Are Accountants Really Adopting New Technologies?
Some people have the idea that “accountants” and “bookkeepers” are a bit technologically backwards, the counterpoint to the super-techie IT technician. Of course, anyone who comes to a trade show like SleeterCon (now Accountex) can see that this isn’t true.
I should probably mention at this point that I’m not an accountant or bookkeeper myself, although I’ve been hanging out with them for decades now.
Anyway, last fall during SleeterCon, Sage asked accountants and bookkeepers who were attending SleeterCon 2015 about their goals and challenges in adopting new technologies in their practices, and they came up with some interesting results. I’ll show some of Sage’s charts, and throw in a few comments of my own.
Now, I can’t say that this was an unbiased survey, considering that they were taking it at SleeterCon, where a very high percentage of the attendees either already use these kinds of new technologies, or came to learn more about them. But, hey, you’ve got a good crowd, why not ask them about what is going on in their practices?
I would say that about three-fourths of the survey participants were from firms ranging between one and 20 accountants/bookkeepers, so we aren’t talking about those huge firms that have thousands of employees. These are smaller firms, which often are working with smaller businesses.
Overall, it isn’t a surprise to me that in this survey you see that 98% of the respondents are using or looking into “mobile” technology, 89% are using or knowledgeable about cloud accounting, and so forth.
The techie stuff like “server virtualization” was on the lower end, again not surprising to me, but still at a respectful 57%. “Big data” was the lowest, I would have been curious to know how many respondents really know what “big data” is. Believe me, folks, you are going to see a lot of talk about this over the next several years.
Why are accountants and bookkeepers looking at these new technologies? The top answer here was, in order to be more productive. You can get more done, you can generate more revenue, right? “Better work-life balance” is up at the top too. Believe me, I understand that one, and new technologies have helped me alot in that regard. I did get a chuckle, though, seeing that “happier clients” was at the bottom. I’ve found that “happier clients” directly leads to my being “more productive” and achieving a “better work-life balance” if I don’t have to deal with client problems and complaints.
What About Our Clients?
OK, so maybe “happier clients” isn’t the top driving reason why these accountants and bookkeepers were choosing to move to new technologies. I do think, though, that it is an important factor.
As we start to use these new cloud and mobile technologies, we are starting to interact more and more with the client and their “live” data. We are moving away from shoeboxes and “accountant’s copies” of accounting databases.
If we are using the new technologies that means our clients are using the new technologies as well. How is that going to impact our client’s satisfaction level? According to the survey respondents, 83% of their clients are more satisfied now that these new technologies are being implemented.
I think that this is just as important as making our lives more productive and balanced. This shows me that clients will be driving accountants to these new technologies.
That is why, even though I’ve spent decades as a desktop guru, I’m investing more and more of my time studying and implementing new technologies in my own business. I don’t want to be left behind as more and more of my clients look for the benefits that everyone tells them they’ll get from online and mobile software and services. If you don’t study this now you will be left out!
There Are Challenges
There are a lot of challenges, though. The survey respondents clearly see that taking the time to learn, and troubleshoot, all of these new technologies is one of the major hassles we’ll have to face.
It takes time, because there is a bewildering array of new products and services showing up every day. There are a lot of challenges ahead for us as we try to incorporate these new technologies in our practices. For example:
- Many of these products are brochureware, a term that Doug Sleeter has been talking about for the last few years. These are products that look good in advertising but don’t perform as you would hope.
- Lots of these products are new and aren’t as fully formed as are our old, trusted friends (I’m referring to products, not your business partners).
- There are a lot of promises about how everything is going to work together when we get our data “in the cloud.” Boy, am I ready for that to happen, but we aren’t really there yet. Sometimes you have to be a “digital plumber,” as Matthew Heggem’s articles discuss, and that can be challenging.
- It gets expensive to work with multiple technologies based on your phone and/or in the cloud, each having its own monthly fee, each having a separate tech support hotline.
Some Final Thoughts
OK, so this wasn’t a truly scientific survey. The sample was taken from a biased population, attendees at an accounting technology conference, where the respondents had come to learn about these new technologies or were already far into accepting and using them. But, it still is interesting to see what people are looking for and expecting. Thank you, Sage, for asking these questions and providing the results.
Just about every day I talk with someone who is very resistant to the new cloud and mobile technologies. I talk to accountants who swear they will never use a cloud accounting product (even though they trust their bank to let them access their checking accounts online). The majority of the clients I work with are major inventory-oriented businesses, mostly manufacturers, and they tend to be very conservative and slow to change. It can be hard to convince these people that there may be reasons to move to the cloud. Add to that, I am much more familiar with desktop technologies than I am with the cloud. Heck, I only purchased my first “smart phone” a bit over a year ago.
Yes, QuickBooks Desktop has more features that most online accounting products. Yes, there are security concerns with having all your data in the cloud. Yes, many of these great tools that are available don’t seem to work together all the time.
But, that shouldn’t stop you from learning about them and seeing if there are tools that can make your life more productive and happier (don’t forget client happiness, either). These are all valid concerns, but they aren’t limited to the cloud. I can point out the same kinds of problems with desktop environments.
In any case, whether you agree with me on this or not, I like to think of it in terms of “yesterday, today and tomorrow”:
- Yesterday we were all working on the desktop, for the most part, using Windows apps (although I started off with 8 bit CP/M computers, in pre IBM PC days). That is the comfortable way to work, using technology that is familiar and that we can put our hands on.
- Today you better start studying these new technologies, even if you or your clients aren’t ready to move to them, because…
- Tomorrow the bulk of your clients are going to be demanding more and more mobile and cloud technologies, as the benefits and opportunities there are growing.
So, leave us a comment, what do you think?
The original post appeared on the Sleeter Group blog. Charlie Russell will be presenting at the Accountex USA 2016 event in November. AccountingWEB and Accountex have partnered to bring you this content as we share a belief in the furtherment of the profession through greater insights.