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SMPs are heavily reliant on technology to provide efficient, cost-effective, high-quality and profitable services for their clients. I, Peter Docherty, spoke with two accountancy gurus to hear their stories on their approach in leveraging technology in their accountancy practices and the advantages and challenges that came with it.  

Brad Goldchin (BG), a self-proclaimed geek and former IT and accounting lecturer, opened his Auckland-based accounting practice in 2005. He positioned his firm to harness technology, a model that would include streamlining the process to provide faster service, transparency to clients, and avoid duplicating data.

Tanya Titman (TT), an Australian accountant from Brisbane who has spent 20-years seeking out the best technological fixes on the market. Today she sees communication as the vital component to her firm’s success. “Ten years ago, our software would have been about delivery of service, tax software, accounting software and financial analysis software, whereas now that comprises only 20 percent of our software. Now our software is focused on process and client customer relationship improvement.”

The Cloud

PD: As technology is constantly shifting and innovating, how and when did you know it was time to move to a more modern-day technology? 

TT: When deciding how to embed technology into your practice, Titman acknowledges that there are a huge array of new technology options constantly coming at SMPs.

“In today’s world you have to block out all the noise of technology that’s out there and determine where your roadblocks are.” She recommends drawing a mind map revealing your practice pain points. “Select a process and map it out – what happens on day one, day two and so on. Initially we could see there was a huge roadblock with our sales process, which relied on me writing a proposal. It caused a huge delay, so we decided to try something different and determine what technology and vendors were available.”

Titman mentioned that the newly chosen software improved efficiency of the overall process - what initially took 30 days is down to two.    

PD: Many practices have numerous global offices; how has the Cloud contributed in making this transition easier for staff?  

BG: Goldchin’s practice has two offices one in New Zealand and one in Australia. Early on he determined that Cloud technology was going to be the most effective way to streamline his two offices and avoid dreaded duplications.

“Since both offices don’t use a server, the Cloud gives staff an easy way to switch between offices. The company’s accounting systems, customer relationship management and tax systems are all in the Cloud. Not only does this offer staff flexibility to work remotely and in different offices, but it allows clients to see their financials in real time so they have pertinent information well before year end. Goldchin continues, “The Cloud offers a helicopter view of our client’s business affairs allowing us to deep dive into issues early, giving us the advantage of providing advisory services to help them improve their businesses.”

PD: Let’s talk cost – what are the advantages of investing in the Cloud?

TT: The Cloud has eliminated numerous ‘extra’ costs. Whereas before an IT contractor would have to come in a couple of times a month to do upgrades and backups, now with the Cloud that whole process and cost is eliminated.  However, keeping track of the cost of the software is still essential and can’t be forgotten. “In terms of our own practice’s profit and loss evaluation, we split the software out into separate line items. This information is always present and can be determined whether each piece of software is delivering return on investment.

Social Media

PD: Switching gears, let’s talk social media. Can you tell me about that transition?

BG: “We foresaw how social media might help educate clients and attract new business. It’s a great way of building our brand by highlighting what our expertise is. The various channels and platforms (YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) expands our unique voice and stature, and gives us an unlimited opportunity to be in heard in targeted audiences.”

TT: “We take a big position with social media; it’s really about building awareness and educating. There’s an important [slogan] in our office: start educating and stop promoting. For us it’s very much brand awareness I couldn’t pinpoint the clients that come on board because they saw a post on social media, but we do track and monitor the analytics around our social media. Our team KPIs include looking at and measuring those analytics on a weekly and monthly basis. The results lead our company to be more proactive and targeted depending on the results that point to spikes of activity on our website. With that said, we still recognize that social media can’t and should not take the place of face-to-face interaction.”

What’s Next?

PD: So now that you moved towards the Cloud and Social Media, what is next for technology?

BG: “First of all, I believe that video conferencing technology has now become mature enough to use effectively in business. Much of the time we work with clients remotely, and this technology gives us easy opportunities to work with clients globally without any difficulty. Second, big data will have a great impact in the small practices of the future, particularly in looking for new client sectors to target. “There’s now so much data available now. You can see how many of your clients come from a Google search, how many come from advertisements, where they are and their income ranges. I can see how many people are visiting our website, and what their interests are.” Finally, the firm also advises its clients to make use of the goldmine that is their CRM system in order to seek out similar information and then measure it against their activities and income to discover effects on their bottom line.

TT: “Communication and security are top concerns when it comes to nominating favorite technologies. We used to have very accounting based solutions, but now its business solutions. I challenge practitioners to cast their net wider than just the industry solutions; there’s some amazing business software out there and there’s no reason they couldn’t be applied to an accounting practice. For intra-team communications Slack is widely used as a team messaging application. The reason it is a contributing platform for my team is it allows us to get away from all the noise of emails and it allows instant conversation. With so many people and platforms in the business, a password manager was also essential for us. We implemented LastPass. It’s a great tool as it does an audit on our passwords across the team. I can share passwords without revealing them and it allows people into certain sites without disclosing the login credentials.

IFAC has recently launched an updated the Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices which includes a new chapter on Leveraging Technology and covers topics such as Developing a Technology Strategy; Hardware and Software Options; Technology Risks; and New & Emerging Technologies.

Peter Docherty

General Manager, Public Practice, CPA Australia

Peter Docherty is the General Manager of Public Practice at CPA Australia, responsible for strategic oversight of issues impacting public practice members globally, developing member services and advocacy. Peter is a regular speaker in Australia and overseas on regulatory oversight and practice management. He facilitated the development of the IFAC Guide to Practice Management for Small to Medium Practices, CPA Australia’s Firm of the Future Report and Practice Management Portal.