AccountingWEB recently conducted an email interview with Intuit's David Bergstein, CPA, CITP, CGMA, regional strategic account manager in the Accountant & Advisor Group. What does one of the most important players in the accounting technology space think about the cloud and other technology issues?
Who should be moving to the cloud: Big firms? Small firms? Everyone?
Who should move to the cloud depends less on firm size and more on the possible benefits firms can receive from the transition. The general goals of large and small firms will be the same, but large firms may just take those goals one step further.
Despite size, every firm should think about the answers to these questions when considering a transition to the cloud:
- Will it provide a more efficient workflow and automation of tasks?
- Does it save more time?
- If it exceeds present costs, what is the return on investment?
Based on the answers to the above, a firm can decide whether a move to the cloud is the right decision. Weigh the costs and benefits of the cloud, and the answer should be clear.
What are the key things—possible pitfalls—you should know about moving to the cloud?
When considering a move to the cloud, a firm should view the transition as a change in "operating systems" and plan accordingly. Firms should develop a plan that transitions everything in a systematic way, ensuring all applications and solutions function together. Similar to the way a firm would approach any major business change, when transitioning to the cloud, firms should create a document with the designated goals and outcomes for the change, including what needs to be adjusted to meet those goals. They should also develop a way to track how the solutions being implemented are solving for desired outcomes.
There will of course be challenges when migrating to the cloud, and these challenges are the same for any size firm, though in a large firm the magnitude of the data conversion, and administrative need to monitor permissions and users, are both greater. To avoid pitfalls, as mentioned, firms should be ready with a checklist of what they need to do throughout the process, from start to finish. Things to consider:
- Is the firm moving one or all applications to the cloud?
- If a firm is using a desktop application for bookkeeping and payroll, is it moving both?
- What steps should be taken to ensure all data is transitioned to avoid re-entering data?
Can you list key technology topics or other issues accountants should be aware of today?
In general, accountants need to learn to embrace new technologies and the cloud in order to stay relevant to their clients and help grow their practices. Move to the cloud, take advantage of smart technology on tablets and mobile devices, and remember that accountancy is a global practice: Staying on top of global issues and regulatory processes is a must in today's world without borders.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes or misunderstandings accountants have about technology?
Accountants can often lose sight of benefits that can be realized through the use of new technology because they are so focused on (and a bit afraid of changing) older practices that are still proving successful. It is important for accountants to take a step back, re-evaluate their current practices and technologies, and make sure they are using solutions to boost their practices.
Can you briefly note how technology developments affect accountants who work in tax?
Tax accountants are constantly looking to improve and better handle their tax workflow. Over the past decade, online technologies have enabled tax workflow to move away from a manual process and be more automated. Accountants leveraging these online products never have to enter data twice, thus reducing errors by limiting manual data entry. Intuit's QuickBooks Online and Intuit Tax Online is one example of this, where data in QuickBooks Online flows directly into Intuit Tax Online with a simple mouse click. We call the process Books-to-Tax. The end results are time savings, greater efficiencies and better client service.
Can you briefly note how technology developments affect accountants who work in audit & accounting?
The same principles that relate to tax also apply to accounting & auditing. Technology has replaced manual entry to digital movement of data. A good example of this is the automated "Bank Feeds" into QuickBooks Online. One no longer needs to write up the books from checks because the financial data, including credit card transactions, flow into QuickBooks Online directly from the bank. On the other end of the spectrum, invoices are digitally generated in QuickBooks Online and sent via email or better yet, via a portal that allows a client to make ACH payments rather than a paper check. This is excellent for the vendor as it improves cash flow.
Audit has also changed substantially with the use of technology. For example",audit checklists" have been replaced by "audit programs" that help mitigate risk. Data analysis, which was done on spreadsheets, is now replaced by "data analysis tools" that help determine optimum sample sizes so as to not over or under audit. These tools help you to do a better audit.
The bottom-line for both tax and accounting & auditing accountants is that it's all about workflow and process. One must examine each step in the process and then see how automation will improve a firm's workflow. Five years ago, almost all accountants opted out of e-filing, but today no one would think to opt out. The same applies to the use of portals, e-signatures and document management among tax professionals. It's similar on the accounting & auditing side, with automated processes that provide the questions one needs for the audit based on questions answered during the planning process, ensuring a smoother workflow.