Doug Sleeter outlined four disruptive trends in kicking off The Sleeter Group’s Solutions14 accounting technology conference: “chunkification,” zero data entry, collaborative services and mobile access.

Sleeter also had an answer to a frequent refrain he hears from older accountants, hoping to ride out their current business until they retire.

“Even five years from now, the world won’t be nice to you,” he told the opening keynote crowd, in terms of firm profitability and retaining clients.

There is hope for late adopters to the cloud, however, as Sleeter explained that while “chunkification”—his buzzword for splitting separate parts of the overall business management systems into discrete parts, possibly from different product providers—will only work in the cloud, that migration “is a process; we’re moving there.”

Sleeter's second trend of phasing out data entry encompasses another transition, from that function to the role of “data concierges.”

The necessary shift for accountants from compliance work to advisory services means addressing a chasm that exists between what accountants can do and what their clients perceive they can do, according to a survey Sleeter conducted of small businesses.

“Be proactive not reactive—get in deeper with the clients,” Sleeter advised. In moving to these more collaborative client services, identified as Sleeter’s third disruptive trend, new technology is available but underused.

Sleeter conducted a live poll of the attendees asking what percentage of their client interactions used IM, screen sharing or video conferencing. “Hardly any” was the winning category, entered by 87 attendees, though “nearly all” followed close behind with 63 respondents, tied with “25 to 50 percent.”

Another audience poll asked what percentage of attendees’ client bases are served using cloud technologies yielded a more progressive response. Of the 203 attendees that responded, 106 chose “nearly all.”

Sleeter’s fourth trend of mobile access dovetails with this technology, as well as client expectations. Small businesses want “their CPA to be a specialist in their industry,” according to 65 percent of surveyed SMBs.

Sleeter closed his keynote by explaining what accounting firms are looking for in their staff. Firms want continuous learners with the best skills who are team players, he explained, though one of the most important skills today is agility.

“Your agility trumps your ability—it has long-term value,” he explained. In light of these disruptive trends, he continued, “Career inflection points happen to you, they don't distinguish your ability, so have to be agile to adjust.”

He referenced Maryland Association of CPAs CEO and Business Learning CEO and founder Tom Hood’s formula for competitive advantage: L>C-squared, or learning faster than the rate of change and your competition.

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