Cloud and Digital are Driving Change in Professional Practice

Accounting and Finance Professionals: Cloud and Digital are Driving Change in Professional Practice

Accountants and financial consultants working in public practice are experiencing a revolutionary change, evolving from documents and paper-based processes with after-the-fact reporting to real-time business management and providing services which support daily decision-making.  The underlying cause for this evolution in business accounting is the technology: cloud and collaborative computing models are enabling much closer and regular interaction between accounting professionals and the businesses they serve. Even more, technology is taking its proper place in automating once tedious activities, allowing professionals to focus on causes and results rather than on transactions.

What is the real impact this is having on the accounting profession?  It’s forcing a new focus and attention on change management within the practice, and is causing professionals to recognize the requirement for standardization of processes and development of controls which are the foundations for creating sustainability in a business.  The goal now is placing reliance on process rather than people, which establishes the basis for intelligent automation.  Standardization of processes does not require that the firm lose its personality.  Rather, the mission at hand is to imbue the organization with its unique flavor and approach and to use process automation to develop and support consistency in the functions performed.

While cloud computing models allow accounting and finance professionals to work closer with their business clients, it is important that the practice look at those client interactions and develop standards for processes supporting frequently performed functions.  These operations generally represent the activities within the firm which generate the highest levels of profitability due to the consistency in approach and repetition of tasks, and are the activities to apply intelligent automation to first.  Those activities or engagements which represent the “one-offs” are often the most costly for the firm to perform, and therefore may not be the most profitable of activities and are certainly the most challenging to support with any significant level of automation.  It is in this area where AI will find useful value in the practice, where a more informed answer than simple process automation is required.

The surprising finding when looking at many professional practices with more than one partner/professional involved is that these firms often fail to develop even the most basic of standard processes which apply throughout the firm.  Rather, each partner or professional has “their way” of handling things, which challenges the supporting personnel as they try to deal with multiple working methods. The result is a lack of consistency in the service delivery to the clientele and reduced productivity and profitability for the firm.

The thing that these firms are failing to recognize – the light bulb over their heads that just isn’t lighting up – is that cloud computing and collaborative working models aren’t designed just to enable and facilitate a closer working relationship with clients.  They’re also able to be applied inside the professional practice, enabling a more productive and efficient workflow which addresses the strengths and capabilities of the entire organization. And it doesn’t stop there.  Businesses are relying upon their accounting professionals to provide guidance and develop controls and standards to support the client transformation from paper-based to digital operations, and embracing the entire realm of data and interactions associating with the business. Digital transformation in a client business demands transformation in those firms who serve it.

As professionals learn to go deeper in client operations they would do well to look internally, too, exploring how increased attention to process automation and consideration for the firm’s own “digital transformation” might lead to great profitability through market differentiation and improved performance.

Make Sense?

J

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Technology-Enabled Practice is Profitable Practice

A profitable accounting “firm of the future” is not out of reach for even the smallest of professional practices, because it doesn’t take a lot of people to develop a highly efficient and profitable operation.  The key is having the right business foundation – the technology and the concentration on structure and process – which will serve the business for years to come. Profitability is really about effectiveness and efficiency… delivering more value and doing it in a more intelligent manner than the next guy.  This is how the practice not only stays profitable, this is how it beats the competition.

Powered in part by efficiency created with technology-enabled business, professional firms find that they are able to realize increased revenues by billing for services, not by the billable hour.  Data processing and performing the “mechanics” of the bookkeeping process is going by the wayside, with artificial intelligence and automation taking the lead in these areas.  This creates the opportunity for professionals to broaden their scope of service and involvement with business clients.   The higher value work, the tasks that most professionals would rather spend their time on, is now available because the lower value data entry and tabulation is handled electronically.  When accountants are able to spend less time on entering information and more time on evaluation and analysis, business clients find greater value in the insight delivered from the engagement.

It is more than possible for the professional to develop new competencies in business technologies without having to invest the entire practice and put the client base at risk. Hosting and remote access solutions, for example, bridge the gap between on-premises computing and the cloud, delivering the benefits of mobility and anytime/anywhere working models without the complete transition to SaaS applications and web-based frameworks.  This allows the firm to streamline production by taking advantage of connected systems and real-time data, which is at the core of efficiency in business.

The small business market is the economic growth sector, and the number of opportunities being presented to smaller firms is increasingly significant. With the correct technology and approach, small firms are able to compete at levels previously available only to their larger counterparts.  The business of accounting is changing because the technologies supporting it are evolving more rapidly than ever before.  The firms that embrace these changes and use them to improve and streamline practice performance are the firms that will achieve and sustain the highest levels of profitability.

Make Sense?

J