It seems simple enough from the viewpoint of Deltek, the vendor that markets project-based accounting systems. Much of the business accountants conduct involves projects.

To a great extent, that rules out much of the tax business, especially the preparation of simple 1040s. But the two other major segments of the business of public firms, audit and consulting, are very much about projects, even if accountants choose to call them engagements.

That's especially true in the consulting business, where Deltek has rolled out Deltek Vision for Consulting, designed to take one of its two major product lines that are generally aimed at the architectural and engineering markets, and make it suitable for consulting.

There are different metrics in different businesses. But a lot that is measured is the same thing, or close to the same thing, but labeled with a different term.

Deltek says its software has been installed at firms with as few as three employees, although it seems unlikely that many of the smaller practices would move from QuickBooks-level products into something more sophisticated.

However, the Herndon, Va.-based vendor believes that accounting firms have a lot to gain with such a product, and whether Deltek has the best system for these kinds of operations, adopting a project-based approach seems like another step along the road to greater sophistication in capturing operational information.

After all, the whole purpose of project accounting is to assign expenses to a particular project, such as the services of a staff member, so that the firm can understand the profitability of each job, not just have the expenses matched against total revenue. In any kind of consulting, management certainly wants to know which clients are the most profitable which means getting a handle on what costs are associated with each client's engagement.

Accounting firms have held on to their own metrics, as have most professions and markets. But there are some areas in which it would make more sense to adopt standard measurements. Revenue per employee is one that comes to mind as a metric that's more useful than many standards in use at firms.

So for firms that have not thought of themselves as being in the project business, maybe it's time, if not to speak another language, then to pick up a bit of the vocabulary.

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