by John Covaleski
New York - Citing the lure of a program that showcases such hot-button issues as Internet security, recruiting and training technology professionals and value billing, planners of the American Institute of CPAs' Tech 2002 Computer & Technology Conference are optimistic this year's confab will at least equal the record attendance generated by the 2001 event.
This year's conference chair, Jennifer Wilson, said the turnout should be heavy due to the depth of the content of this year's program. Last year, the show attracted some 800-plus attendees.
The conference is scheduled for May 5-8 at the Washington Hilton & Towers in the nation's capital.
The confab features more than 50 breakout training sessions with different tracks for management and consulting issues and products and technologies. It is designed for public practice CPAs, particularly those interested in technology consulting, governmental and private industry accountants.
"This year's conference theme is 'All things E,' but that doesn't just refer to electronic business or electronic commerce," Wilson said. "It's a recognition that CPAs and the technologists that work with them need up-to-the-minute practical technology information so they can advise their employees and clients on what's important in the market; One of the 'E's in this is emerging technologies."
AICPA conference manager Ann Zablotowicz noted that one of the emerging technology areas in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks is security. Several security-related training sessions include a keynote speech, "Internet Security in the Post 9/11 Age," and a separate training session on securing e-mail, presented by an executive from VeriSign, a leading provider of digital trust services.
While much of the show will expose attendees to new and established technologies, the largest portion of the conference sessions deals with managing technology consulting practices. That includes sessions for both newcomers and established consultants.
Sessions for CPAs considering technology consulting and ones with fairly new technology practices include, "Building and Growing Your Small Consulting Practice," presented by Taylor Macdonald, who oversees the reseller channel of Best Software. He is also a founder of Macdonald Consulting of Atlanta, which was among the first highly successful technology practices developed by a local market CPA.
Also, an overview of the entry-level and middle-market accounting software products that CPAs have built their technology practices around will be presented by Carlton Collins of technology industry analysts K2 Enterprises.
The conference breakout sessions will include topics such as "Niche Growth Strategies," presented by Chuck Wunderlich, regional business line leader for the consulting operations of Chicago-based national accounting firm BDO Seidman.
Wunderlich is also slated to present a session covering a strategic alliances, which are a key business factor for both newcomers and well-established technology practices.
Another session, that should command universal interest is "Making More Money," presented by Peyton Burch of Burch Consultants, a $3 million-a-year consulting practice in Houston.
There will also be several sessions on Internet-based consulting areas, including one on application service providers. A similar session at the 2000 conference predicted a bleak future for ASPs, while a general theme of last year's show was that a boom in electronic business platforms may not be far away.
A large part of the consulting practice-related sessions at this year's show will deal with sophisticated aspects of managing established technology consulting practices. Topics covered include recruiting technology professionals; training staff, marketing technology services, and value billing - a big departure from CPAs' traditional hourly billing systems - presented by Ron Baker, the leading authority on value billing.
Among the more topical practice management topics to be covered is practice leadership - the subject of three different sessions.
"There's a strong need for leadership in technology practices as they grow, because a lot of people who have mastered technology and who have built these practices are 'techies' and not managers per se," said Wilson, who is a principal in ConvergenceCoaching, a firm that trains managers on how to build their technology practices.
The emphasis on established practice topics is partially because the AICPA conference is once again being consolidated with a meeting of the Information Technology Alliance, a consortium of the nation's most successful technology consulting practices that are affiliated with CPA firms. The meetings have been combined since 2000, when the ITA became a section of the AICPA.
At the conference, the ITA will release the results of survey in which it asked its members how they conduct their businesses. ITA will use the survey as a benchmark of success factors in technology consulting.
The survey will assess several major characteristics of the accounting industry's leading technology practices, including:
- Staff size and skill sets.
- Target client markets.
- Billable rates and billing requirements.
The ITA, which began gathering data for the benchmarking study last year, expects its results to be particularly helpful to technology practice leaders setting "future strategic directions."Helping CPAs set future strategic directions is also what Wilson expects the Tech 2002 show to provide. For more information about the show and registration, visit www.cpa2biz.com.
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