Firms advised to think strategically before adopting technology tools

All future-looking accounting firms seek to attract new clients, offer new services, and grow their businesses.

Delivering services through the Web is not a new concept, but exploring these possibilities can lead to a more responsive CPA practice.

Using online accounting services can improve efficiency by providing instant access to a client's source documents, which means important financial information can transfer easily between the two parties. Immediate access to information means a client's questions can be identified and answered more quickly, improving communication and speeding resolution.

Consultants advise CPA firms to tackle any new technology services strategically, by making sure the right people are in place and that client needs now and in the future are fully analyzed. For example, do they have a good understanding of their existing technology? What services do they want to improve?

Websites for tax research and tax forms were some of the first Web services that CPAs adopted, according to the AICPA's annual guide to the top trends in technology. But now, CPA firms are using Internet-based application service provides (ASPs) to outsource tax return work overseas. Experts advise a look-before-you-leap philosophy when it comes to technology.

Information security management is a top concern of the 1,500-plus participants in the AICPA's 2007 Top Technology Initiatives survey. "Organizations continue to make large-scale IT-related investments and, while the rewards can be significant, the potential for financial loss or harm to reputation due to a security problem is a growing concern," said Everett C. Johnson, CPA, International President of Information Systems Audit and Control Association. "Businesses are realizing that control and value are achieved by focusing on what IT enables the business to achieve, rather than on the technology itself."

Web logs, known as blogs, can help small and medium-sized CPA firms communicate with their clients and others while positioning their partners as experts in their field. Consultants say the investment in time and money is fairly low, but the payoff can be wide exposure if the blog is informative and entertaining.

The meaning of success for all CPA firms comes back to client service. As the needs of the clients change, CPA firms must evolve as well.

"It's a trite concept, but the only way that firms will survive is to operate as efficiently as possible," writes consultant Tom C. Davis, CPA, an expert in practice management. The practice motto for the next decade may be Do It Right and Do It Fast. "To achieve better efficiency requires not only being adept at using technology tools but also using technology tools to change the operating processes within your firm."

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