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What do the Recent Congressional Technology Hearings Have to do with Accounting Firms?

Earlier in the week, the CEOs of Amazon, Google and other technology companies appeared before Congress to discuss the potentially unfair ways they conduct business. Although this might not seem like it's relevant to accountants, expert Ian Khan says there are numerous ways you can leverage the services these companies offer to your benefit.

Jul 31st 2020
Chief Futurist Futuracy
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According to Congress, some technology companies have become way too large and are controlling a huge amount of knowledge transfer in multiple industries, making them power centers that could create massive inequality. This is in addition to the fact that this unfair distribution of equity in the hands of a few could create moral as well as economic and political problems. Here’s what this means for the accounting profession and what accountants should keep in mind.

Google

When they started the company in a garage, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page had no idea that their company would become one of the largest technology providers in the next few decades. With a new algorithm, a technology that helps web users find the right answer, Google changed the state of technology and how we interact with the Internet. Today, Google has an impact on multiple different aspects of our everyday life and is one of the most powerful technology companies. CEO Sundar Pichai answered some of the questions that Congress posed, and it was disappointing to see the lack of openness, clarity, and willingness to be brutally honest. As the CEO of the world's largest technology company, the management of Google plays an important part in ensuring that data privacy remains a priority. Google has, however, been criticized of being unfair in its approach to privacy, transparency, and manipulating search results.

Not everything is bad about them, however. Google remains the king of search and can help your practice grow in multiple ways. Firstly, it can serve as a highly targeted advertising vehicle. The Google ads program is able to reach target audiences, prospects, and clients with very high precision, and it’s incredibly popular for a reason: over 80 percent of the world’s searches are performed using this vehicle. This means your clients and prospects are using it.

Pro Tip

Google advertising, if not managed properly, can balloon out of proportion, and you may end up spending much more then you expected. Ensure that your Google advertising is highly targeted and precise rather than spread out to reach a wide audience in a wide geographical area. Put stops on the maximum budget per click and maximum daily budgets to stay within your limits.

Who Should Manage This at Your Firm?

Typically, the lead of digital marketing should take care of this.

Amazon

Back to the congressional hearings: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked about the unfair practice of working against his own partners, who signed up as resellers on the Amazon platform. Questioning members of the Congress put forward many cases and examples of interviews they have conducted or the past few months that clearly state that Amazon has been replacing popular partner products by copying them and creating them under their own label. One of the challenges resellers have complained of is that Amazon is the only seller that is helping them get them results, as no other platform offers same sales ability.

The Amazon case is very interesting for the accounting industry. My suggestion is to watch their growth, as I believe they have far more impact on the world of technology than just being an ecommerce store. Over the years, Amazon developed an infrastructure that helped them scale their business; now, the spinoff is called Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the largest providers of back-end technologies that help other businesses run. AWS has processing capacity database storage, web servers and many other technology offerings that medium and large businesses typically use. For the accounting industry, AWS may help firms scale business fast and will provide automation and software processing capabilities. True, there are many other providers who do similar things and have similar offerings, but AWS does have a very solid and broad range of services that integrate well together.

Pro Tip

Amazon is really great at technology infrastructure, but if their services are not set up correctly, charges can balloon. Your technology team needs to keep a close eye on what they are consuming in terms of infrastructure from Amazon and stay on top off billing cycles, usage, bandwidth and other critical aspects, all of which are billed by Amazon.

Who Should Manage This at Your Firm?

Turn to your head of IT, CIO or IT Manager.

Apple

Apple has become one of the world's most valuable companies in the past decade. If you are using Apple products in your firm, be aware of voice-driven features. This will happen in the very near future, and, as an amplified extension of Siri, it will help you do many more tasks on Apple devices through voice alone, hands free. Soon, this will extend into other Apple products, including keynote and business productivity applications.  

Additionally, the ability to create an app and put it on the Apple site is also incredibly useful for the accounting industry. We live in an app-driven world. Today, decision makers are technology savvy and app driven for productivity, entertainment, leisure and communication. Start thinking about developing an app for your clients where they can connect with you one on one, exchange information securely, receive critical updates and stay engaged. It can also be used to electronically sign documents and store clients’ billing histories. Your clients will appreciate you being a future-ready accounting firm with a vision for providing ubiquitous services.

Pro Tip

Apple is an incredible company that provides really great products; however, the commitment of having an app on the store also means keeping that app updated. An app-driven approach for engagement means keeping your web presence slick, sharp and responsive. Just having an app on the store does not mean that engagement is guaranteed.

Who Should Manage This at Your Firm?

This should be a combined effort of your marketing and technology teams. Outside help may be needed to develop the app.

Facebook

One of the most criticized companies of recent times, Facebook has somehow always managed to find its way into controversy. Today, it is used by over 1.5 billion people across the world. This means that there is a huge possibility that your clients or your target prospects are on it. Facebook's acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp over the years has also strengthened the company's position in terms of reaching audiences worldwide.

As an accounting firm, Facebook can be a great ally, and a platform to use to reach your target audience. Its advertising is very precise in reaching a particular segment of users that you can segregate by age, location, profession and so on. In a post-pandemic world , as businesses struggle to come back to their feet, my personal recommendation is to explore the Facebook platform and, in addition to using it to propagate your value to clients and prospects, use it as a vehicle to promote your business and your expertise to your target audience.

Pro Tip

Facebook remains a very powerful medium for reaching a target audience; similar to what Google does with search results, it achieves at a social media level. Keep in mind that for successful Facebook advertising, you will need to precisely segment your customers and target clients and leverage multiple content types, including text, image, and video posts.

Accounting firms should keep in mind that information rights and privacy are not 100 percent guaranteed on the internet. Sensitive information should be adequately secured, and all provisions should be made to protect the privacy of your clients. When you upload information to public servers, including Google Drive, Microsoft cloud, Apple Cloud and other non-enterprise, document-sharing platforms, you are in turn uploading sensitive information to public servers that operate on the terms and conditions of these providers and that these platforms can be hacked. Alternatives to public cloud services are enterprise-level secure and private document sharing and management systems that can be held accountable under the law.

Accounting firms should think about leveraging one or more of these technology platforms to amplify their message to the world and serve their target client base. Your clients are on these platforms, and if you want to stay relevant, it’s time to jump on board. For this reason, sometimes working with multiple platforms is a better strategy. With the congressional hearings, technology companies are now going through a process of regulation so that consumer interests can be better protected.

Technology today is able to provide a mammoth opportunity for accounting firms to engage with clients, reach target prospects and save money. Leaders should start exploring and evaluating these at the earliest opportunity.

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