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Executive roundtable.

We caught up recently with Jonathan A. Baron, President and CEO, Thomson Creative Solutions; Dr. Chandra Bhansali, President & Co-Founder of Accountants World, LLC; Ray Jimison, Sr. Vice President and General Manager Best Software--Specialized Business Solutions, and Cary Rosenzweig, Vice President of Intuit QuickBooks Payroll, to get their perspectives on important technology issues, opportunities and challenges facing CPAs today.

Gentlemen, from a technology or software solutions standpoint, what trends are having the greatest impact on CPAs today?

DR. CHANDRA BHANSALI (Accountants World): "Adoption. Most CPAs are still using only a fraction of the power of current technology. The Internet is the dominant core technology for accountants today. Accountant-centric technology will emerge as the most important technology for helping CPAs develop their practices and serve clients more effectively."

JONATHAN A. BARON (Creative Solutions): "Paperless office technology, including document management systems, paperless audit tools and Web-based client communication and collaboration tools. Firms that have transitioned to paperless offices are seeing immediate savings in paper, toner and storage space. More important, they're accessing information more conveniently, employing off-site staff, doing better planning for disasters and better serving clients through private portals."

RAY JIMISON (Best Software): "Electronic file exchange of data between products. This single data entry point saves on redundant entry of the same information. Other trends we see include: adoption of content management tools, client relationship management software (with pipeline reporting) and mobile worker tools."

What common concerns or misconceptions do CPAs have today about adopting more sophisticated software or technology solutions?

Bhansali: "Concerns and misconceptions about security issues have certainly contributed to the slow adoption of technology by some CPA firms. However, the real reason some CPA firms are slow to adopt technology is that accountants remain comfortable with the status quo--'if it isn't broken, don't fix it.'"

Baron: "Even today, only a small percentage of accounting firms understand the positive impact that technology can have on their practices. Most firms do not take advantage of integrated software solutions. Instead, they rely on disparate tax, accounting and practice management software, and waste time entering the same data multiple times."

Jimison: "Today accountants and their clients are embracing efficiencies of data integration between multiple products. To achieve this integration, customers may be concerned about giving up functionality they perceive they can achieve only by combining best of breed products from a variety of vendors. As the software industry consolidates, this is becoming less of a concern."

CARY ROSENZWEIG (Intuit QuickBooks Payroll) "In terms of accountants offering payroll as a service--I think there are some accountants who feel that payroll is a task best left to clients. At the same time, payroll is one of the most complex processes for small business owners, and accountants are often called in to fix mistakes."

Why is technology such an important issue today for CPAs and their small to medium size clients?

Jimison: "Since Sarbanes-Oxley [passed], there is heightened attention paid to reporting and accountability across the board--at private companies as well as at public companies. Accounting and business management software is essential for helping these small to medium size businesses stay on track through thorough reporting and analysis capabilities."

Baron: "As the MAP survey confirms, finding and retaining qualified staff is the top challenge for most firms since they have to do more work, and offer more services, without adding staff. Seamless software integration and advanced data sharing techniques enable professionals to capture the original source of data and share them electronically, rather than entering the same data multiple times into various systems."

Bhansali: "Technology has greatly influenced the profession for the past four decades, not just today. In the Sixties, it was the calculator; in the Seventies, it was mainframe service bureaus; in the Eighties, it was DOS-based PC's and in the Nineties, it was Windows. Today it's the Internet."

Is it essential for CPAs and their small and medium size clients to keep critical financial management functions in-house?

Jimison: "Keeping data in-house with reporting capabilities in the software puts critical information at the business owner's fingertips. Reporting required for managing a business and reporting required for external sources may be very different in nature and in timeliness. Daily cash reports can be extremely valuable in keeping a tight rein on a business's accounts receivable system. Financial reporting is generally needed periodically by outside sources and can be furnished by accountants. Payroll, however, may be an area in which the small business wants to consider outsourcing."

Bhansali: "Actually, it may not be critical for small and medium size clients to keep key financial functions in house. For example, by using accountant-centric solutions, small and medium size businesses can co-source their critical accounting management functions with their CPAs to eliminate duplication of work, increase productivity and provide both clients and CPAs with real-time access to critical financial data."

Rosenzweig: "Few things generate as much ill-will as a missed or delayed paycheck. As a result, it is important for small businesses to maintain control over their valuable payroll data. Software solutions help with managing payroll independently, without putting the data at risk by sending it outside the organization. We have solutions to work with customers in both the in-house and out-of-house environment."

Why are CPAs optimally positioned today to help their small and medium size clients with key financial and business management functions?

Jimison: "CPAs understand business processes and that makes them ideal candidates to provide clients with advice that spans both the front and back office. CPAs are among the few professionals who possess the broad knowledge needed to work with department managers and give them views outside their dally silos of activity. Ultimately, everything a business does touches the accounting system--and if it doesn't, it should."

Bhansali: "CPAs have always been well positioned to help small and medium size businesses. Unfortunately, many CPA firms are content to provide their clients with nothing more than core tax and accounting services. Now that their bread and butter services are becoming commoditized, however, they are more interested than they used to be in offering additional services to clients. The Internet and advanced solutions make it possible to offer payroll and other service they couldn't offer before."

Rosenzweig: "Agreed. Payroll is a major business opportunity for CPAs, since they have strong built-in relationships with clients. New software solutions make it easier than ever to offer payroll as a value-add service. Accountants can offer smaller clients more personalized service and they bring credibility and expertise to the table."

What makes your company's approach to serving tax, accounting and financial management professionals unique?

Baron: "Thomson Creative Solutions offers the broadest line of integrated software available to the accounting profession--tax, accounting, practice management, fixed assets, payroll, trial balance, engagement, document management, Web building and hosting, even private client portals. All the Thomson businesses that serve accountants (CSI, RIA and PPC) strive to make professionals more productive without increasing staff. All of the applications and technology infrastructure have been designed from the ground up to share data and work together."

Rosenzweig: "Intuit is the only vendor that offers a full range of payroll solutions--from in-house software to a partially assisted service to a full service solution with benefits and HR management tools. Unlike the competition, we allow our clients and their accountants to be as involved in, or as removed from, the payroll process as they prefer."

Jimison: "Best Software offers a wide range of end-to-end solutions that support our customers' business processes, including accounting, integrated HR, CRM, manufacturing, warehousing and other functions. Our offerings give customers technology choices that other vendors don't. For example, our accounting solutions support Windows as well as Linux. Our CRM solutions allow customers to choose both traditional on-site installation or hosted CRM."

Bhansali: "Only AccountantsWorld is solely in the business of helping accountants advance their practices and become more successful. Two key goals drive our technological approach to CPA practice development--'Accountant Centric.' This paradigm refers to the innovative use of technology designed for and exclusively available to accountants. Examples include the portal, plus an online directory of accounting firms, Accountant's Practice Online and Accountant-Centric Payroll Relief AC. Each makes it easier for accountants to develop their practices."

Looking ahead three to five years, what new services do you think you'll be offering CPAs?

Baron: "At Creative Solutions, we'll continue developing new practice management programs--like the one we're launching this spring--that use "dashboards." These will enable staff accountants to see instantly all the activity affecting a particular client, while the partner will be able to see all the activity affecting their firm."

Jimison: "At Best Software, our focus is on two important trends that affect our clients: mobile/remote access to applications and end-to-end integration of the software products that support their businesses. In January we announced a partnership between our Best Software Accountants Network (BSAN) program and NexTel, offering our BSAN members access to NexTel's array of products. This enables members to stay connected while on the move, helping them provide faster, more timely service to their clients. Also you will continue to see enhanced integration between Peachtree and CPAClient Write-Up."

Bhansali: "You'll see a revolution in client payroll services and processing, unprecedented collaborative client accounting and document management that is unmatched in ease of use and cost effectiveness. Also you'll see firms migrating their entire practices to the Internet so they can serve clients better. It's all about getting the CPA back in the driver's seat to regain business that may have been lost to competing forces in the past."
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Title Annotation:concerns and misconceptions of using sophisticated software or technology solutions in accounting
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Article Type:Panel Discussion
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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