Taking Down the Big Tent


Two years ago, when the Information Technology Alliance became a membership division of the AICPA, I was convinced that the ITA, a user group representing CPA and reselling firms, could not last on its own.

This year, after the unsuccessful relationship between the two ended, I was convinced that the last two years proved that ITA is more necessary than ever because it provides a home for CPA IT consultants who will never find a home with the AICPA or other CPA organizations. I’ve often thought that CPA IT consultants represent a different profession, and that no amount of work or good intentions will make them fit within such groups.

Five years ago, when I first met Barry Melancon, I asked him what would keep the AICPA from fragmenting along various niche lines, including technology. His explanation, which involved the fact that technology would become a major focus of CPAs, and that many niches can be embraced, represents what I call "The Big Tent" theory of AICPA membership. That means that all of the various emerging niches, including technology, can be made to fit under one big tent called the AICPA.

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Despite all the talk about the AICPA’s vision embracing technology, it’s still your father’s AICPA. Traditional services such as tax and write-up have not withered. In fact, the percentage of taxpayers turning to paid preparers continues to grow.

By temperament, by business metrics, by goals, IT consulting does not fit under the AICPA comfortably. It’s probably not going to be the only niche that we finally realize doesn’t belong under the Big Tent.

There is a lot the ITA needs to do. But the current level of interest and support by vendors and Group B firms will give it a far better chance of success, simply because these organizations realize the need for a different kind of organization. ITA serves professionals who are vendor driven, while the AICPA serves professionals who are regulation driven.

The ITA will need to build on this foundation. It needs to build the business benchmarking that will enable IT firms, both CPA and reselling, to compare their practices to colleagues. Hopefully, it can develop services, such as group insurance, which membership organizations traditionally provide members.

But hopefully, there is a valuable lesson here. The AICPA is remaining as a member of ITA, and I think this may be the approach that will help the CPA community stay in touch with the CPA IT community. Let’s call it the Ambassadorial Approach. I always thought the AICPA needed an ambassador to reselling groups such as Best Software and Great Plains resellers, simply because their business is accounting and CPAs are a significant part of their membership.

This calls for rethinking the "Grand Vision" approach that has dominated the AICPA’s strategy for the last few years. Instead of looking for global solutions, the AICPA could stick to its knitting and gain power, by giving up power to these affiliated organizations. Rather than trying to cram organizations into the multi-disciplinary shoe, it can allow the business niches to grow and flourish on their own. That would require switching the AICPA’s goal from control of the profession, to nurturing it.

Robert Scott -- Editor-in-Chief

Where Do CPA Consultants Fit?

Can the Information Technology Alliance prove to be a home for CPAs interested in technology? The questions addressed in this month's Editor's Note are examined through the eyes of leading consultants in this month's cover story.

Speaking of questions, executives try to answer them with reports that attempt to make sense of the continuous flow of financial information. In "Reporting for Duty," Senior Editor Richard McCausland looks at the packages that mine data for budgeting and forecasting purposes.

McCausland also examines the role that user conferences play in the software market. Remember when common wisdom had it that Web-based portal discussion groups would put an end to user conferences? Well, user conferences are hotter than ever.

The Web has never been more popular with tax research users. What are the latest research tools available online? Associate Editor Carly Lombardo provides some of the answers.

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