Root Teaches New-School Technology


Darren Root broke away from his father's firm because it was too old school for his taste. That was back in 1990, when computers were just making their way into the accounting scene.

Now, the owner of Root & Associates is teaching some of the old dogs new technology tricks and hoping those firms will help each other succeed through a new consulting arm of his Indiana-based firm, RootWorks.

RootWorks, launched in November 2008, will offer a series of Leadership Communities for firms throughout the country to gather twice a year in Indianapolis to participate in roundtable discussions around best practices, attend leadership and software training and receive updates about current technologies for a membership cost of $3,500.

Partner Insights

Root, a 48-year-old CPA and Certified Information Technology Professional, hopes firms will use what they learn to increase revenue and efficiencies and to help their staff achieve the Holy Grail of work-life balance.

How did you become interested in technology?

I'm not really a techie, but I like making things easier. I started going to various tech conferences and found out I understood things a little differently from my peers. I was in this mindset that we had to be able to duplicate a system or my firm would have to rely on me. I'd explore and play and figure out what works. I've worked in men's clothing and lamp stores, so I've been in the aesthetic world and making people happy. Combine that with technology, and you get a really nice package.

Why did you start Root & Associates?

I was part of a partnership with 22 employees and approximately $600,000 in revenue and I was working all the time. In 1991/92 I decided that was not best path. I took only clients I like working with that fit a business model we designed and will use technology we employ and implement processes we created for ourselves. For example, I'm a QuickBooks shop. There's nothing wrong with Peachtree, but I don't use it and I don't want to learn a new system. We want to use the Internet as much as possible, so we use hosted QuickBooks and SmartVault or to gain access to all customers' invoices. We have 11 employees and almost three times the amount in revenue with about 1,000 clients and I have no direct client responsibility- that's allowed me to manage the firm and start RootWorks.

What inspired you to start it?

I was a keynote speaker at [Thomson's] partner summit to educate on best practices. People wanted a way to continue that process. I do a ton of firm consulting. My favorite thing to do is teach. But I was traveling a lot because it's a 1-on-1 model; I thought it would be more efficient if I could bring firms to me. We might end up with four to eight communities of firms up to 25, 30 people. But if it's a one-person firm with the right ideas, that would be fine.

Which areas do you expect to see the most interest?

Short term, how to live in the QuickBooks world. Whether you love it or hate it, it's the world we live in. Create a model to teach your clients how to use QuickBooks. I don't want to do away with the idea of face-to-face with clients, but I like dealing with my bank online instead of driving to the local branch. I want our member firms to be able to do that with clients on their Web sites.

[Long term], workflow products. Firms might have thought they had a workflow, but they had a process with all kinds of exceptions. When you put the process in a computer, you can't have that, so it forces firms to really think through documenting workflow. I [use] a wireless Bluetooth headset on a phone system that's not on site. It's all this little technology that makes things a little bit easier.

Share some lessons learned.

The best lesson was to work on my firm instead of in it. In it is doing tax returns. On it is thinking about how you do tax returns and how to improve that. I don't do a lot of overtime during busy season because I learned how to work on my firm. The No. 1 reason I wanted to form RootWorks was I want to help firms behind the technology curve get ahead because I've see what happens if they don't, it affects their family and their entire life.

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