[IMGCAP(1)]We may have arrived a bit late to the party, but it’s safe to say that accounting has finally entered the digital age. Is technology a caped crusader that will imbue us with superhuman powers? Or will it do little more than help us keep up with the Joneses in a fast-changing world?

 

WHAT IS A DIGITAL FIRM?

We’ve facilitated counting and calculating dating from the advent of the abacus around 2,400 BC. In 4,400 years we’ve made some impressive strides. Today, it’s a digital smörgåsbord of personalized client portals, mobile apps, social media, CRM software, cloud computing and more. How powerful is this technology superhero? In some cases, strong enough to knock down brick-and-mortar buildings, permitting virtual firms to arise in their place!

All practitioners have adopted technology at some level. For the truly digital CPA, however, technology is at the epicenter of the practice, the hub from which decisions and strategies derive. Digital firms are developing and adapting leading edge tools to outpace the competition. And it’s working.

While technology has advanced in the past 30 years, it has remained largely a back-room tool to support the delivery of work. Computers have helped CPAs with time & billing matters, invoicing, collections and file management, boosting efficiency and streamlining operations.

Fast forward to today and to digital strategies that fundamentally affect everything we do — not just the way we deliver our services, but the client’s total experience, as well as the way we sell, market and develop new services. At digital-centric firms, technology is infused in every aspect of the practice, starting with the use of social media to convey a firm’s individual phil­o­so­phy and thought leadership, identifying buyers who like how we think.

It extends to these buyers — wherever in the world they may be — through Skype, Face Time, Google Voice or similar platforms. Ease of communication lets firms be more selective about clients, taking time to thoroughly vet them and determine if the fit is right.

Once a client is on board, cloud and portal capability permit delivery of customized services. This fosters a highly personalized client experience based on continuous communication, rather than episodic contact once a year around production of the annual audit or tax return.

Being and staying in touch on a regular basis enables the CPA to spot gaps in service and recommend solutions. The result is a productive, high-touch relationship more akin to the consulting model than traditional accounting.

Other things change in turn. An example is billing structure, with some firms now abandoning hourly billing for project-based or other structures of remuneration. For others, digital capacity has changed talent acquisition and infrastructure. Some firms are even questioning the need for team members to co-exist in the same building, or in the same country for that matter.

 

DON YOUR CAPE AND DO THIS

A common pitfall is to take on technology piecemeal — one from Column A and two from Column B. It’s tempting to grab hold of an attractive software program here or a CRM solution there. But the most successful digital firms harness power from system integration — linking the front and the back of the house in a way that leads to significant competitive advantage.

There is a sea of change under way in the (slow-to-change) practice of accounting. To maximize its benefit, you must approach technology at the business model level, not incrementally.

Don’t delay. If you wait, the niches and clients in your sights will soon be gobbled up by more digitally advanced firms, resulting in a Swiss cheese marketplace with holes big enough to fall through. Become the captain of your own digital planet and make tomorrow happen today.

Gale Crosley, CPA, is the founder of Crosley+Co., and consults with accounting firms on revenue growth. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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