Whether accountants are ready for it or not, technological change the likes of which have not been seen in two decades is coming.

How accountants handle it could mean the difference between staying in business and retaining clients, or getting left behind and possibly closing the doors for good. This message rang clear during most of the technology sessions at the recent AICPA Practitioners Symposium and Tech + Conference, in Las Vegas.

No one needs to belabor the notion of accountants being slow to change. Caution and review is their game—we get it. The real issue bubbling under the surface is not exactly if or when the CPA community at large will accept this next wave of change, but when they finally do, how far behind will they be?

Another looming question for accountants: are cloud and mobile technologies really the answer for most firms? The AICPA seems to think so and has made no bones about where it feels the profession needs to move. If there’s any lingering doubt of this notion, one need look no further than the actions and statements of the association’s marketing arm, CPA2Biz and, more recently, its president.

If combining Prac and Tech for the second year in a row were not enough of a signal to the profession that the AICPA wants accountants to embrace technology more for their own benefits (having 1,100+ attendees verses 800 or so last year didn’t hurt the cause either), AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon’s keynote address on the second day of the event drove the point home.  Here are just some of his more poignant statements on the matter:

“We are facing a situation today where technology that relates to the profession and ensures the profession survives is coming to light. It is the most significant technological time since the microcomputer,” said Melancon. He later added, “Cloud computing is a fundamental circling back in the client accounting world as cost structure and profitability is changing. Mobile computing is going to change the way we do accounting and interact with our clients.”

In addition to Melancon’s comments were of course the information sessions and what was exchanged there. Aside from the usual representation of vendor showcases and general “how to” sessions, many of the tech break-out sessions focused on how firms could or should be looking at cloud and mobile technologies to improve their practices.

Many accountants definitely feel the pressure to change, and still want to hear more evidence that doing so will indeed be a notable improvement for them. This frustration could not have been better personified than by one attendee in particular during a session entitled “Create New Sources of Revenue with Cloud-Based Accounting Applications,” who loudly stated, “All I’m hearing is the cloud is there, and you are an idiot if you are not there. Where’s the ROI?”

In a world where hard numbers speak the loudest, this question will undoubtedly continue to yield varied answers (i.e., well, it depends on…) and more questions to be sure…for now. So if you are growing weary of the SaaS debate and the push to move (or not) the accounting industry to the cloud, strap yourself in because this one is not over—not by a long shot—and you can bet that product and service vendors, and even the Institute, will be at the center.

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