[IMGCAP(1)]Part 1 of this column, the key trends identified by consultants and resellers, is available here.

Another key membership group within the Information Technology Alliance consists of the CIOs and IT leaders within some of the largest non-Big Four CPA firms in North America. These members are focused on providing the highest quality IT systems and services to allow CPA practitioners to serve their clients in an environment that continues to rely on automation for service delivery.

Some of the key topics being discussed by the CPA firm technology leaders include:

Bring your own Technology (BYOT). At our ITA events over the last two years, there has been much discussion about BYOT. CPA firms are implementing new approaches to support a myriad of technology platforms including smart phones, tablets, and a variety of other devices that employees are bringing into the workplace. But it’s even more complex than supporting hardware, as they are also addressing the support of new applications that are being implemented, including cloud-based storage applications and personal productivity tools. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained to support the technology requirements of an auditor, tax practitioner or consultant while maintaining the necessary level of security within the firm. Most CIOs believe that the trend of BYOT will continue to increase and be a significant area of investment in the future.

Security. With all of the recent publicity on data security breaches at large corporations, CPA firms are also continuing to invest in products, services and personnel who can help protect their systems and data. For every cloud based application or new device added within a CPA firm, a new set of security risks and issues must also be addressed. Our member firms are evaluating many new security products and implementing business processes that will help keep their firms’ (and their clients’) data safe and secure.

Social Media and Collaboration Tools. Many large CPA firms are looking at ways to keep their staff better connected through the use of technology. We work in an industry where many of our professionals are working remotely, and there are opportunities for collaboration tools such as SharePoint, Yammer and other technologies to keep these professionals more connected to each other and to their firm. As CPA firms evaluate these technologies, they are also looking for new ways to help their client servers share their knowledge and expertise with each other.

Emerging Technologies. In addition to the support of core CPA firm technologies, CIOs are also examining new technologies that could help CPAs deliver in new ways. For example, at the Fall Collaborative, a member of IBM’s Watson team delivered a thought-provoking discussion on how artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies, such as Watson, can be used to develop new approaches for conducting an audit, detecting fraud or providing other “expert” assistance to clients. While many of us may have looked at these technologies as something in the long-term future, there are many real world industry examples of how organizations are using these types of technologies today to provide real business benefits.

CPA firms are realizing that technology is a very important element of the overall client service delivery strategy. It’s good to see that our ITA member firms are including their CIOs as part of their overall business strategy discussions, as they examine continuing ways to invest in technology to remain competitive.

In the 17 years that the ITA has existed, there has always been an evolving list of issues that our members are addressing, and I’m sure that if I write a similar article in 2020 there will be a new set of challenges. That’s what makes the accounting technology business such a great career – it’s always changing and there are new things to learn and implement every day. At the ITA, our members are excited to help harness the potential that new technologies can provide to help our clients and our businesses grow and profit.

Stan Mork is the president of the Information Technology Alliance.

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