[IMGCAP(1)]Once upon a time, in two local firms located fairly close to each other in the same city, were two CPAs named John and Wendy.

While both worked in public practice, their practices were very different. John, a partner in a traditional tax practice, worked primarily with manufacturing and distribution clients in the food and beverage industry. It was not unusual for him to go visit his clients on site, rather than have them come to the office.

Wendy, also a partner, worked primarily in audit and offered consulting services to a large range of clients in multiple industries. Like John, she visited clients on site, but they also came to see her.

When it came to technology, John and Wendy considered themselves to be fairly savvy. After all, they both had laptop PCs and knew how to connect via their Virtual Private Networks to their servers.

That should have been good enough to conduct business, yet they found themselves constantly figuring out workarounds to common problems. One day, they met over coffee. Wendy spoke first.

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m starting from scratch with the way I’m collecting data and producing audit reports,” she said. “I have several different software programs, but can’t figure out how to make them work together. Wouldn’t it be great if the programs ‘spoke’ to one another? I could get so much more done.”

[IMGCAP(2)]John nodded his head. “Have you heard about this ‘cloud-thing’?” he asked. “Supposedly, you don’t even have to have the software installed on your computer in order to make it work.”

“Then how does it work?” asked Wendy.

“I don’t know,” said John. “I’ve never been able to figure it out. I guess we need to be satisfied with the fact that we’re no longer working on DOS.”

Collaboration is the Solution

OK, so the conversation between John and Wendy might seem a bit ludicrous, but the two of us encounter people just like the two of them every time we meet a CPA or accountant who isn’t familiar with “collaboration” or, for that matter, cloud computing or Software as a Service (SaaS).
Wouldn’t you like to do more in less time? Who wouldn’t want to be more efficient? We live in a time when technology is a huge plus, thanks to Web-enabled applications, of course, but also because of collaboration.

In short, collaboration occurs when two providers join together for the good of the end user.

Think of it as the spokes of a wheel coming together to meet in the middle. In the accounting profession—just as in the middle of the wheel—sits an ERP-type accounting program that seems to operate quite well on its own.

However, what happens when the CPA must perform a function that is seemingly outside of the software program’s capabilities, be it on the desktop or in the cloud? Prior to collaboration, these activities were handled separately, joined together by manual processes. It was not very productive, yet it was the only way to produce the kind of work clients need and expect.
Pretty soon, thanks to advanced technologies, providers got smart. The spokes of the wheel suddenly realized they could provide a collaborative solution by partnering with the accounting program. On the back end, the two programs went through trial and error to work properly, but to the end-user CPA/accountant, the solution was seamless.

All it took was one click within the program to be able to introduce an application that didn’t work in tandem with the main program. Instead, it complemented it. Suddenly, the main program and its various partners became a huge value-add to the user because more work could be done in less time, all without the user having to do any more thinking than knowing how to use the program.

Provider Education is Key

Today, collaboration is commonplace within accounting, and doesn’t just happen between an ERP accounting program and others. It’s happening all over the place, especially in the cloud. Go to any trade show or conference, and you’ll find these providers or vendors exhibiting together or in booths next to each other..

Yet, it’s not John and Wendy’s fault that they didn’t know about these partnerships. Sure, they attended their fair share of CPE, but they didn’t pay much attention to the exhibits. At the same time, they bought their respective accounting software programs and really haven’t spent any time on their own learning how to improve the programs’ performance, not because they didn’t want to learn; they just didn’t make the time to do so.

We think it’s up to providers just like us to do what we can to initiate the conversation with customers and prospects by not only reaching out to them on a regular basis, but also making them a key component in trying to make our products better. We all have our own set of customers, and, hopefully, we know who is buying from us. However, we are not without our faults in striving to provide a higher level of customer service by continuously educating them on what’s available.

When a customer says he or she is fine with their solution and doesn’t need any help, it’s time to dig a little deeper. As a provider, we know we can make our customers aware of the collaborative solutions that work with your product.

What You Can Do

It’s up to the accountants, too, to self-educate themselves—and we challenge you to take more responsibility to offer your clients the most complete accounting and consulting solution possible. Today, that can be accomplished through collaborative solutions.

Yes, it’s up to the providers to tell you about their partner solutions, but it’s also up to you to ask the questions. Here are a few:

• What complementary solutions are available right now? Remember: What you don’t know, you don’t know. In other words, if you didn’t know there was a sales tax compliance solution available, then how would you know to ask about that specific solution?

• Does the provider actively seek proactive partnerships for the good of the customer? You’ll want to join up with software providers who consider the customer the most important part of the process—those who have a long-term vision for their companies and truly focus on customer retention.

• Can the provider offer guidance or suggestions on how to enhance the overall experience? We’ve all known providers who are content to sit by and just sell software. You want your provider to be much more than that; you want them to offer workable and practical solutions to everyday tasks and activities. Seek these providers out.

We hope to find the discussion between John and Wendy to be a thing of the past, but in all honesty, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Instead, we all can do our part to ensure John and Wendy are more educated about the universe of solutions, be it on the desktop or in the cloud.

Kim Hogan is business development manager at Fujitsu. Follow her on Twitter @ScanSnapKim or see her in person at any one of a number of accounting trade shows. She can be contacted at (949) 551-5601 or khogan@us.fujitsu.com. As vice president of channels at Intaact Corporation, Taylor Macdonald directs the company’s relationships with business partners. Contact him at (404) 434 2872 or tmacdonald@intacct.com.

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