High-performing firms gain an advantage when they adopt single, integrated solutions, CCH Software chief Teresa Mackintosh told attendees of the company’s user conference, held here.

In her opening remarks at the 2015 CCH Connections conference, Mackintosh, who is president and CEO of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting US, CCH Software, revealed the results of a survey conducted by Aberdeen Group that identified the efficiencies gained by “highly effective” firms when they start using integrated end-to-end workflow solutions.

Among the gains they reported over the past 12 month:

  • An average 5 percent improvement in the time it took to prepare a tax return.
  • An 8 percent improvement in the number of clients served.
  • A 5 percent improvement in the number of employees needed to complete a tax return.

“Saving five minutes per tax return may not sound like much – but if your firm does a thousand returns? Two thousand?” Mackintosh pointed out. “That’s hundreds of hours.”
Among the specific benefits of integrated solutions Mackintosh cited were automated data extraction from paper documents, enhanced project management functionality, and automated notifications based on defined criteria. Only around half of all the firms surveyed are using these, she noted: “The firms that do this get ahead.”

“Single, integrated solutions produce an upward spiral of efficiency and profitability,” Mackintosh told the audience, not just in terms of saving time, but in freeing up staff to perform higher-value-added services, and removing much of the tedious grunt work that can make the profession unattractive to younger staff.

Driving many of the advantages of the integrated approach is having one core database of information. “You’re not doing that reconciliation stuff that was unavoidable with ‘best-of-breed’ solutions,” she said in an interview. “Having all of that data in one place, people are seeing a lot efficiencies with that. It is simple things like not opening and closing programs as much, you’re not switching years of things – it provides a basis to have visibility to your clients and to your staff.”

Integrated solutions also tend to benefit by being less tied to previous ways of doing work. “In the preceding generation of technology, we took what was from paper or from DOS, in some cases, and we said, ‘OK, this is what this should look like,’” she told Accounting Today. “That made perfect sense to us because we all started with the workflow of paper, so we knew why it was that way, and it was logical and linear to us. When you’re starting from a place where that was never your starting point, you’re saying, ‘Why would you do it this way?’ When you design with that in mind, it cuts out a lot of steps, because you’ve taken away a lot of noise.”

 

NOT ALL AT ONCE

Mackintosh stressed that, while firms didn’t need to adopt an entire set of integrated solutions all at once, they did need to start adopting individual solutions with that final integration in mind. “The strategic plan has to be holistic, but you can have an evolutionary path to get to desired state,” she told Accounting Today. “Piecemeal analysis doesn’t work, but piecemeal adoption is all right. You can have a planned approach to integration, but rarely do firms separate those two things. Too often, firms don’t stop and look at the big picture – literally, on a white board: ‘This is what we want to be.’”

That approach will take firms beyond the immediate time-savers and efficiencies offered by integrated solutions to a different level of advantage: “If you view technology as a strategic asset, it will feed your growth,” she said.

And automating the production and provision of basic information to clients and staff allows accountants to deliver more value to clients. “The value is the insight you provide on top of that information. Clients ask, ‘How can you give me advice to grow my business?’ You can go from information to insight to action.”

A white paper based on the survey, “Laying the Foundation for Firm Success in 2016: Complete, Integrated Solutions,” is available here.

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