[IMGCAP(1)]It’s been terrific to watch the profession discover the momentum that technology can bring to their firms and their clients and I’m often asked what the most successful CPA firms are doing with technology.  In many cases, they’re harnessing cloud-based solutions to take specialization and industry focus to a whole new level. 

The recipe is simple: Combine powerful, Web-based tools with a deep understanding of a client’s business operations and environment. Replicate that success with similar companies, and your CPA firm is poised for substantial growth. 

The basic process and productivity improvements from Web-based tools are familiar to most practice leaders, even those who haven’t fully embraced the cloud.  When considering use of Web-based tools, always start with information that’s always accessible and can be updated instantly; the ability to create powerful, easily grasped financial reports; and the development of better capabilities for business continuity and disaster recovery, but these benefits are just the beginning.

While specialization can  pose challenges, to do it right you have to completely reimagine the most effective way to deliver results for your client, based on that specific vertical or sector. For example, take the retail or hospitality industry. What can you do to drive efficiency and add value from the time a sale is rung up to the creation of detailed financial reports for the business owner? The ultimate goal is giving the client clear, insightful guidance on decisions that will shape his or her business. 

For example, one of our CPA firm partners has a substantial expertise delivering technology solutions for the restaurant industry. Recently it was able to develop a suite of cloud-based applications for a small Boston-based restaurant chain that wanted access to real-time financial data to guide expansion plans.

The restaurant’s finance and back-office operations weren’t delivering the results the company was looking for, so it turned to the firm’s business process outsourcing platform which incorporates tools such as Bill.com and Intacct to get better visibility into the restaurant chain’s financial situation and sharpen its planning and budgeting. 

Since the engagement began, the company has opened two new restaurants despite a shaky economy.  But whether it’s the restaurant business or another industry, the idea is to create a technology-driven road map that other businesses in the same niche can use.

Remember, your firm isn’t just delivering an overview--you have to be well-versed in the finer details, too. You may need to know, for example, which point-of-sale devices are best for collecting data on retail sales. You also have to have a firm grasp of the standardized services you’ll need for the sector, and lay out premium rates for times when you have to deviate from those.

The goal is to create a standardized practice built around your niche, with pre-built templates so you can get clients up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible. As your business grows, the push toward standardization gives you economies of scale. But successful firms aren’t creating a cookie cutter approach, they’re using a well-designed blueprint that can be tweaked to best serve each client.

In short, the opportunities for specialization are limitless and there’s still time to stake out your turf, but it pays to learn from your early adopter peers too.

Erik Asgeirsson is President and CEO of CPA2Biz, the technology subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs.

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