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The Tech Take

1/30/13

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This was a pretty busy week for the VARs, lots of strategic buying going on, but the vendor community was also active as over a dozen of them engaged in the 4th Annual SaaS Executive Roundtable – essentially a CPA2Biz/AICPA-hosted U.N. of predominantly cloud vendors targeting the CPA community.  So here’s the high level on what occurred over the past week as well as my take on all of it.

Some of the most active VARs this week were SWK Technologies, Armanino, and yes once again SBS Group, which has been averaging about two new acquisitions a month lately.

  • SWK’s deal brought in Dallas-based Sage 100 and 500 partners Point Solutions. Not a very large firm but the move does several things for SWK, which is on the path towards becoming a more national firm. For one it establishes a base in Texas, where in the Sage family there’s only one other sizable partner. More than that, it brings on what president Jeff Roth describes as “a very good Sage 500 consultant” as well as the potential to grow its Sage X3 business in the area. SWK is also working on a couple of other significant mergers within the Sage family, news on those should be revealed in the coming weeks.
  • Armanino, which recently rebranded from Armanino McKenna, just added to its Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint business through the purchase of CRM and SharePoint consultant Gradient Vision. Both of these business areas offer high growth potential for the firm, so the move really makes sense. My guess is we’ll see Armanino’s consulting business make some more of these types of strategic transactions this year.
  • Microsoft Dynamics Master VAR SBS Group is on a roll again, this time beefing up its presence in eastern and central Pennsylvania, as well as its own Dynamics NAV business, when it had Sentinel Technology Group join its partner network. Sentinel specifically will be known as SBS Group Central PA and will specialize in the manufacturing, distribution, service and mobile solutions industries and also offers network integration and security services. Not a whole lot of action, at least not that they are talking about, from Master VARs Tribridge and Socius but I suspect that too is only a matter of time.

As for the summit of cloud vendors, there were several key takeways – not the least of which was everyone appeared to be here to figure out how to better serve the tax and accounting profession. Attendees came from a few directions, providing a tax or accounting-related service or tool for tax and accounting professionals to use or recommend; infrastructure to help provide the tools they use in the cloud; or they are on the periphery of what accountants do and could offer new service areas for them.

It was over two dozen vendors, as I mentioned, and as such not everyone that is serving the space – including some notable exclusions who didn’t make the trip for one reason or another. I have a feeling going forward it will be more high executive focused and less representatives from one company, to allow for more companies to be here.

All of that said, the event at its core was about getting competitors and others who are trying to serve the same market to hear about some of the problems they all face in reaching accountants and getting them to use and recommend their offerings -- “coopetiton” as it was coined.

In nearly two full days there were a lot of things brought to light, from technology analysts and strategists and even other practitioners. Here is, what I feel, are the top takeaways:

  • How do you get CPA firms to change the way they do things and serve their clients when they don’t want to?
  • Some think it will be clients who bring firms towards technology, but will it be too late if clients are already there?
  • The firm of the future will be about financial reporting, cloud computing, and knowledge exchange
  • Don’t manage your firm to be average
  • Payroll is a growing service for a firm and an indicator more firms are willing to move to the cloud
  • Smaller firms, for the most part, are not adopting technology in the way larger firms are
  • Firms need to specialize and be proactive on client selection, as they move in that direction, that is the opportunity to align that path with products
  • There is a concern that too many SaaS products tend to be a single-focused solution and do not integrate as well with others.  As such, SaaS products have to blend their solutions together more in order to solve more business problems
  • The main factors holding back larger firms from technology adoption are the audit and tax teams
  • BYOD, security, and CRM are looking big for larger firms' technology initiatives
  • Discussing cloud “solutions” to CPA firms needs to be about client service, not technology

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