Johnston: Top tech picks for small firms

K2 Enterprises executive vice president Randy Johnston, a technologist and visionary for tech that will have an impact on the accounting profession, shared his technology picks and notes for small firms this year at the American Institute of CPAs' Engage 2019 conference in Las Vegas this week.

Above and beyond best picks for tech, Johnston also challenged small firms to specialize their service offerings, a theme popular across sessions at this year's Engage conference. He encouraged firms to think about an "elevator pitch" that includes mention of specific industries, and to develop a marketing and sales strategy to reach people in those industries across the country.

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Don't believe the hype
While adopting the right technology is important, it's also important, Johnston said, not to get caught up in the hype. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation will impact the profession first, before other technologies like blockchain; but FOMO (fear of missing out) will be used as a sales tactic to get firms to adopt sooner than is appropriate.

"You need to sandbox and test the technologies, validating vendor's claims and proving your own business cases," Johnston said.
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Wolters Kluwer Axcess Suite
Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting experienced a security event in May this year, leaving customers unable to access its CCH suite of products for several days. The company responded in the best possible way, according to Johnston, who also noted that breaches and outages are an inevitability today.

“Under those circumstances, I would have made the same decision [to take systems offline],” Johnston said. “In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I would have still shut that environment down. Forensics reports are reporting no data loss.”

Johnston said that adoption of Wolters Kluwer’s Axcess Tax and Workstream products is up, and for good reason: While customers have reported issues with reporting and performance of Axcess Practice, the product suite is still popular and valuable, he said. CCH Axcess Data provides data visualizations of KPIs focused on firm health, partner performance, staff metrics, AR and profitability, project status and resourcing, and marketing.
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Thomson Reuters Onvio and UltraTax CS
Johnston noted that Thomson Reuters had made progress on its Onvio suite, cloud-based tax and accounting software that includes document management, time and billing, online client collaboration and project management.

Also maturing is the UltraTax CS software platform for professional tax preparers and accountants. However, something to watch out for, Johnston said, are some reported performance issues in sections of the CS offering.
Intuit Campus
Intuit Lacerte, and what to keep an eye on in QuickBooks
Johnston said he was “pleased and pleasantly surprised” by the sharp increase of investment that Intuit has made in its Lacerte products, which are for high-volume, complex tax returns. Cloud hosting provider Right Networks also provides specialized hosting for Lacerte and ProSeries, providing remote access to the software if needed.

Johnston said that Intuit has engineered around 160 new features in Lacerte, including integrating e-signature capability, which Johnston believes is key to efficient workflow and security.

Johnston pointed out the upcoming price increases and licensing restrictions for QuickBooks Desktop, saying this is a strategy to drive adoption of QuickBooks Online. However, QBO Advanced will also be experiencing price hikes later this year.

Editor's note: a previous version of this article stated that Right Networks and Intuit have a "deal" to provide hosting. No such deal exists.
Tried and true options
Some of Johnston’s favorite apps are Doc.It for document management and collection, ProStaff for staff scheduling, TPS for practice management, and XCM for workflow automation.