I was with a friend who runs the IT for a mid-sized accounting firm. He has broad based experience as an IT Leader in other industries and I asked how they compared with the accounting world. He said what’s really challenging about IT in accounting firms are two things:
- We have distributed users in the field. We send out small groups of people to different locations and they want everything – all the tools, applications and technologies to do their job onsite. They need access to their files, the ability to communicate with each other, the ability to scan and print and they need to have their data backed up; basically we need to set up these small ad hoc field networks. All this while not having any downtime and minimizing setup time because a team of 4 in the field is at least $1,000 / hr. We also need them to be connected back to the office so the partner or manager can review files from the office. This is not easy and it is a complexity that most industries don’t have to deal with.
- Accounting firms have many applications – way more than most industries. Most industries have their accounting system, an ERP or industry related system and Office. The accounting firm might have 3 different workflow solutions – one for audit, one for tax and even a back office workflow system. We have engagement management software to deal with the files and trial balances of an engagement, there’s tax planning applications, tax prep, Office with plug-ins for special functions and the list goes on.
Some firms take the best of breed approach and hand pick each individual application based on what they believe will work best for them. The logic here is if I choose the best application for me I will get the best results.
How does this approach impact IT?
- It’s more work. More applications, platforms etc.
- You need more capable IT people with a broader skill set – development skills for integration, project management skills, etc.
The other option is purchasing one of the two primary accounting and tax suites – Thomson Reuters or CCH. These suites are well established in the industry and offer broad functionality – but don’t offer much flexibility to adapt to your environment. That’s the nature of software suites. They work best if you remain “within the box.” How many companies can say they consistently work within the box?
To help assess how accounting firms can move forward in an easier fashion, I asked my friend what’s needed for improvement.
His answer – “Cloud applications will help. It will simplify management and administration. We also need vendors who understand the need to work with a broader set of use cases and environments. The need to build applications that can be integrated with others.”