Members of the accounting profession and providers who serve the profession share something in common: value. Practitioners and solution providers want the very best for their customers and clients, often pushing each other to use and develop technologies and processes that breed excellence.
Consider document management - a.k.a. paperless or less-paper technologies. Public and private accountants who understand the "why" behind document management are the ones you want to work with most. They know it no longer takes more than a few clicks to find a document, while integration with workflow is key to a functioning, efficient accounting system.
After speaking to hundreds of CPAs, accountants, chief financial officers and internal auditors, I've observed two distinct sets of people: those who really "get it" and those who don't.
Most of the time, I think it's in an accountant's DNA to be inquisitive; this group wants to discover something new or different. Yet there is always a careful, cautious skepticism, which is usually resolved by a discussion and a visual demonstration about how document management can help a client.
I have an associate who recently spoke to a group of accountants about improving client retention through technology. The day prior to his talk, the group of 50 members who united for the state group's annual meeting spent the day discussing technology, with presentations from the organization's members. My friend laughed at first, and then was sort of surprised, at the lack of knowledge this group had about some very basic processes.
Believe it or not, e-filing was the hottest technology discussed. My friend had to burn the midnight oil to make his presentation a bit more basic, but did manage in the end to encourage the group to read as much as possible and begin using some of the more advanced accounting technologies.
His story isn't too dissimilar from what I see and hear when I travel and meet accountants. Most anyone who thinks e-filing is a hot technology probably wants to continue doing paper-based tax returns. Yet all of us suffer from what I refer to as an awareness issue - we do not think about, or want to learn, something new until we are forced to do so.
Document management is just like that. If you serve clients or employees who are perfectly happy with your services just the way they are, why change?
Here are a few of the questions I am often asked about the topic:
1. Will the technology work with the system I already own? What the person is really asking about is integration. By far, this is the No. 1 question I get. After all, if your firm has made a substantial investment in a certain kind of system, you don't want to buy something new.
I can practically see the CPA brain working overtime. It is busy mentally calculating how many more hours need to be billed in order to rationalize buying a new module or enduring custom programming to make something fit.
Most major accounting systems either come with a document management module, or can be retrofitted as needed. However, those who ask this question don't know that! It's up to the providers to educate customers on the latest and greatest technology - yet also realize that cost is a huge selling point.
2. How does document management work in the cloud? I'm very impressed when someone asks me about cloud computing. CPAs and accountants who attend many of the trade shows hosted by the American Institute of CPAs or through state CPA societies are very aware of Software-as-a-Service, thanks to experts who deliver presentations on the topic.
I'm not a cloud expert, but once I explain how the cloud works, I see a light go off in the person's head - something I find exciting and satisfying, because I've now helped someone learn about the advantages of letting someone else manage security, storage, encryption and other components of document management.
3. How easy are the technologies to use? Plug-and-play solutions are the key to answering this question. Anyone who admits that they don't want to learn much about back-office technology really does not want to do more than plug in something and let it play.
Most document management systems are easy to use, but they also require user input before reaching the point of seamless activity. You have to teach them how to behave before they know how to perform. This concept really isn't so foreign to most CPAs and accountants. After all, they've been doing this for years with tax software.
More than anything else, I believe providers to the accounting profession have an important responsibility to make their customers smarter through education. Everyone needs to know what they don't know.
Kimberly Hogan is business development manager at Fujitsu Computer Products of America. Reach her at (949) 551-5601 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at @ScanSnapKim.
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