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Report: How the Cloud Changes the Game for CPAs Offering Client Accounting Services

The cloud is reinvigorating client accounting services for small and midsize businesses, and CPA firms that want to take advantage of this trend need to help their clients embrace digital technologies, according to Geoffrey Moore, tech consultant and bestselling author of “Crossing the Chasm.”

Moore recently interviewed dozens of thought leaders and technology advocates in the accounting profession and found that work involving accounting and back office operations – known more formally as “client accounting services” – has rapidly become a cloud-fueled field of growth for CPA firms. His findings are collected in a research report, “Accounting Services: Harness the Power of the Cloud,” released today at Digital CPA: CPA2Biz 2012 Cloud User Conference, an event hosted by the technology subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs, CPA2Biz.

“Our fundamental premise is that, in the past, major barriers to productivity made (client) accounting services a low-margin activity that was unattractive to pursue,” Moore wrote. “In today’s online digital era, we believe these barriers can be removed, and the practice can be reengineered into a high growth, high profitability line of business.”

Moore said three major shifts are driving innovation in the accounting profession:

  • From paper to digital. Moving to web-based solutions means data is updated instantly and accessible anytime. “Paper is the anchor that keeps (client accounting services) practice margins at unacceptably low levels, so driving it out of the system is fundamental to building a sustainable business,” he wrote.
  • From physical to digital presence. Technology improvements mean most business interactions can take place virtually, which broadens the geographic reach, potential client base and hiring pool for firms. Face-to-face meetings should be reserved for critical interactions that warrant it.
  • From generalization to specialization. Many small to midsize businesses are taking advantage of an explosion in global outsourcing opportunities, and are already predisposed to shedding business operations outside their core competencies. CPA firms that can identify industry niches – restaurant franchising, retail chains, nonprofit management – can use their expertise to build intelligent, repeatable processes that serve their clients’ needs.

Moore outlined a progression for evolving a client accounting services practice: 1) Move to the cloud, 2) Adopt systems of engagement, 3) Adapt business intelligence to manage data powerfully and present information simply for clients. The latter stage allows CPA firms to move away from “write-up,” transactional work and gives clients what they most need – high value, forward-looking business analysis from a trusted advisor.

“The key to capitalizing on this new set of opportunities is to free up professional time to devote to such analytics, to use that time to determine the key performance indicators for your client’s business, and to work with the business intelligence software to develop simple dashboards that make performance factors readily visible,” Moore wrote.

How fast should firms be moving through those stages? Moore said it’s a judgment call.

Visionary firms seek fast growth and are already tech-savvy – they’re likely to be all-in for change, he said. Pragmatists are generally satisfied with firm operations, but want to shore up underperforming areas – going to a paperless office might represent a good medium risk, medium reward step for them. Conservative firms are happy with the status quo and reasonably sure of customer loyalty. They might subcontract client accounting work to a more tech-friendly firm, and buy in to innovation later in the adoption cycle to save costs.

Moore said there’s no right answer for the category firms choose, as long as they realistically evaluate their goals and needs on technology. To ease this process, CPA2Biz has created two mobile applications that can help CPA firms and their clients assess where they fall on Moore’s spectrum of technology adoption, as well as decide which strategies best suit them going forward. Available for both iPhone™ and iPad™, the CPA Practice Assessment Tool is designed for accounting firms, while the Crossing the Chasm Assessment Tool is designed for general business use. Both are available for download from the Apple App Store.

“Geoffrey Moore’s research report on client accounting services is a call to action for firms,” said Erik Asgeirsson, president and CEO of CPA2Biz. “Our assessment tools are a great first step that CPAs and their clients can take in mapping out their move to the cloud.”

About Geoffrey A. Moore

Geoffrey Moore is an author, speaker and business advisor to many of the leading companies in the high-tech sector, including Cisco, Cognizant, Compuware, HP, Microsoft, SAP, and Yahoo!. Moore divides his time between consulting on strategy and transformation challenges with senior executives and speaking internationally on those same topics. He has written six books, including the recently published Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past. His first book, Crossing the Chasm, addresses the challenges of gaining initial adoption for disruptive innovations and continues to be required reading in business schools and entrepreneurship curricula.

About CPA2Biz

CPA2Biz, a subsidiary of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, provides best-in-class marketing and technology services to support accounting professionals throughout the U.S. Its Trusted Business Advisor solutions are web-based tools that enable small- and mid-size accounting firms to build more collaborative and strategic relationships with their business clients or employers. For more information, visit www.cpa2biz.com, the leading e-commerce site for the accounting profession.

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