Roy Martin Jr. is president and chief executive of Thomson Tax & Accounting, a subsidiary of The Thomson Corp. and a provider of information and workflow solutions to accounting, tax and corporate finance professionals.

Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the information services and technology industry. Prior to joining TTA in 2005, he was president and chief executive officer of Dialog, where he directed the transformation of the company into a provider of technical and business information for information professionals.

Before being named president of Dialog in 2000, he served as executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Thomson Legal & Regulatory. He became part of Thomson in 1993, as senior vice president of Lawyers Cooperative Publishing, guiding the company into the digital information business. The first decade of Martin's career was spent in the computer systems and software industry.

In an exchange with WebCPA , Martin talked about his subsidiary's February announcement of a major realignment, new products coming down the pipeline, the challenges facing each of Thomson's lines of business and the lay of the accounting software land -- now and in the future.

It's been just over a year since you took the helm atThomson Tax and Accounting -- what's been the biggest challenge over your first 13 months on the job?

The biggest challenge for me thus far has actually been two-fold. First, I've been actively re-learning the legal and tax publishing industry after spending four years at Dialog, which had a totally different business model and different customer base than TTA. However, after spending so much time in legal and tax publishing with The Thomson Corp. and West during the 1990s, and serving as chief strategy officer for Thomson Legal & Regulatory for several years, the transition has really not been difficult.

Secondly, I've worked hard in the past 15 months to ensure that I visited each of our major sites and spent as much time as possible with our people and our managers, as well as with our customers. Over half of my time in 2005 was spent traveling, listening and exchanging ideas. Seeing the world through the eyes of both your customers and your employees is extremely helpful for any leader, and it certainly has been for me. We are approaching 3,000 employees this year at TTA, and that can be a bit more difficult than it sounds.

Can you talk about the success of recent acquisitions and/or initiatives (such as Tax Alerts)? What other new products are coming down the pipeline?

In both 2004 and 2005, we made a number of strategic acquisitions that served to help us either expand into new territory or better serve our existing customers. In each case, we have been very pleased with our success rate, and all of the newly acquired company or product lines have met our integration objectives . We're extremely pleased with our results in this area.

Certainly, we will continue to expand through acquisitions, but we are more focused on growing our business by adding new customers and increasing the value we offer existing customers through new products and services... .

The reorganization of your division has been talked about for a while. Why'd it happen now?

When I arrived at TTA, there had been discussions of reorganization for quite awhile. After spending a lot of time with our managers and thought leaders, we simply felt it was time for us to move forward and focus increasingly on the needs of our customers through their eyes, and not through ours -- and do it assertively.

In many cases, we had multiple points of focus on different customer groups, such as professional accounting firms, and in other cases our internal organization prevented us from bringing the best solutions to our customers' desktops. So, there was certainly a sense of urgency, from my standpoint, to better align our assets, talent and resources in the logical way we have.

While the changes in our organization were only just announced in February of this year, we've been working on implementing them since last spring. It takes a lot of work to make changes of the magnitude we initiated, and our focus was on keeping the internal changes just that -- internal -- while ensuring as much as possible that the changes were transparent to customers. ... We hope that customers will begin to see the first benefits from our changes in 2006, and for years to come.

What, if any, differences will your existing customers notice?

Well, I think the most dramatic near-term benefit they will notice will be more aggressive product integration across all of our lines of products, and to some extent, the products of other companies. For instance, the integration of our PPC Accounting & Auditing guidance with the RIA Checkpoint online platform is just one example of integration that will benefit all of our Checkpoint customers. ... Another [example] is the integration of the PPC e-Practice Aids line of products with our UltraTax CS platform, which will be expanded as the year goes on.

In addition, I think customers will see us continue to look at bundling our products and services differently, and visiting different and exciting ways to serve them even better from a customer service standpoint.

Can you briefly talk about the opportunities and challenges facing each of the product lines?

Each of our new business units serves somewhat different, but slightly overlapping, customer groups and market segments. Each of them reaches somewhat different audiences, with different needs, different concerns and different alternatives to choose from in the market. So, while we have significant opportunities to take integration to a new level within the industry, we also have some distinct goals we are focusing on.

At Research & Guidance, we are working hard to continue to aggressively advance the excellent traction we have gained in the marketplace with RIA Checkpoint during the past few years, and are now also methodically expanding the PPC line of products and services into new areas that our customers are asking us for.

At Professional Software & Services, our biggest single product advantage is the total integration of the various software applications we offer, which professional firms use to automate their offices, both back- and front-office. The integra tion among our suite of applications is really quite groundbreaking in the industry, and remains a uniquely compelling story for our customers and prospects. Building off of this platform of integration is central to expanding our position and range of services even further for tax and accounting firms of all sizes and complexity.

At Corporate Software & Services, we have a solid and expanding position in corporate income tax, and are working hard to further expand the suite of integrated income tax solutions we offer our corporate customers with our InSource and Fast-Tax brands, while providing more integration with Checkpoint. The alternatives that our customers confront here among corporate tax customers are much different than in our other two businesses.

Before joining Thomson in 1993, where you would eventually helm Dialog, your background was focused in computers systems and the software industry. What's the big opportunity in the accounting software world now? Three years in the future?

My business career began in the computer and software field. I was in that field for about 14 years before I joined Thomson. However, from time to time, I do see some parallels in our industry today with other trends that I saw and experienced over the years as an active participant.

First, I think the drive by providers like TTA towards the "integrated applications suite" concept is exactly what has happened in other industries and what will eventually happen in the accounting software industry. Customers don't want disparate sets of applications and datasets -- by and large they want single-entry applications that capture data one time, and then populate multiple applications with similar interfaces.

Whether customers build and integrate these themselves, or buy them from other providers, integration is the key. Today we spend no time worrying about the integration between Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint. It's just there. I think that our industry is moving rapidly in that direction as well, and I think that customers will drive the providers to do this, and penalize those that do not. Customers want systems, not products.

Secondly, I think that ease of use is becoming increasingly more important, particularly in our industry, where the software applications are necessarily complex due to the topics they address. As the software application gets more complex, and the need for integration becomes more critical, then the need to focus on easy-to-use software will increase. This phenomenon is made even more critical because our clients are rapidly taking on more and more staff to meet the increasing demands of their customers. Their new staffs have fast-moving and demanding start-up and training needs, which is made easier when the software is easy to use.

Finally, in my experience in the software industry, excellent customer service is not just a measure of success for companies that thrive, it defines success. For myself, and my competitors, I consider it to be "table stakes" simply to enter the game. Customers understand the value of consistent, stable and accessible service and support, and I think that those providers that do well will be those that understand that excellent customer service is a prerequisite to compete for business in the 21st century. It's just not optional. Our clients have demanding customers who expect excellent service from them -- as a result, they will accept nothing less from us.

Anything else you'd like to add?

From an information and software technology perspective, this is an exciting time to be in the tax and accounting profession. Technology promises to continue to bring fundamental and positive change to the profession in the next few years.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access