By Jason Bramwell
Two hundred seventy-eight people made their way to Kansas City, Missouri, last month to attend the 2013 Boomer Technology Circles (BTC) Summit, which featured presentations on current technology issues, updates from accounting software vendors, and peer networking.
Hosted by Boomer Consulting Inc., the BTC Summit, which was held August 19 and 20, brought together talent development leaders, accounting firm decision makers, IT professionals, and business partners. The mission of the BTC program is to "promote collaboration that yields insight into actions firms can take in leveraging technology to meet business objectives."
"The BTC Summit is always a yearly highlight for our members and the Boomer team, but this year it was elevated with the addition of nearly thirty talent development professionals", Sandra Wiley, COO and shareholder of Boomer Consulting, told AccountingWEB. "These amazing individuals added wisdom and knowledge from the human resources and learning development areas of their firm. It was like an adrenaline shot for the entire conference."
Boomer Consulting identified the following ten trends from the BTC Summit that accounting firm leaders should consider:
1. Remote workers. Along with a remote workforce come expectations, technology requirements, and strategies regarding current and future office requirements. During a pre-conference session, a panel discussed the importance of setting performance expectations in advance, providing comparable technology to what is available in the office, and setting space requirements – both remote and in the office. It was noted that several firms are reducing office space requirements to less than 200 square feet per employee due to the remote workforce and staff working outside the office.
2. Electronic signatures. Mobile technology and other industries, such as real estate, are driving the use of electronic signatures (e-signatures). Many firms are using these tools for engagement letters, workflow documents, and even internal agreements. Form 8879, IRS e-file Signature Authorization, offers another big opportunity, but will the IRS accept e-signatures? There is currently an IRS pilot program testing e-signatures, and many think it will occur sooner rather than later. Look for e-signatures to become more accepted over the next year as firms recognize how it can streamline processes and shrink the sales cycle.
3. Growth in advisory services. Firms are seeing increased opportunities with regard to higher-level advisory services. The technology platform and business model are both important to providing higher-valued services. Boomer Consulting introduced the concept of Level 1, 2, and 3 services more than two years ago. When services from all levels are packaged and priced in a value-creation agreement, they become more valuable and cash flow is more predictable. Cloud tools, like Bill.com, and accounting platforms, such as AccountantsWorld, Intacct, and Xero, are revolutionizing the back office for many businesses. Firms should take notice and upgrade or integrate their own systems.
4. Talent development. During a separate track at the BTC Summit, Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting Inc., who was a keynote speaker at the conference, said firms that develop talent will escape commoditization and "avoid the race to the bottom" in fees. She asked talent development leaders",What will you add, change, or eliminate to make your firm future ready?" Firms that develop talent can learn faster than the rate of change and can stay ahead of their competition. According to Boomer Consulting, many firms are pooling resources through the Boomer Talent Development Advantage and developing young leaders through the Boomer P3 Leadership Academy in order to have a competitive edge.
5. Mergers and acquisitions. Technology does play a significant role in mergers and acquisitions and should be evaluated prior to signing a deal. Successful firms say it costs $10,000 or more per full-time employee to fully integrate a merged firm. That is about one year of IT expenditures, according to the latest BTC metrics. There are many situations where brokers and advisors fail to estimate the importance and cost of technology, resulting in significant cultural issues after the deal is done. Spend the time and money up front to reduce or eliminate the issues associated with technology and training. A new trend is the acquisition of niche firms that are structured and capable of delivering business performance and strategic planning services.
6. Mobile devices. The past three years have brought thousands of mobile devices into firms. Firms are even developing their own apps for communicating with clients. Look for this trend to continue. The challenge is to develop programs that run on the traditional desktop or notebook and still scale to smaller screens. Along with change come concerns about privacy and security. Many firms are utilizing such tools as AirWatch, MobileIron, MaaS360 by Fiberlink, and Good Technology to assist and ensure compliance. The ability to locate and wipe business data from these devices while maintaining personal data is essential.
7. The role of the IT leader. IT leaders used to be about the technical aspects of keeping the firm's systems running. Today, they are being asked to be strategic thinkers, better communicators, project managers, process managers, leaders, and team builders. Their job descriptions and skill requirements are changing and will continue to change. Boomer Consulting said firms may want to consider Boomer's CIO Advantage for their IT leader.
8. Desktop video conferencing. Internal collaboration as well as collaboration with clients is important in today's digital world. What used to be expensive and prohibitive to smaller firms and their clients is now affordable and easy to use. Firms are using desktop video conferencing solutions, including Google+ Hangouts, Skype, Microsoft Lync, and GoToWebinar, and various phone service providers, such as 8x8. These solutions save travel time, and the quality is excellent with high-definition cameras. They also reduce e-mail and encourage meaningful conversations.
9. Process improvement. Process improvement has been a stated goal in most firms for some time now. Looking for ways to do more with less became even more important during the economic downturn, and the concepts of Lean Six Sigma that started in manufacturing are now making their way into accounting firms. Firms are sending internal resources for training and certification in Lean Six Sigma or utilizing outside consultants to help them apply these principles to their practices. This is leading to increased efficiency, improved employee morale, and superior results as redundancy, wasted effort, and inconsistency are driven out of the processes.
10. Leadership development. Great leaders identify and develop their successors. This is still an issue in many firms; however, there is a push for programs that rapidly develop future and existing leaders with today's team-building strategies. Clients are demanding services requiring teams rather than rugged individualists.
Jim Boomer, CIO and shareholder of Boomer Consulting and director of the BTC program, told AccountingWEB the 2013 BTC Summit was the firm's best yet.
"Our extraordinary members, top-notch sponsors and exhibitors, nationally recognized keynoters, and the amazing Boomer Consulting team made this event an amazing success", he said. "With firm leaders, technology professionals, and talent development professionals in attendance, this year's Summit truly embodied the spirit of the BTC program of bridging the gap within CPA firms across the country."