by Carly Lombardo
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Michael Facer has no second thoughts about the value for accountants of offering technology consulting services. “CPAs, in general, are information providers. It’s a natural fit for us to know about technology, and transfer this knowledge to our clients,” says Facer, director of the Technology Services Group for Tanner & Co., a Salt Lake City-based CPA firm.
Technology’s differentiating value first clicked for Facer when he was implementing an accounting system for a client who had payroll issues. “We asked the customer how the last consulting company dealt with the system’s problems, and the customer responded by saying that the company had contacted its CPA firm any time there was a problem, and then came back with an answer. This proved to me that by being a CPA firm, we cut out the middle man,” says Facer.
Since 1996, Tanner’s Technology Services Group has been doing just that—cutting out the middle man. “We’re all about getting information into the hands of the people who need it,” says Facer.
Tanner currently has 45 people, with three dedicated to the technology group. In addition to CPA certifications, the staff has Novell CNE networking certifications and product certifications for Crystal Reports, FRx, and three of Microsoft Business Solutions’ accounting products: Solomon, Great Plains, and Small Business Manager. A significant addition to the product portfolio is PowerOLAP from Paris Technologies.
When it comes to Small Business Manager, the group is “fairly bullish” on its prospects. “The main reason for this is that there is not a product in its price range that combines the features with the open database structure of a SQL server database,” explains Facer. “I believe its strengths will be in its efficient access to the data, or rather the ability of a user or consultant to produce custom reports for businesses,” says Facer. At this point, Tanner has implemented five systems, and has several prospects for which it would be a good fit.
In addition to SBM, the Group has special success with reporting engagements. The main product used for these engagements is PowerOLAP, which is especially useful to its manufacturing and distribution clients. PowerOLAP, a budgeting/business intelligence system, includes the ability to access actual results, understand scorecard metrics, and facilitate forecasting. “It’s all about mining data that’s not intuitive. It gives companies trends,” says Facer.
For example, a manufacturer of medical equipment was selling products nationwide and wanted to track how well equipment was selling in different parts of the country. “PowerOLAP was able to figure out where they were getting sales, and which distributors were making the sales. It was obvious that certain distributors had more knowledge, and with the PowerOLAP system, the company was able to transfer more sales to those distributors,” explains Facer. A typical PowerOlap engagement ranges from $10,000 to $30,000.
Facer, past chairman of the Information Technology Committee for the Utah Association of CPAs, is currently serving as the Chair of the Winter Conference Committee, a major CPE event for the Utah society. This year’s conference features sessions on ERP systems, Excel macros and VBA, and the liability of electronic communication. “We hope that sessions like these will at least help the members of our organization become familiar with current technologies, if not provide a forum for further exploration of the technologies,” says Facer.
Serving a Niche
Tanner & Co. serves a specific niche—approximately 18 of the top 200 SEC companies in Utah. “Serving SEC companies is highly regulated, but we chose to be subjected to those regulations. They require not only significant oversight of our practice, but also significant education in public company-related issues,” says Facer.
The firm is an Edgar filing agent, filing about 100 SEC documents each year for public companies. It charges from $200 to $1,500, depending on the type of financial form and complexity. The firm offers training and consultation relative to the preparation and filing of SEC documents internally, if that’s the client’s preference. Facer explains, “We act as the filing agent. We complete Form 10 Q, format them by using Edgar Ease software, and submit them electronically to the SEC.”
Carly Lombardo is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at email@example.com.