By Gail Perry
Innovative thought is the theme at CCH Connections, this year's annual CCH User Conference, and nothing could be more timely. For the past two decades, accounting firms have been introduced to new technologies both in the form of hardware and software. There has been a steady flow of products introduced over that time frame, new programs to learn, new features to master.
But there is a technological sea change occurring right now, and the Thomas Paine statement of "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," has never been more appropriate than it is today.
I've attended conferences and presentations all over the country for the past year, and the single message that resonates everywhere I go is that technology is in the process of taking a giant leap forward, and accounting firms that don't partake of the new offerings will run the risk of being left behind.
Old school ways are being supplanted by fresh ideas. Technology is giving us the tools to explore new methods of connecting with clients, provide traditional services, and offer a new style of service that is much more intense and robust than ever before.
The overpowering message at the CCH conference is that accountants need to wrap themselves around innovation, break out from the mold of traditional accounting services, and find fresh ways to serve their clients. Kevin Robert, CEO of Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting, in his keynote address at the CCH User Conference quoted Karl Ulrich, dean of innovation at Wharton School of Business: Innovation is a new match between a solution and a need.
It's that new match that is providing the driving force at the conferences I've attended, and the CCH User Conference is confronting new opportunities for accountants head-on. From innovations in hardware and programs designed to foster multi-tasking and ease-of-use, to new smartphone apps, to new ways to connect with clients in a variety of venues, attendees are being presented with enough fresh ideas to keep planning committees busy for years to come.
The use of mobile technology – smartphones and tablets –is moving forward at unprecedented speed. "Perhaps none of us anticipated this in a professional context even as little as a couple of years ago," said Robert, reminding listeners that the iPad was launched only a year and a half ago and has already made a major impact on the workspace. Research and advisory firm Gartner now estimates that iPad sales in 2011 will exceed 2010 sales by 400 percent.
Robert also quoted Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, who said, "Technology has exhausted the limits of the PC as a platform; the future will center on mobile devices." Software manufacturers, including CCH, are making robust mobile versions of their programs, designed to allow users to work anywhere, anytime – a process now referred to as workshifting.
The CCH conference is zeroing in on helping participants find that new match through technology tools. "We're focusing on the application of new technology, how it meets your needs and your clients' needs," said Robert. Not only does the accessibility of new technology offer an opportunity to change the way we work and the way our customers work, "It will change the way our customers expect to be served."
With a record sold out attendance of over 1,200 tax and accounting professionals at the JW Marriott in San Antonio, TX, CCH is offering three days of demos, workshops, roundtable discussions, tax and auditing updates, hands-on demonstrations, new product presentations, and more. The challenge for attendees seems to be fitting all the sessions they want to attend into the limited time frame.
The message is loud and clear: Now is the time to explore cloud computing, upgrade technology, and spread yourself across the Internet through uses of social media and by making your Web site a vibrant, interactive go-to place for clients and prospects. These aren't merely suggestions – this is a movement.