Check yourself - and then check your clients

Emerging trends within accounting have made the importance of business continuity planning far more significant than a decade ago. Government regulation, industry competition and a growing emphasis on technology are all factors leading accounting professionals to take a fresh, new look at the advantages associated with recovery solutions.

Business continuity providers supply their clients with the four basic elements needed to facilitate normal day-to-day operations during times of interruption or disaster - power, technology, space and connectivity. How a firm utilizes these resources is dependent upon its specific interruption or disaster, along with its role or niche within the accounting industry. More often than not these "disasters" are everyday events that can have crippling effects: a broken water pipe, a fire, a power surge, or a power outage - not necessarily the natural disasters and regional events dominating the headlines.

Accounting firms aligning themselves with reputable business continuity companies can mitigate the risks associated with these interruptions both internally and for clients. A well-conceived recovery plan ensures that CPAs have access to a client's sensitive information despite unforeseen circumstances, and clients can rest assured that their financial records are safe and available anytime. However, accountants have a unique opportunity to position themselves as stewards of clients' businesses by offering insight into the nature and importance of a business continuity solution beyond mere data recovery.

According to a recent study, 90 percent of small-to-midsized businesses are woefully unprepared for a business disaster - mostly as a result of the misperception that data backup ensures continuity at the time of an interruption. Accountants who are able to impart knowledge regarding disaster recovery, evaluate potential flaws in their clients' existing plans, and recommend effective solutions will ultimately be perceived as trusted advisors by their clients.

Furthermore, the accountant/client relationship paradigm is shifting from a transactional relationship to a more customer-focused partnership. CPAs are differentiating themselves in a crowded marketplace by providing their clients with value-added services and consultation. Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the success of these firms. Not only are accountants using technology to improve clients' bottom lines, but its implementation represents an additional source of revenue for the firm.

Although a majority of CPA and accounting firms specialize in small-business accounting and tax preparation, the category is witnessing a trend where highly competitive firms are seeking to develop and position themselves through niche services. These firms are utilizing specialization as launching pads into new niches - what some in the industry are calling "gateway" services. Firms are branching out into several key specialties, including IT consulting.

IT consulting has resulted in many accounting firms establishing internal managed service and IT troubleshooting divisions or spinning such businesses off in an attempt to offer additional services to their clients beyond the scope of typical accounting practices. However, even technology has its limitations, and requires basic elements to operate effectively and efficiently. Whether a firm utilizes such technology in-house or implements it into their clients' existing operations, a recovery solution is vital in ensuring that these services are reliable and functional even during times of turmoil.

Recovery solutions are also vital to the success of firms specializing in various industry sectors. Financial services, health care, insurance, manufacturing and even retail are all heavily reliant upon the services of business continuity providers. At times of disaster or interruption, these businesses often require the same resources - generators, satellite communications, mobile office space and phone redirection, to name a few.

As trusted advisors, accountants should not only recommend these services in the best interests of their clients, but also adhere to the same philosophy of preparedness and security. Most business continuity companies will offer testing services aimed at preparing employees for potential interruptions and identifying key gaps in recovery plans. These services range from over-the-phone recovery plan assessments to full mobile deployment of office space, satellite communications, generators, replacement PCs, servers, phones and networking equipment to specific office locations.

More and more, businesses are recognizing the value of their accounting firms beyond "busy" season, and accountants are now being asked to provide more counsel with regards to daily business operations. CPA firms with a deep understanding of the importance of business continuity solutions will be able to provide peace of mind to their clients, mitigate their risk, and ensure their businesses' long-term vitality.

Bob Boyd is the president and chief executive of Agility Recovery Solutions (www.agilityrecovery.com), a former division of GE with nearly 20 years of disaster recovery and business continuity experience.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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