In Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Information Technology: The Value of Outsourcing

The Value of Outsourcing

The small-business market, unlike the mid- and enterprise markets, utilize the general services of public accountants in much greater volume and typically for more fundamental business services – such as business bookkeeping and daily process support. Larger organizations typically employ accounting and bookkeeping departments and/or in-house personnel, and rely on outside accounting professionals for higher-level work. Small businesses, on the other hand, want to hand off much more of the core bookkeeping and checkbook management functions to their public accountant. This creates a volume of fairly mechanical work which can be burdensome and not terribly profitable for many CPA firms. But this level of work is of significant value to the small business owner, and thus the value of outsourcing to the accounting professional should be clear.

CPA firms started to step away from bookkeeping activities (this is in the 1980’s or so), reserving their time for compliance, audits, and other engagements referred to as the “higher level work”.  As business accounting became more complex (largely due to advances in information management technologies as well as accounting and tax regulations, which generated a LOT more detailed information to “account” for), many professional firms saw a need to focus on their core offerings, and not on the lower level bookkeeping and record keeping activities.  As a result, the emerging cottage industry of bookkeeping service providers grew in power and numbers, and came to represent a critical intermediary between the CPA and the small business owner.  Truly, bookkeepers and software consultants are often the folks who help to automate the processes, capture the information, and organize the data so that it is useful to the accountant.

The issue that revealed itself was that small businesses started to pay more attention to the technology and business solution advice and direction of their bookkeepers and consultants than the advice of the CPA.  In a lot of cases, the CPA kept an arm’s length from the business, concerning themselves with their tasks, and not paying significant attention to how the data is collected or controlled.  As long as they got the data, that was OK.  As the reality started to set in, that bookkeeping and information management consulting also delivered the “higher level” accounting work, CPAs once again sought a means to gain more direct participation in the client business… but through a somewhat less direct manner than previous.  Now, partnering was revealing itself as the means to more fully engage the business, and the bookkeeper or consultant, in the overall accounting value chain, resulting with the delivery of work as well as value back to the accounting professional.

The enabler of this value chain, where the accounting professional, the bookkeeper, and the business owner can all work in concert without limitations in systems or based on location, is the cloud.  Providing standardization in terms of data platforms and integration, offering mobility and device independence, and combining resource management and access into a comprehensive approach to solving business problems is enabled through cloud technologies and connected solutions and services.

For many, this concept of fully technology-enabled business seems frightening, like a loss of control or individual accountability.  But it’s important to recognize that, as things become more complex, the opportunity for specialists is always created.  In the ever changing world of technology, it’s a dangerous approach to believe that you can be all things to all people, just as in accounting or tax.  You can’t be a specialist in every area, so you specialize in your niche, do it better than anyone else, and outsource/partner to get the rest done.  This is a philosophy of the cloud, and it’s working.

The true value of outsourcing, whether it is a small business outsourcing their bookkeeping and accounting to a public accountant, an accounting professional outsourcing bookkeeping work to a bookkeeping provider/partner, or those businesses outsourcing information technology management to cloud solution providers, the end-result can include improved focus on the core business, greater agility in embracing and adjusting to new strategies, improved quality of information through attention to process and control, and a much higher level of value delivered to all participants in the value chain.

Make Sense?


The Cloud is Not the End of ERP

With the emergence and general acceptance of “cloud” technologies and services, many in the information technology industry have begun to wonder if the traditional approach to enterprise software – the ERP solution – is nearing its useful life.  Is this the end of ERP?  Well, the hype sometimes becomes the reality, and businesses are moving in droves to software-as-a-service to find the cost and efficiency benefits promoted in the sales materials, and they’re finding them.  Look at Sage’s acquisition of Intacct as an expression of increased focus on cloud-based solutions. This activity around the cloud and cloud-based software-as-a-service represents a major change in how people access and consume information technology and business services, a change that’s being driven by the huge momentum of the overall growth of “cloud”.  The market is moving to a customer-centric subscription model, where the legacy approach was more in tune with the “purchase it once and use it forever” mentality, and customer relationships were largely centered on upgrade cycles.

“As an economy and a culture, we are rapidly moving away from owning tangible goods and, instead, gravitating towards becoming members of services that provide us with experiences  – such as listening to a song, using a car, watching a movie or collaborating with our colleagues.

Of course, this cultural transformation has profound implications for business models. Why? Success is no longer gauged by counting how many units of your product you have sold. Rather, success is measuring how many customers are using your service on a recurring basis and how successful you are monetizing those recurring relationships.” guest post written by Tien Tzuo

While it sounds like the cloud is the right approach for everyone, looking at the variety of real business situations in the market suggests that, as always, one size does not fit all, and more “traditional” ERP solutions may well continue to be the right foundation for many enterprise operations.  Particularly when considering that many businesses already significant investments in platforms and infrastructure, software and data integrations, and operational process support, cloud software solutions may not provide the necessary functionality to support existing business.  Further, integrations that may be available and supported with legacy systems are often not available with cloud-based counterparts, while different integrations based on cloud standards may be present.

For smaller businesses and those in emerging markets, subscription-based IT models may make more sense, especially as popular traditional software makers have introduced their cloud-based counterparts which will likely incorporate the features or functionality of their legacy systems, while taking advantage of the capabilities introduced through cloud integration and interoperability standards.  Strong consideration should still be given to “traditional” ERP solutions, however, as there may be a level of stability, usability, or process support desirable by the business.

Utilizing these traditional ERP systems does not mean eliminating the potential for the business to benefit from cloud solutions.  Rather, cloud platforms and hosting solutions, as well as cloud-based integrations and extensions, are enabling mobility and collaboration around legacy systems, delivering cost and efficiency benefits just as significantly as those who have adopted a full-on “cloud” approach.

“It also makes sense to explore “edge” investments. […] there are significant innovation opportunities outside of core operations. Look to take advantage of the ERP platform’s capabilities in these spaces. Or implement low-cost, smaller-footprint solutions – even if on an exploratory basis. If they are fully adopted later, you can integrate them into the ERP backbone and expose standardized data and processes to the edge.”

from Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2011 report titled “the end of the “Death of ERP” 

So, what does this mean for your business?  It means you need to consider all the possibilities.

First, evaluate cloud-based options, and balance features with cost, time-to-value, and operational requirements.

Then, selectively innovate.  Figure out which areas of the business give you a competitive differentiation and innovate in those areas.

The traditional thinking, which is in line with the traditional ERP approach, is that all of the business functionality has to be incorporated into a single platform solution.  This is certainly no longer the case, and businesses are finding that they now have an ability to take advantage of the benefits of their existing systems while extending and innovating through the use of cloud services.