There are a number of interesting trends with regard to technology that I expect will have a very significant impact in how firms operate over the next couple of years. One is a direct outgrowth of firms going paperless, focusing on document management, and studying outsourcing. It is the automation of workflow. The motivating factors for this are increased efficiency and better control of the work products and the driving forces are technological advances. But I would like to add a caution. Automating workflow shouldn’t simply be viewed as a technological overlay on the process and procedures of the firm. It is much more than that.

For example, look at an arrangement recently announced between a provider of tax information and a tax-consulting firm. A tax practitioner will be now be able to go to a tax research network and type in the address for a client’s location, and the database will instantly pull up all the federal and state tax incentives, that may be available for that particular location. Practitioners can instantly determine eligibility for credits and incentives and obtain planning information. According to the press release, “The listing provides detailed information on how to calculate the credits and incentives as well as everything needed to file--links to forms and forms’ instructions for accurate filing, and even contact information for the appropriate zone coordinator.”

This type of automation will greatly aid less-experienced staff to ensure tax savings based on a client’s location aren’t overlooked. This is just one of the possibilities for automating tax savings into the tax workflow of firms. I expect accounting, auditing, and consulting engagements will also similarly benefit from automating workflow over the next couple of years. 

The talk has always been that that increased used of technology will allow accountants more time to provide more value-added services to their clients. It is interesting to see how automating workflow itself isn’t just a timesaver, but an integral part of the value-added services to be provided.

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