While BDO USA has been serving middle-market clients for more than a century, the Top 10 Firm is finding fresh points of connection through its new solutions offering, BDODrive. Launched in late 2016, BDODrive offers a combination of technology solutions, business advisory services, and firm resources — a formula drawn up after months of focus-group research, according to Kelly Johnson, BDO’s national leader of business services and outsourcing.

Johnson’s team worked with an outside consulting group to shape the strategy of BDODrive, polling a collection of clients, prospective clients and non-clients on what they wanted and needed from their accounting firm.

The response formed BDO’s multi-pronged solution: robust, real-time financial data at their fingertips, via tablets and mobile devices; trusted business advisors to interpret that data and provide insight and analysis; and access to specialized knowledge and resources, including the firm’s other business lines.

“We designed BDODrive to blend that all together,” Johnson shared. “The cloud-based, real-time technology with a trusted business advisor, and BDO resources with the geographic reach. I think we did it the correct way — we went to clients and got the client perspective, and took the knowledge to [create] the solution for the business line.”

BDODrive's Kelly Johnson
BDODrive's Kelly Johnson

With innovative technology as the bedrock of BDODrive, the firm formed strategic partnerships with several providers, including Microsoft, Intuit and Bill.com, to create a standard platform for finance and accounting outsourcing solutions — which has also resulted in mutually beneficial relationships.

“It’s a true partnership with the technology partners,” Johnson said. “We provide them with the insight into client situations, client needs, and go back to the technology partners and say, ‘This is what we’re seeing — [they want] this enhancement, or this refinement.’ The technology partners are so appreciative of that, the insight into client needs. They take that, and make those improvements. It’s a nice relationship working together to make solutions for clients continuously.”

BDODrive’s client relationships begin with a discovery phase, when the firm explores the business needs and drivers of prospective clients based on a wide range of data. Then, prospects enter the design phase, with BDO creating a customized solution to address these needs. By the time BDO transitions into the role of service provider, clients have already had a few data-driven realizations.

“Clients, what they seek is empowerment with data,” Johnson explained. “They are looking for the ability to access information, the ability to analyze it, and to use that data as a competitive advantage. We are surprised when prospective clients come to us and do not have enough visibility into data, and make decisions without being fully armed with that. We keep seeing that desire from clients to get the relevant data for decision-making.”

The BDODrive team collaborates with clients to determine exactly which numbers will be relevant, helping them “make connections they never thought to connect before.” Retail clients, for example, might find powerful new insights in the weather, Johnson explained. By analyzing daily sales against weather data for that particular day and location, stores can devise new strategies for attracting customers. With this kind of insight, BDO shifts from number crunching to business advisement.

“It’s not the standard, ‘These were your sales, that happened month over month or year over year’ — we bring other elements into that,” Johnson continued. “It opens up possibilities they can utilize to drive their business forward, with whatever interpretation of data they want to use. That’s powerful.”

Such commanding data requires expert interpreters. BDO has long provided this in the form of numbers analysis and advisory work, but BDODrive pushes those skills further up the value chain into better client communication and partnership. With that, the firm has had to expand its staff training to include more of these soft skills.

“There’s a transformation of the staff from more of an accounting transaction mindset to becoming a more valued business advisor to clients,” Johnson shared. “To empower clients with data, and empower the team with data. We have a very robust training program. We have transformed that to be in alignment with BDODrive solutions, the transformation into business advisors for staff, who may have been previously doing transactions, financial statements, and stopping there.”


THE DRIVE TO THRIVE

BDODrive not only extends that client-advisor relationship, but the one employees want to have with the firm, Johnson believes.

“I think it drives talent, in practice, retaining top talent,” she said. “It’s much more interesting and fulfilling for our employees. They have this leading-edge technology, and the process. The technology is one thing — the facilitator, to be able to have discussions with clients.” BDODrive’s top talent has to flourish in an ever-changing environment, Johnson explained, which can always be a challenge.

“The cycle of change management, it is a hurdle to go through … . Change management and communication — that is another large item that needs to be focused on when transforming a practice like that,” Johnson said. “It cannot be overlooked or short-changed; it is critical for the success of such a transformation. We spend a great deal of our time with that, and it dovetails into what I mentioned with training. The training had to change; it can’t be the same training done years ago. Change transformation and communication has to be at the forefront of any firm’s plan … . Overall, the team involved has to thrive in an environment of continual change. Find those leaders that do thrive. That’s the new norm.”

One key to survival in this new paradigm is agility. “Continual improvement is not having the 100 percent answer and knowing it’s 100 percent right,” Johnson explained. “You just have to realize this solution, you keep refining it, and get closer and closer to what you were looking for — and something new will pop up. You have to be comfortable in that situation.”

Johnson identifies continuous intellectual curiosity as another essential trait for innovation in accounting. BDODrive cannot fall into the complacency of “the way it’s always been done.” Instead, Johnson’s team uses both their communication skills to identify what clients want and need, and their technical proficiencies to implement the best solutions.

“We have had a continuous refinement of our solutions, with enhancements and bringing more business intelligence to our clients,” Johnson shared. “We can’t rest where we are now; we have so much to do, refine and improve. The technology will continue to change and open up new opportunities …. On the people side, arming them with new tools, and always improving their ability to add value to client relationships — those things together allow us to increase the number of clients, and the complexity of clients.”

Since its 2016 inception, more than a thousand clients have been converted to the BDODrive platform, Johnson reports, including both emerging and middle-market companies. Last year, Johnson was honored with CPA.com’s 2017 Innovative Practitioner Award, a peer-chosen accolade recognizing innovation in process services or technology implementation in public accounting.

Johnson plans to continue blazing new trails in the profession with BDODrive.

“By having a different mindset, what we have can be improved upon, and we can continue to have an entrepreneurial look at the solution and how to approach the market,” she said. “It’s just our culture — we are trying to achieve the best in class and we can’t stagnate at all.”


AT A GLANCE

Practice BDODrive (BDO USA)

Headquarters McLean, Va.

National practice leader Kelly Johnson

Year founded 2016

Services Accounting; financial management; business advisory

Industry specialties Emerging and middle-market companies

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Danielle Lee

Danielle Lee

Danielle Lee, managing editor of Accounting Today, previously served as technology editor of Accounting Today and editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.