Being a leader in the field of accounting-related technology is not about revenue or staff size, but being ahead of a trend (or trends) and the level of service you deliver in the process.

Our list of Technology Pacesetters has evolved over the years, but it has always been about representative work. While our Killer VARs list showcases outstanding achievements in year-on-year growth, the Pacesetters list focuses on what it means to be a true leader in the field of business technology implementation and consulting. This year, and going forward, we have chosen to narrow the field of representatives, and so it is by no means meant to be a definitive list. The group below is, however, indicative of the kinds of firms that show where the profession is going, in terms of both technology and service.


Paving the way

Armanino Consulting / San Ramon, Calif.

Becoming a virtual CFO for a variety of businesses and organizations is already being touted as the future of the accounting profession; this is a path Armanino Consulting has been paving and owes a majority of its business to of late. The consulting practice is among a growing number of firms looking to the cloud to become a virtual CFO -- acting not only as a back-office assistant, but a true partner in growth.

The firm continues to invest in its own future, adding significantly to its cloud-based technology offerings, and Armanino has seen a significant increase in business for nearly its entire line of accounting, ERP and CRM products. This is in addition to growth in awareness and sales of its self-made business intelligence tool, which was rebranded last year by CCH as CCH ProSystem fx Practice Intelligence, and which Armanino continues to market to other firms.

In fact, the greatest challenge for Armanino these days is "hiring skilled talent," according to partner-in-charge Tom Mescall. "We have invested in a recruiting strategy in 2012 that is paying off with better-qualified candidates and a greater number of referrals from our existing team members," he said.


Advising the advisors

Arxis Technology Inc. / Simi Valley, Calif.

Arxis not only acts as a consultant to small and midsized businesses, but to CPA firms as well, taking the lead in overall IT planning, advising on virtualization and other tactics to help them keep pace and evolve.

The firm's entire DNA is a strong network of technology and accounting experts who regularly interact with some of the brightest minds in technology and the consultant/reseller industry, which for years has allowed the firm to truly stay ahead. In addition, recognizing that cloud-based products represent the future, the firm was early in its moves to represent them. More recently, it established an entire new cloud division focused on implementation of its Software-as-a-Service offerings and education about them.

The firm's greatest challenge has been adjusting to the rapidly changing technology landscape and evolving the traditional VAR model, according to Arxis principal David Cieslak. "Margins are shrinking, competition is increasing, new customers are harder to come by, and the vendor is trying to squeeze the VAR out in certain instances," said Cieslak. "The result is that we have to be closer to our customers, provide the high-level consulting services that cement our 'trusted advisor' status, and offer the products and services that make our customers successful."


Speech! Speech!

BCG Systems / Akron, Ohio

Numerous awards for technology leadership only scratch the surface of what BCG represents as a technology consultant and IT partner. BCG Systems has been at the forefront of technology trends and leading on virtualization and cloud computing, recently achieving "Tier 3 Cloud Champions" status with Microsoft. What's more, the firm is among the few that can truly provide full, end-to-end service for its clients, as it has evolved into a single-source provider of business management software, hardware, and infrastructure. Its leadership role has also garnered the attention of national organizations, who have engaged president and founder Mark Goodson and others from his staff for speaking and writing engagements to share their expertise.


A customer favorite

e2b Teknologies / Chardon, Ohio

Any reseller can claim to provide the highest-quality services; what sets e2b apart from most is its customer retention and its ability to develop customer-centric products. The firm has received the highest honors from the vendors it represents for both development and customer satisfaction. It enjoys a customer retention rating of better than 90 percent year over year, mostly due to a dedicated, full-time support desk. The firm has also leveraged technology to provide customers with a portal to view and log support cases, and can provide a full suite of complementary products and services, which is needed by more and more businesses today.

The firm is also not averse to drinking its own Kool-Aid, as it were, and has begun implementing a new customer relationship management system to formalize communications across the company and its target markets. In addition, it is also developing more cloud applications, instead of premises-based applications, and plans to change its own ERP system in the coming year. Firm leader Bill Henslee said, "This will all help our company keep up with communications both inside and outside of our office walls."


Large but nimble

McGladrey / Minneapolis

McGladrey has become the consummate consultant and partner to local, national and global businesses through the wide range of software and services it offers. These go beyond accounting-related technologies to include services in advisory, infrastructure, outsourcing, mobility and the cloud, as well as non-tech services in tax, audit and operational consulting. Its size helps, allowing the firm to attract and retain top talent and build teams based on the specific technical need and industry experience required by clients.

For its own future, "McGladrey's focus on services innovation can be summed up in two words: cloud and mobility," said national technology consulting leader Brian Becker. "What started out as a movement to anywhere-stored data is the desire to anywhere-access that data. In mid-2011, McGladrey broadened our ERP offerings with cloud-based solutions, and we've since seen tremendous momentum in that area of our business, while building to add other subscription-based solutions" like hosted e-mail, e-mail security and virus protection, cloud-based backup and recovery, and encryption.


Partnering with partners

Net@Work / New York

While Net@Work has grown to be the largest partner in the channel that still solely represents the Sage brand, its place as a Pacesetter goes far beyond size or products. The firm is now able to sell its own products and services and, because of its size and vendor relationship, is able to establish its own network of partners. Net@Work is among the few larger VARs that are offering smaller resellers and consultants opportunities to stay in business and even grow. But it has been delivering on the promise of being an all-in-one shop and partner that sets the firm apart. "What's driven so much of our growth is what sets us apart -- the fact we do so much for the SMB market and most of our competitors [only] do one or two things really well," said co-founder Alex Solomon. "We have infrastructure and business applications and take into account the business processes of a company. It's why our acquisitions have continued and why our alliance program is doing well. Businesses have one place to go to with us."


A pure cloud play

Sererra Consulting Group / Irvine, Calif.

While more leading resellers and consultants add cloud and SaaS-based offerings to their existing portfolios of aging legacy systems, Sererra has established itself as a cloud partner since its inception. Representing purely cloud business applications is one thing, but being successful at it is another and Sererra has proven that the model not only works now, but can in the future, as well.

Aside from taking a lead in a trend, the firm is also finely tuned to its customers' needs. "Our collective years of experience have taught us the importance of listening to our customers and identifying the right product and process for each organization. Instead of suggesting a single product, we have different, best-in-class solutions to choose from, guaranteeing the right fit for each unique business requirement," said Sererra president Nik Puni. "Our greatest challenge over the past year has been expanding our team of engineers and consultants to keep up with demand, but as the economy continues to recover along with interest in SaaS applications, our business has grown exponentially."


Better brew

SWK Technologies Inc. / Livingston, N.J.

For leading VARs, it is not always about the products they represent, but their ability to regularly meet specific client needs. For example, SWK is serving a growing number of independent brewers throughout the U.S. and found that while what it had to offer for ERP was good, it could be better. So it went and built one of the first cloud solutions just for this marketplace, and could potentially build similar offerings for other "underserved" niches. This is what helps SWK stand out.

"We realized several years ago that to empower your clients and partners with knowledge and solutions, you would have to be a leader in each and every practice you offer," said SWK president Jeff Roth. "In order to support your goal to be a leader, SWK has employed the best talent available by casting our employment net far and wide across the United States, hiring professionals with the most advanced skills."


Small but significant

Tamlin Software Developers / Dallas

Being a comparatively small VAR does not necessarily limit your abilities or your impact on your customers and the channel you are in. You can still be at the top of your game and accomplish things businesses many times your staff and revenue size cannot. AccountMate software may not be at the level of SAP, Sage or Microsoft but in this world Tamlin is a leader. Its list of sales and developer awards is extensive, but meeting specific customer needs is what has always allowed the firm to stand out. More recently it has been offering SaaS options to its clients that will help keep the firm "well-positioned in the marketplace, and offering what our customers are asking for and needing," said CEO Linda Bryan. "We have added several add-on packages and services to capture more of our clients' business, serve them better, and fulfill their needs."


CRM champions

Templeton Solutions / West Palm Beach, Fla.

The technology consultants at Templeton Solutions, a subsidiary of CPA firm Templeton & Co., work side by side with Templeton's accounting team, and many of the firm's clients, to develop efficient solutions that optimize resources. More important, Templeton is a part of the realization among CPA firms of all sizes that CRM is and will be an important tool for their practice and their clients. They not only recognize the trend, but have built and are marketing a CPA-profession-specific CRM solution. Though only a small firm, Templeton Solutions has already had an impact on some of the largest CPA firms in the country, most recently Crowe Horwath and BDO USA. In addition, they have developed their own practice management software for the profession, which is garnering similar recognition.

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