the device doesn't mean we should be using it one more day.

I'm a big advocate of understanding what a reasonable useful life is for a product, and not going beyond that, and not just because I want to buy the latest and greatest, but there really are benefits in making certain that you're on an updated platform, speed being one for certain, compatibility, potentially with newer versions of applications coming out from our different providers, but really the big one in my mind would be security. I think all too often we're inclined, if not even almost driven, hang on and use some of these older laptops, desktops, whatever it is, and find ourselves actually creating vulnerability, because we're not keeping step.

I'm a big fan of two- to three-year useful life and most of the business tech that we're using, and along those same lines of think about all the workspace, maybe not just even the PC or your laptop, think about the desktop configuration, keyboards, monitors, mice, and for all of us and we're just coming out of our COVID hibernation, we may have done some fine-tuning at home, and that potentially means that we got a dated configuration now at the office or maybe we took a lot of stuff from the office, and brought it home, and so just evaluating, especially if you're working in a hybrid way between the office and the home, do we have a truly efficient configuration in both environments.

I really think that there's so much of just optimizing technology comes down to just thinking, what do I need in front of me? Do I have access to everything I need quickly? And think about the whole configuration, and then finally, lockstep of all of that to thinking about where the applications are. As I said, operating in a COVID lockdown mode these last few years, all of us were driven to cloud-based versions of products, if not a hosted desktop, at the very least, and just think about making certain that we were optimizing where those applications are coming from.

Drew: Would that be the top tech priority for accounting firms next year or is that just one of them?

Cieslak: I would say that is absolutely one of them, Cloud, understanding what's available. I think as I said too often, we've fallen into this mindset of it works and if it's not broken, don't fix it. Clearly, there's wisdom there. But as I just commented about useful life. But really most, all of the publishers are cloud only in there go-forward strategies, and there are different places maybe along the way in their journey. Some of them have robust cloud offerings today. When I talk about cloud, I'm not necessarily talking about hosted or remote desktop solutions. I'm talking about SaaS multi-tenant, we'll call that true cloud solution. Understand the publishers that you're working with, the products that you're working with, is a true cloud version available?

As it becomes, I would call it mission ready. It's feature-complete and capable of doing the task. Then I would encourage adoption. Because that's really going to give us the agility to use it anywhere, anytime, any device. It gives us device flexibility. But there's another piece of that, that's a wonderful as well: artificial intelligence that these publishers are pushing into their products. That AI is only going to be available in the cloud version of products.

It's not going to be available in the legacy desktop. I've already talked about security as a driver and really just anywhere, anytime, any device. But really the benefits going forward are only going to be driven into the cloud versions of the products. AI, artificial intelligence and really having the publishers coming alongside us looking for automation opportunities. That's only going to arrive. It's only going to be available when we're using their true cloud versions of the product. Like I said, it's really a paradigm shift of COVID accelerated a good chunk of that.

But really we're at a place that I would say each year understand where the products are in their life cycle and make that move as those products become available. Sure enough, not something maybe we're going to do one month before the start of busy season, but definitely something we want to have regularly on our post-busy season evaluation. Where are we at? What's now tech ready to make that move?

Drew: Yes. You and I have been talking about the cloud back in my JofA days for more than a decade now.

Cieslak: Long time.

Drew: Yeah. Long time, but it's now COVID has helped accelerate the process. A lot of people who were scared of the cloud are now in the cloud. There's obviously maturity of it. Cloud obviously is an important part of a tech stack. Do you have any other recommendations for firms as they assess what they have throughout all of 2023?

Cieslak: Well, yeah. I know you mentioned maybe Windows 11 just a few moments ago. I think about operating systems. I think about the impact of just the environment on how we go about doing what we do with the efficiency of how we go about doing our day job. One of the questions I oftentimes get, do we need to make the move to Windows 11? My response is, if you've got Windows 10 on a unit, it's working, it's efficient, it's stable, it's clean. Then I would say no need to probably upgrade those devices. At the same time as you're looking at new devices again assuming Windows Intel here, Windows 11 is fine on those new machines. Windows 11 gives us the ability to potentially pull Android apps into the environment. It gives us a nicer user experience. There are some distinct benefits with Windows 11. You mentioned Power Automate.

There's some nice tools there, but I don't know that we need to force the issue with upgrading older Windows 10 machines to Windows 11. But no reason to shy away from it either, as we're looking to cycle that. But that's the whole Windows conversation. But what about Mac users? I would tell you, that's the other thing that cloud has really opened up for all of us is device independence. I mentioned it earlier. Now we don't necessarily have to be so married to a Wintel Windows Intel platform. If all I need really is a machine that's got some good tech specs to it. But really it's browser capable. Then all of a sudden that could be a lot more just heterogeneous in my environment. I can have different devices connecting Mac, Windows, however I want to go about doing that.

I would say you got a lot of flexibility in that tech stack as cloud opens up that tech stack across the organization.

Drew: Switching gears slightly. I know that for years one of your favorite things to do has been to go to the big international show in Las Vegas, the tech show in January. Any new technologies in 2023 that you're excited about?

Cieslak: Yeah, I would tell you definitely looking at things on the 5G front. COVID almost put a number of things on hold and number of things on pause. You know, what's going on with the economy is going to impact some of that investment. But I look at 5G and I'm anxiously waiting for some of those remarkable use cases where we're going to see 5G baked into more of the end-user devices where the speed actually will change what we do, how we do it. I'm really looking forward to 5G being a primary connectivity option. Rather than thinking of Wi-Fi or hard-wired or going that route, all of a sudden, everything can ubiquitously connect via 5G, and not just IoT devices, internet of things devices, but our primary compute devices connecting via 5G and going to yield better performance really than even a hard-wired connection at some point. But that's all when millimeter-wave becomes available, the higher speed portion of 5G is more universally rolled out.

There's a lot of infrastructure work around 5G. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the use cases that will be available as the higher spectrum portion of 5G gets rolled out. It's a work in progress. But we're going to see some of that. AI, I know, is going to continue. I was talking to somebody just the other day about 3D printing; a number of years back that made a splash. I always enjoy CES every year to say, what's the technology theme of the year, and how does that arrive in products? I do look at that and I say, there's a lot of exciting things to come. In fact I've said for a while now, there's probably no more exciting time to be doing tech in accounting, just given the number of new technologies that are arriving, both in products and in our environment. I know we talked about OSes just a little bit ago. Make sure that you're keeping your OSes patched, updated. I even think about things like the mobile devices and iOS, Android, some of the new functionality that showing up in those mobile OSes. I do think there's a lot more utility within those products. That's pretty cool stuff as well.

One other last piece maybe I'll mention. I think for many of us, we look at Microsoft Office, the horizontal applications that we use. It's the environment that most all of us live in, day in and day out. Many of us still running much older versions. I came across something earlier this year, where I saw Microsoft Office 2021 and on-prem version, on-prem license available for all of $50. I think I might have even seen it for $39, and I thought, this can't be. Certainly this has to be part of some almost a scam trying to get me the click through on it, but nope. Sure enough, if you go to visit or maybe cult of Mac, there's several websites that are listed. You may very well find Microsoft Office 2021 license available to you for $50. I went looking today, I thought the ones that I found on Amazon are $120. It's gone up a bit, but worth doing a little research on that front. Make sure you got the latest and greatest, and it doesn't have to break the bank.

Drew: Now we're going to shift to Part 2. This is the fun part. It's like when you put on the trench coat in some of your Inspector Gadget ones and you get into the actual gadgets. Do you have any gadgets or just any tech really that you would recommend as a possible holiday gift for the tech-minded CPA?

Cieslak: Some of the things that stood out to me this year that we've already talked at length about getting having a device is up-to-date. I'm a big fan of those firms that really are continuing to push the tech envelope. Whether it's business machines, HP, Lenovo, sure. But I just think about things. Tracking technology and while there's concerns about potentially what — are we being tracked? The answer to that is absolutely yes. Just look at the phone in your pocket and you'll know that. But there's some interesting tracking technology that we're seeing showing up across now. Not just your phone, your mobile devices, but now that you can put into other valuable things in your world. That was cool. One of the things I liked this year and it reached a level of maturity in terms of offering is getting CPE through webcasts. You think about what we're doing here, your podcasts and potentially earning CPE .

There's a number of providers out there. LumiQ and Earmark have done a real nice job putting front ends on these podcasts and qualifying potentially for CPE. I always loved the fact that I'm able to go do yard work on the weekend and earn an hour of CPE. It's not all just mundane yard work. There's some fun stuff there on the business front. I would say on the more fun front. As I said, any of the Apple products they [revise] each year, latest and greatest versions, all very good, not cheap. I would say for many of the more consumer-facing products, we might not have a two- or three-year upgrade cycle on those, might go a little longer, three, four years, but thinking about just things like the Apple iPad Pro, the M2 processor in there, and really it's iOS. The latest version of iOS that's made that a much more usable platform.

The multitasking has gotten better, better functionality. I know as I sit through courses and conferences, I see fewer and fewer laptops, more and more tablets, these mobile devices, because we're able to get so much more done with them. That's pretty cool. Another suggestion, if you're looking for a wonderful gift for a loved one. The Apple watch has got a nice upgrade. The Apple Watch Ultra was announced. It's got some health features on there. Really thinking about the role of something, connected device. Not necessarily just the phone in our pocket, but the watch on our wrist. They're saying, how can we make the most of that? But along those same lines, Samsung, Google, coming out with newer versions of their watches and really some great offerings at the holiday time.

Then my last suggestion, if you're at all using some of the Amazon Echo devices. I think of them as the women in my life, Siri and Alexa. But you think about any of the older units, maybe the Pringles cans, so the originals, if you've still got that. Amazon's always offering some great, either trade-ins or just some really good pricing in and around the holidays to upgrade some of those older units. If nothing else, expand your footprint inside the home, inside the office. That way you've got that voice assistant always available to you and maybe even just music throughout the house. Think of it that way. But a lot of just need options as we have some maturity coming to some of the products we're aware of. But really some of the latest versions are pretty compelling.

Drew: If you want Christmas music throughout the house, you can get some more of those devices and make it sound like a shopping mall.

Cieslak: Yes. We do that at the holiday times. I start the music throughout the house and again some good speakers, some subwoofers, and some of these newer units. It's, wow, this is going to be pretty robust.

Drew: Well, we have already gone over 20 minutes today. This is about the time we usually call it a show. I am going to put links into the show notes to some of the products you describe today. People can go check them out themselves much easier. I just wish everybody a happy holiday season and thank you Dave, again for joining us today. Good luck with your trip to CES and hope you have a wonderful holidays.

Cieslak: Likewise, Jeff, always a pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.