Now that tax season is ending and accountants turn their attention to new ways to generate revenue, technology consulting – once the darling of alternative services- will appear very low, if at all, on most practitioners’ radar screens, according to the head of the group that has long championed CPAs’ entry into technology consulting.
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The CPA community, much of which rallied into business software consulting services and reselling in the 1990s when there were more than a dozen accounting software vendors recruiting them to sales channels, is mostly on the sidelines of today’s information technology (IT) market and will likely remain there, says Ron Eagle, president of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA), whose charge over the years has included helping CPA firms build technology consulting practices. To be sure, the ITA’s membership of firms consists mainly of the larger and better known middle market IT consulting practices, but its work and training have been a beacon for even the smaller firms’ IT practices.
“I don’t see many CPA firms thinking about information technology consulting at all. I’d be very surprised to see IT become a meaningful part of most practices again” says Eagle, once a technology practice executive at the former Indianapolis-based CPA firm Olive, which is now part of BKD, and also formerly a key executive at UHY Advisors, when it was known as Centerprise Advisors. He is now semi-retired in the Indianapolis area and splits his work time between heading ITA and providing management consulting services.
Firms are being lured away from IT consulting to focus more attention on attest related services, where market demand has been stoked by the increased financial reporting requirements in the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform law. “Firms are doing a good job of building practices around that because that’s compliance work and something that clients have to do. Firms are embracing this intellectually in way they could not for IT,” he says.
Meanwhile, the IT world has moved away from CPAs by converting many of its products and services to Web-based platforms, which allow end users to download them on line, rather than having applications physically implemented on their computer systems by CPAs and other technology advisors, Eagle says. The ITA has responded by adding training sessions in which practitioners discuss how they have changed their IT practices to accommodate Web-based products and services.
In addition to the Web-based sales, some IT products for the smallest companies have been moved more toward being packaged for sales on retail store shelves, Eagle adds. “Vendors want to create software that works out of the cellophane wrapper. Between that and the ASP (Web-based application service providers) movement, the role of the implementer is fading,” he says, summarizing what many IT implementers have long known.
He notes that, if anything, the bulk of smaller firms’ IT work in the future will be advisory roles helping clients put together requests for proposals from software vendors. The larger firms will increasingly use their specialized vertical industry practices to deliver IT products and services tailored for those vertical industries, he predicts.