Sometimes it’s hard not to get bowled over by the acronyms: Customer Relationship Management, Professional Services Automation, and, for accountants, good old time and billing, which often gets merged into the broader practice management.
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Applications, of course, don’t exist as isolated species. Many of them have similar features. The distinction between write-up software and accounting software gets blurry. For example, with CPASoftware, the unit now owned by Best Software, it’s the same package: Visual Client Write-up/General Ledger.
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Multi-office regional and national firms have the resources to make a mark in technology consulting and accounting software. Is that what they are doing?
Given the historically large number of applications in the accounting firm office, who wouldn’t want to simplify the number of programs that must be maintained? There is also a long-expressed desire to simplify the number of databases that must be updated. Intuit’s Customer Manager, which can update entity information in QuickBooks, Lacerte, and ProSeries via a single entry, is a step in that direction.
The capabilities of CRM and PSA have many of the aspects of practice management software minus the time and billing applications, linking back to accounting applications. They have the entity information and they keep track of contacts and purchasing and credit history. It’s a short step to tracking due-date information, the progress of tax returns through a firm during busy season, and manipulating all the accumulated information—to use the buzzwords, data mining—that will produce information capable of identifying data that can be used in marketing efforts. Sort of a Wal-Mart approach to firm data.
These natural market forces seem likely to spur more development of products that can be all-in-one solutions—it certainly seems that code writing has reached a state of sophistication, and computers have obtained enough power, that such applications are achievable. Whether or not they really can be successful in the market is an open question. Certainly, multi-function devices that work as printers, copiers, and scanners are sold. But they have not swept the market. However, developers are going to keep trying, both with hardware and software. Sooner or later, somebody is going to have a hit.
Robert Scott — Editor