Striving for objectives - such as a paperless office - generally results in attaining objectives that typically were not given consideration during the planning process.

That is assuming that firms spent any time planning their paperless initiatives. Most firms don't spend enough time planning. What we see in a limited number of firms are strategic by-products developing from the paperless initiatives, and the results of the by-products are greater than the gain from the original objective of a paperless audit.

A by-product is defined by Merriam Webster as "a secondary and sometimes unexpected or unintended result."

I want to relate a story of one firm's success and the profile of today's competent auditor. First, I want to list some of the by-products these firms are experiencing:

* Increased opportunities;

* Reduced time on engagements;

* Increase in perceived value by the client;

* Improved audit service; and,

* The ability to attract quality young talent.

Josh Teeple, CPA, CFE, has been with the Los Angeles-based firm of Grobstein, Horwath & Co. LLP since 1997. When I asked him about his degree at a recent meeting, he smiled and said that he had a business administration degree with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Colorado. While I am sure his marketing skills are of great value, wait until you hear about the types of engagements that he is conducting utilizing data extraction and analysis tools.

His skills have opened a whole new area of technological service for his firm in forensic accounting and consulting. Much of this technological advancement is a by-product of the firm's move toward a paperless audit environment.

As Josh tells the story, "Our firm has embraced a new level of technological capability in the performance of our attest engagements. Our single largest push has been a migration towards paperless engagements. Through the use of high-end workflow and electronic document management software, we have become almost 100 percent paperless in the audit practice."

"Soon after we began working in a paperless environment," he continues, "we saw an opportunity to apply additional sophisticated technological tools to process the electronic data that we were dealing with in greater frequency. Whenever possible, we work closely with our clients to assist them in producing their schedules in a digitized format. Not only is this type of electronic data more accurate and complete, but it also allows us to apply analyses and audit procedures that were virtually impossible to perform on traditional paper documentation.

"After the inundation of this new electronic data, our firm quickly realized that Excel, being limited and somewhat unwieldy, could not provide all of the solutions to cope with this type of information. We began looking into a more robust, database-oriented program to deal with the larger data sets. In conjunction with the purchase of Idea, our firm sent my associate, Ben Howard, and me to intensive, hands-on training in order to become experts in working with large data sets using the new software.

"We were chosen for this type of professional development because we already had database backgrounds and a comfort level working with technology that surpassed most of our peers. By becoming accomplished, experienced auditors who also understood the application of technology to attest engagements, we fulfilled a niche area in our firm and were able to work closely with the audit staff to bring new auditing tools to bear.

"We are now able to perform, with relative ease, new statistical analyses to entire populations of data. We can perform exception tests, redundant key detection, stratified random sampling, Benford's analysis, and many other tools to help us better perform attest engagements. We are able to reduce sample sizes and quickly verify the accuracy of client data. We can search entire general ledgers and journal entry listings for exceptions and anomalies. Through these types of value-added procedures, we increase audit efficiency, effectiveness and, ultimately, client satisfaction."

The new necessary skills

Josh himself illustrates some key points that differentiate his firm from most:

* Training;

* A database background;

* A comfort with and knowledge of technology that surpassed most peers;

* A knowledge of auditing and technology; and,

* A new approach to auditing.

Products like Idea and ACL have been available for over 10 year - and yet many firms have resisted using them, and relied upon checklists and internal controls in their audit approach instead.

In addition to applying advanced technology to traditional auditing services, the firm also uses these skills and services for litigation consulting, forensic accounting, fraud investigation, economic analysis, data mining and database consulting.

Today's auditor requires additional skills.

Are your skills up to date? If they are, there are unlimited opportunities in today's environment to provide value to existing clients, as well as prospective clients.

The technology tools and skills by themselves are not enough, however; your accounting firm still requires quality personnel, marketing skills and engagement management in order to succeed.

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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