Why Attend the Digital CPA Conference? An Interview with Barry Melancon, President and CEO, American Institute of CPAs
We recently spoke with Barry Melancon, President and CEO, American Institute of CPAs, at the Digital CPA Conference 2015 in Las Vegas, December 7–8. The annual event is an excellent opportunity for accountants and firms to learn about the latest technologies and trends impacting the accounting profession. We asked Barry about Digital CPA and how it has evolved over the past few years to become a critical event for many in the profession.
Gateway: Why is it so important for accountants of all types (practitioners, accountants in business, public sector/government accountants, etc.) to attend this conference?
BM: Digital CPA has consistently provided high-quality keynotes, sessions and thought leadership about the impact and role of technology within the profession and the disruptive changes and opportunities that come from that transformation. And while there’s definitely something here for everybody, Digital CPA is of most value to CPAs in public accounting. One of the greatest qualities of the event is the sense of community that has transpired in such a short period of time. The willingness of attendees to share successes and failures is pretty remarkable.
Gateway: Should attendees come with a learning strategy in mind (e.g., a plan for gathering information, meeting certain types of experts, and networking with experts)?
BM: As far as learning strategies, Digital CPA is designed to meet both the foundational and developmental needs of CPAs in practice. You will find relevant content and concepts wherever you fall on the continuum of technology adoption in your firm. We strongly encourage participants to use Digital CPA as a firm retreat and to build action plans as they go through the daily events. Invariably this fosters better adoption and implementation of learning concepts when they return to their firm.
Gateway: People often do not associate accountants as being innovative or forward-looking. How does the atmosphere (the presentations, the dialogue between attendees and the questions asked) at the Digital CPA Conference prove that wrong?
BM: Digital CPA most definitely attracts progressive firms. And there’s a lot of focus on innovation in the accounting profession. We recently asked CPAs where they thought the profession needs to be on the technology adoption curve by 2020. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the adoption curve popularized by Geoffrey Moore, the technology consultant who was Digital CPA’s keynote speaker in its first year, but we used that as a template for the question.
Some 65% of those polled said that CPAs need to be in the “early adopters on the innovation spectrum,” while another 30% said we need to be part of the “early majority.” One of this year’s Digital CPA keynoters, Amy Radin, has done some new research with CPA.com that has similar findings specifically for public accounting. So there’s good awareness in the profession that we need to change.
One of the advantages of Digital CPA is hearing from CPA firm leaders who are already blazing the trail to where the profession needs to be. There are great stories to be heard here about firms using technology in unique ways to serve their clients better, and making themselves relevant for the future.
This year Digital CPA is honoring a CPA who was voted most innovative practitioner by her peers. She led her firm to launch its first app, which the firm uses to reward employees for intentionally shopping at client businesses. It’s a great example of how this conference shines a spotlight on those in the profession who are leading.
Gateway: How has the conference evolved in the past few years?
BM: For Digital CPA—and I think this applies to the issue of technology within the profession in general, too—the focus is no longer on if we should change. It’s how we should do it. That’s an important shift.
Perhaps most notable is the sense of community that is building among this conference. Heading into only its fourth year, it is evident there is a camaraderie that is building with attendees. They challenge each other and inspire each other. They realize the competition isn’t necessarily other firms but rather staying highly relevant to their clients.
Gateway: How do you envision the conference evolving in the future?
BM: I think we are going to see more examples of firms expanding into new advisory roles and using technology to specialize and differentiate themselves in the market.
Gateway: What types of feedback have you received about the conference in the past few years from both accounting industry insiders and outsiders?
BM: Erik Asgeirsson, the CEO of CPA.com, talks about the Digital CPA community and I think the biggest testimony about the conference is the idea that the Digital CPA concept isn’t limited to this event. It really is a year-round community of like-minded advocates for change. The conference was the launching pad for that community, though, and I think that speaks well for its effectiveness. I hear a lot of positive comments about the information and networking opportunities provided here.
I’m also intrigued by some of the feedback I have received from Digital CPA keynoters over the years. They’ve commented on how Digital CPA has opened their eyes to the profession and how critical a role practitioner’s play in the small business economy. There is a genuine respect for how Digital CPA attendees are trying to stay out ahead in one of the most transformation times in history.