How Accountants Can Build a Comprehensive CAAS Technology Stackby
As accountants help businesses recover, client accounting and advisory services will be needed in addition to core compliance. So how do you get there?
Building an integrated technology stack of applications is often the first step in transitioning Client Accounting Services (CAS) towards Client Advisory Services (CAS) because firms are helping clients automate their production processes to provide more timely and accurate business information.
While most advisory work begins by providing solutions to current client problems, if successful, it evolves to higher-level, higher-value strategic services to create a comprehensive CAAS practice. Remember CAS + CAS = CAAS (Client Accounting Services + Client Advisory Services = Client Accounting and Advisory Services)!
One of the most important realizations for firms building a CAAS practice is that owners need to comprehensively understand that traditional compliance services are being rapidly disintermediated by technology and they will need to learn to use these technologies to remain competitive.
Many firms build their technology stack around the accounting products their clients are already utilizing and then expand their tech stack by adding integrated applications and dashboards which seamlessly integrate with those accounting products.
Many firms actually start building their tech stack by implementing applications internally so they gain first-hand experience which they can then apply to their clients to improve their production processes, as well as act as their own referral resource. Once clients trust a firm that helps them automate one capability, they are more likely to listen to their advice on automating other business processes where an appropriate component of the tech stack would be installed, thereby further expanding the firms advisory skills.
Our advice to accounting firms is to build their tech stack around the accounting applications their clients utilize to run their businesses, as long as the application can operate in the cloud so both the accountant and client can work collaboratively from any place that has an Internet connection. Building the firm’s tech stack in the cloud allows both the accountant and the client to work with the most current data rather than manually transferring data back and forth. Additional benefits of building the tech stack in the cloud are that the vendors manage the updates, backups, and security for their applications.
According to the latest CPA.com CAS benchmarking survey, QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop were the top two products selected by clients of accounting firms followed by Sage Intacct, Microsoft Dynamics and Xero. These findings were consistent with competitive CPAFMA surveys*.
While QuickBooks Desktop is not technically an online product it can function as one when hosted in the cloud, which is a significant portion of what Right Networks does for their clients. The immediate benefit for both the firm and client is that they can utilize the accounting product they already are comfortable using, with the added bonus that the clients can still take advantage of the other online application features in the tech stack that the accountant is advising upon.
When looking for applications to add to the technology stack, going the “app store” for your accounting application is one of the best places to start, prioritizing those that you may have familiarity with. Among the thousands of Right Networks clients, the most popular providers include: Bill.com, Expensify, Tallie, SmartVault, Tsheets and payroll solutions such as ADP and Gusto.
All of these cloud-based services have APIs (application program interfaces) that connect the data to specific accounting applications such as QuickBooks, so the data is imported rather than re-keyed. This reduces errors and provides faster reporting as many of these integrations can be imported near real time.
Once the firm has successfully implemented a solution for one client, they can advise other clients that would also benefit and as new needs are met with additional service applications, they can continue to expand their tech stack and advisory capabilities. For business applications that do not have APIs, there are tools such as Transaction Pro and Qvinci that can be scripted to capture, import, and present information, which again, expands the capabilities of the firms CAAS practice.
The next component of the firms CAAS tech stack encompasses visualizing data in such a way that it helps clients make more informed business decisions. We are talking about the creation of client dashboards with tools such as Microsoft Power BI, Tableau and Domo to be added to the firm’s tech stack capabilities. All firms will need to develop expertise in presenting information which can be updated in real time to support the firm’s advisory recommendations.
Building a tech stack around accounting products and integrated solutions that provide maximum flexibility and capabilities for clients provides the information stream to help clients make better business decisions. Advising clients on streamlining their business processes and providing tools to do so are the natural evolution of current client accounting services.
*2020 CPA Firm Management Association Digitally Driven Firm IT survey (CPAFMA.org)
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA is Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks. His primary focus is helping firms throughout North America effectively use information technology and accounting applications by optimizing their tax, audit and administrative production workflows.
He has spent the past twenty-two years consulting...