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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Trusted Advisor is About the Work, Not the Title

Trusted Advisor is About the Work, Not the Title

Many accounting professionals believe they are THE trusted advisor the client comes to for advice and guidance on business financial matters.  Having fully bought into the messaging about the value of the accounting and tax work, these professionals are feeling pretty relaxed about their client engagements.  They believe the client will come to them with questions and provide the opportunity to deliver advice or work.  And each year  many clients return to get their taxes prepared or financial statements produced, and even new clients may appear.  But the work remains largely the same – financial statements and tax returns, and addressing additional needs only when the client brings it up, which isn’t all that frequently.

happy_clientOn the other hand, there are professionals who recognize that a proactive approach to helping clients results in better and richer client engagements and better-performing client businesses.  These professionals are truly the business advisors to the client – the trusted partners who understand the variety of conditions which impact business performance and care to make sure they are properly addressed.  This advisor not only reports but makes recommendations and provides guidance on certain situations or processes which are essential in the business model.  These professionals recognize that the bookkeeping and operational information collection is not simply a means to an end; these professionals understand that these foundational processes and the information they encompass are the important details which reflect the true performance of the business… details which no summary report can fully describe.

Having more direct participation in clients’ financial systems is a highly successful component of practice building, helping the firm to mine opportunities that may be hidden in current or new client engagements.  This does not mean that the accounting professional becomes part of client operations or workflows.  Rather, it suggests that the accounting professional understand these aspects of client operations and assist in the development of necessary controls and processes involving data collection or validation.  It may include the implementation of KPI and benchmarking solutions to help identify problems and map improvements, or it may involve the installation of a solution to improve the importing of orders and other transactions into the system, improving the efficiency in processing the information while at the same time reducing the potential for manual data input errors.

Regardless of the depth of direct involvement in client systems, professionals can more fully benefit from every client engagement by providing some level of training, consulting or supporting service in addition to compliance and reporting work.  Services may be aligned toward helping clients set up or support their own in-house bookkeeping and controllership responsibilities, or they may be more suited to providing real-time guidance and review of client business performance data. Either way, the quality of the financial information derived is generally far better and requires less work to adjust and report on.

The key is recognizing that the work involved – whether it is through training, regular process and data reviews, or more direct participation – is not intended to simply streamline reporting on outcomes.  The work the trusted advisor performs is intended to help the client save money and improve business and financial performance, and the practice is rewarded with higher value billable services and a much increased opportunity to engage the clientele in other efforts.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J