The Winning Formula: Productivity Equals Profits

Profession strives for faster, smoother, more profitable practices.

by Rick Telberg
At Large

Accounting practitioners face a host of operations problems these days. You could call it “task saturation.” But most people just say there’s too much work and too few people to do it.

Fortunately, accounting practices are actually getting more efficient. Consider the 10-person firm 10 years ago which focused on write-up. That same firm today may have distributed write-up software to its clients and can effectively handle the same number of clients with more revenue and maybe as few as two people in the office. That’s progress. And that kind of progress means profits.

Much of the gain in productivity has come with the help of new technologies – technologies that will be on display at the Tech 2005 AICPA Information Technology Conference next week in Las Vegas. We already reported on the perspectives of the meeting’s organizers in “CPA Tech: Ya Gotta Deal With It.”

Now it’s the vendors’ turn.We asked: What are the main issues or opportunities facing CPAs and the profession today? And what should we do about it?

Bob Taylor, director of operations, Keeper Solutions LLC / eFilekeeper, hit the nail on the head. “Productivity,” he said. “The lack of automation and workflow improvements are causing revenue drops per hour in an industry heavily dependent on billable hour revenue streams.” Add to that problems in customer relations management because “most client relationship info is the accountant’s personal knowledge.”

The answer? CPAs must revise their workflow in the practice to bring all members of the staff into a single, integrated system. Not surprisingly, Taylor’s company produces eFileKeeper, a workflow and document management software system. But his company isn’t the only one. And regardless of the system you choose, Taylor’s premise is getting a warm embrace in CPA offices across the nation.

Taylor probably won’t get an argument from Tim Nissen at DocuLex Inc., another document management company. Nissen notes that even staid bankruptcy courts, traditionally drowning in paper, are beginning to accept PDF files instead.

The process of going paperless is being fed by a new crop of multifunctional digital copier/scanner/printer units powered by “walk-up” scanning-enabling software. DocuLex’s Archive Studio, for example, allows users to identify the document and its destination and scan it with their copier, and the software converts paper to a content-indexed, fully-searchable PDF, with full-text optical character recognition. Once stored, the document can be found as easily as using an Internet search engine.

Luckily, attendees at Tech 2005 can visit the Hewlett-Packard booth for the hardware they need that might fit Taylor’s or Nissen’s software. HP is taking dead aim at productivity issues.

“Today, small businesses consider their technology assets the spinal cord of their business. This couldn’t be more true for accountants,” according to Lisa Hopkins, HP Manager, Vertical Markets, Small and Medium Business Segment. “With increasing regulation and competition among accounting firms, more and more CPAs are turning to technology to differentiate themselves and make accounting processes simpler.” HP will be showcasing “Smart Office” solutions ? an assemblage of products and services, access to expertise and a simplified ownership experience to help CPAs maximize “productivity in the office and flexibility to work anytime, anywhere.”

Hopkins agrees mobility and going paperless are the main issues facing accountants today. “Accounting is a client-service business and CPAs score points for being mobile and working out of their client’s offices or replying to client emails anytime anywhere,” she says. But when faced with technology challenges, accounting firms should try to find a one-stop-shop vendor that can supply most of their technology needs.

Needless to say, HP has the one-stop-shop strategy covered: Security and backup with servers for small firms and off-site data storage; mobility with the new iPAQ Pocket PC h6300, the smallest handheld with integrated three-way wireless capabilities (GSM/GPRS, WLAN, and Bluetooth wireless technology) to deliver high-speed wireless voice and data connectivity at work, at home, or anywhere. But the hottest item of the show could be HP’s new Tablet PC, a cross-breed of a PDA and a notebook.

Next we consulted with Open Systems business partner Louis Stratton of Meador Stratton Technology Services in Highland, Ind. Stratton says that many CPA firms need to expand their technology consulting practice.

While most provide basic accounting software solutions, many are increasingly left behind as clients outgrow their basic systems. “CPAs need to accept this opportunity if they don’t want their clients to go elsewhere,” Stratton says. Open Systems markets Traverse and OSAS; both are mid-range solutions.

But you don’t have to be a computer geek to add value to the process. “Many software resellers are strong programmers and can install software but do not necessarily understand accounting and business strategy,” he says. That can lead to ineffective setup and use of software.

CPAs must combine the knowledge of accounting and good business processes with the technical skills needed to provide a unique solution to clients ? one that can only be delivered by a good multidisciplinary CPA firm, according to Stratton.