It's been a year since practitioners who celebrate a new way of doing business engaged the profession. This cadre is calling for others to redefine their firms by moving away from the traditional model. We are pushing a collaborative, holistic approach, helping to create the "new" firm.

Let's look at the players who make a firm successful: employees, customers, prospects and partners. While everyone has a role in a "new" firm, new virtual ways of collaboration are what truly makes it different.

The old way of firm communication doesn't meet the needs of today's customer, or even the accounting professional. The firm model is broken and requires a rebuild.

Communication has always been one of the biggest challenges that traditional firms faced in the pre-cloud and pre-social-media world. Now add the fast turnaround demanded by today's client and the Internet. It's no wonder the traditional firm is having issues keeping pace. Communication and transparency are now critical in today's business environment.

Using the cloud fundamentally changes the relationship and communication expectations with your client and within your firm. This is one of the key factors of disruption to the firm. It's not the software itself that is disruptive -- most cloud software is just like any on-premise software. The key difference, however, is that everyone can see the latest version of the software and data in real time.

It's the real-time that creates the chaos within the firm. This chaos is not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes critical for the firm to rethink 100 percent of its processes for delivering financial statements and consulting engagements.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY KICKS IN

First of all, you can no longer blame an outside source for not making deadlines. You can't say, "I didn't get the bank statements." It becomes irrelevant because the bank data uploads in real time. New expectations must be evaluated and communicated with the client. This is critical to building trust.

Another factor to consider is that online tools have histories; therefore your client can see the log-in of the last user. Transparency will change your relationship with your client in an awesome way.

Now that you are working in the cloud, you and your employees are mining the data in real time. It's one file. Repeat: one file! And this is a great thing.

You will be changing, updating and correcting it in real time. You must realize that it brings along many traditional old-firm-model processes that need to be changed, or at the very least updated. How will you review these changes if you don't have work papers? How will you document these changes? How will you train new staff? How will your clients' staff react to your changes to their file? There are new questions and expectations that need to be addressed in order to maintain goodwill as you transition your client into these new ways of working with your firm. Also, keep in mind that the opportunities to be working in this file will come more than once a year at tax time.

 

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

You will have to let go a little as a firm owner and figure out how comfortable you are with letting your staff loose on a client's file. It requires more training upfront than most traditional firms provide.

Again, this is what is disruptive to the firm -- not the software. The cloud software, though, exposes many "old school" practices that just won't work anymore. Those practices will need to be updated. The new processes, I believe, are much better for firms but, admittedly, they will create havoc in the interim.

Get to know your vendor. By communicating regularly, they can have a positive impact on your firm. If you find an issue or an annoyance while using the cloud software, tell them! In many cases it can be fixed quickly or seamlessly if the vendor is on the ball.

Break through your fear of being too transparent. Yes, it is true that much of what you are doing is more public -- to both your customers and to your employees. To remain competitive, you have to be comfortable with this. You need to just steel yourself to this new way of interaction and engagement. Holding back will ultimately hurt your firm as others move forward faster with greater transparency and ease.

Using the cloud with clear expectations and good communication will build rapport, trust and loyalty. Transparency is a good thing but it will make you more vulnerable. My advice to you is this: Make peace with your vulnerability and you can win at this communications game.

The accounting profession now has the technology to support new communication and collaboration processes, allowing firms to perform more work in less time with fewer resources. We have created an environment where information sharing has increased exponentially, thereby allowing us to output deliverables markedly faster. This is a good thing. Embrace it. It's key to you surviving and thriving in today's new world.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal of New Vision CPA Group, as well as an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College. She speaks nationally on various technologies and taxation.

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