Accounting professionals and those involved in business bookkeeping and accounting service delivery have been literally bombarded with messages about “taking your practice to the cloud” and “working closer with clients using the cloud”, but what does all this really mean for the average professional practitioner? Does it mean that the software and processes already established in the practice need to be replaced? Does it mean that accounting professionals need to get all of their clients into online applications? Are the tools used by the professional practice obsolete? These are all valid questions, and are issues not always addressed in the marketing messages of the various “solution” providers. The complexity exists with the variety of tools and solutions most professionals use in servicing their business clients, and no single-solution cloud service is able to adequately address this variety. As a result, many professionals are either trying to assemble their own toolkits through an expensive and frustrating process of trial-and-error, or are avoiding adoption of new technologies altogether.
There are a lot of ways to “enable” a professional practice, focusing on the technologies and applications supporting efficient and profitable service delivery. The key in selecting the right tools to support the practice is to fairly evaluate the nature of services to be delivered, and understanding how and where in those processes the firm and the client “touch”. It is in the interaction – of people, data and systems – where better technology-supported collaboration with the client should be established. In many cases, this means focusing on improving the client system and the accounting process will benefit as a result.
Processes which are entirely internal to the practice must certainly be evaluated and improved, but the initial problem – the new area of focus – is in how the firm and the client work together. The needs in this area will necessarily drive adjustments to internal processes, which is to be expected. Most practitioners have already established their methods of dealing with clients, workloads, paper and software that have been around for a while. It is the new client demand – to get more benefit from existing providers and solutions – which must be addressed.
For example, there was once a need to obtain bank statements and cancelled checks in order to balance a bank account. This caused many accounting firms to develop a standard process of sending someone to the bank each month to pick up the paper statements and documents for client accounts, so that the bookkeeping could be done and accounts reconciled. With the advent and acceptance of online banking tools, the process for most accountants has been adjusted to where the bank activity data is simply downloaded and integrated into the company accounting information, rather than transported in the form of paper documents which are then keyed in as data. This simple example of “enabling” the client accounting system to interact with the bank resulted in benefits to the accountant processes, and caused beneficial changes to be made in the internal process of the firm (no more driving to the bank, timely access to bank data, more accurate data due to single-entry of information). While the client likely doesn’t care how the books get done, they do care about the information being timely, complete and accurate. Thusly is the accountant value increased through the simple use of a readily available technology.
As accounting and finance professionals look to find ways to deliver greater value to their business clients, they would be wise to explore how and why they interact with those clients and understand what is missing – what more can be done – to support and advise those client business owners. By focusing on helping the client “tool up” their enterprises to support more efficient and profitable operation, professionals will find that the resultant benefit is more consistent and streamlined access to client data. Enabling the client, in many ways, is enabling the firm.
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