The struggle to attract and retain talent, and interest in leveraging the cloud, are among the most important trends that accounting firms need to adapt to, according to Boomer Consulting’s Jim Boomer and Sandra Wiley.

As part of a wide-ranging opening address at the 2013 Boomer Technology Circles Summit and Talent Development Advantage Meeting, held in mid-August in Kansas City, Mo., Boomer addressed a number of critical technology issues, while Wiley highlighted several important trends around human resources, staffing and firm management.

Speaking to the annual meeting held for firm leaders and technology professionals from the member firms of the Boomer Technology Circles, Boomer first talked about firms’ growing interest in using the cloud.

“We’re seeing a major interest in this trend of leveraging the cloud to move traditional transactional client accounting services up to a transformational service that allows you to provide higher-value advisory services,” he said. “We see a lot of firms trying to find out what their road map should be -- and we’re finding that it’s not just about the technology. There are so many different aspects to it.”

The mobile workforce is another major trend. “Again, it’s not just about technology -- it’s about people issues, too. How do you manage people that you can’t see? How do you stay in contact and maintain a collaborative environment?”

While many in the profession had become complacent about disaster recovery, Boomer noted that this year’s Oklahoma tornadoes and last year’s Superstorm Sandy had brought it back into focus.

Boomer, who serves as CIO at Boomer Consulting, also talked about the ongoing evolution of the CIO role at firms: “It’s a transition that needs support, to go from being technology-savvy to being both business- and technology-savvy.”

Finally, he warned that firms need to pay attention to their IT governance

on a regular basis, and need to make sure that it aligns closely with both firm-wide and departmental strategies.

 

The battle for talent

In listing the issues that she thinks are critical, Boomer Consulting COO and shareholder Wiley noted that trends surrounding talent are only getting stronger, and particularly that the “fight for the best” has become a constant battle.

“Recruiting has to be all year long,” she stressed. “And we have to be training and developing people. If you forget about that whole training thing, you’re going to lose out on some talented people. ... You may have a great culture, but you can lose it in a minute if you’re not constantly working on it, and then you will lose valuable talent.”

She laid out some important staffing statistics, noting that accounting enrollment and degree-holders are up, but that hiring demand is higher than ever, while the profession’s goals of hiring more diverse staff are being stymied by a lack of diversity in talent pool. “We would love to hire more diverse staff, but we have more white people in accounting today, in school and out there in the job market, than there are any other groups. It’s not that we don’t want to hire -- the candidates aren’t there.” She suggested that accountants need to get out to schools of all levels to talk up the profession: “It’s not about who’s out there in the pool today, it’s about who could be.”

Picking up Boomer’s theme of the mobile workforce, Wiley said that it’s important for firms to establish goals for remote workers, communicate carefully with them, and create ownership behavior among them. “It’s not about allowing them to work remotely anymore,” she said. “It’s about encouraging them -- encouraging the behaviors that allow people to have the wonderful benefit of working wherever and whenever they want to.”

She also noted that firm leaders need to start broadening their conversations about expectations and accountability: “We have to start talking about the expectations that we have for our people in their jobs and their lives -- and we have to listen to their expectations of us as owners and leaders in the firm. There is a gap between the reality and the expectations.”

Finally, she talked about a happy rise in collaboration of all kinds. “Collaboration is happening inside firms, but we are also seeing collaboration happening between peer firms -- how amazing!” she said. “They are starting to really network together.” She recommended that firms start finding ways to collaborate with vendors, rather than simply being consumers.

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