Voices

The new digital era calls for a new digital strategy

Over the past two decades, accounting software has evolved from stand-alone desktop solutions that didn’t “talk” to one another to the all-in-one suite. For years, the software suite was a vehicle for indoctrinating firms on technology infrastructure. The turnkey approach made sense back then, but not today. A reliance on a single vendor’s innovation to “keep pace” with a rapidly changing digital marketplace doesn’t work anymore — especially in a mobile-focused, on-demand consumer world.

With so many advanced cloud-based solutions available, firms now have choice of the technologies that make up their digital stack. The profession no longer has to rely on a single vendor. They no longer have to accept “good enough” technologies just because they are part of an overall suite. The time has come for firms to be intentional about their digital culture.

Be intentional about your digital culture

Shifting customer expectations requires a strong digital culture inside your firm. It’s a whole new world for firms — with so many premium technology options to support a modern digital strategy. Your digital stack and strategy make up the core of your firm’s overall digital culture.

Much like your firm’s broad culture, your digital culture is composed of the collective beliefs and behaviors within your organization that drive your internal processes and client interactions. So the big question is: “Do you have a strong digital culture?” That is, one that is modern, one that meets the needs of today’s technologically savvy and mobile-craving workforce and client? Firms must be intentional about their digital culture — always looking for new innovations to meet the needs of staff and clients and remain among the vanguard of professional providers.

To be intentional about your digital culture means consistently researching and selecting only the best solutions. It means implementing only modern, best-of-breed applications that connect with other tools and enhance your digital stack. It’s important to note here that a solution should not automatically be categorized as best-of-breed just because it connects. For example, tools that are part of a suite may “talk” to one another, but that doesn’t equal best-of-breed in every situation.

Firms that adopt technology on the sole reason of connectivity tend to adhere to a “good enough” mentality: “It connects, therefore it’s fine.” Good enough technology has been the status quo for more than two decades. But it simply can’t sustain a firm today when you consider the modern expectations of clients and staff.

Clients not only expect, but demand a highly convenient and rich experience when working with any vendor — and that includes their accounting professional. Your staff have the same technology expectations. Remember that most consumers are using top-tier apps in their daily lives — technology that greatly enhances the user experience. Amazon 1-Click purchasing technology and the Starbucks Order & Pay app are just a few examples of technology that provide the level of convenience and “frictionless” experience consumers expect.

Today, the lofty expectation of frictionless client service is no longer confined to the mass consumer market. It has crossed the line into professional services — into the accounting profession. Consider also that most current staff (and the next generation of professionals) desire a rich experience as well. They want to work within a modern digital culture that embraces the best technologies to support the needs of mobile-driven, rich experience-seeking clients.

Considering the needs (and demands) of consumers, the idea of selecting a tool for your digital stack just because the pieces integrate no longer makes sense. This new digital era requires firms to think differently about their digital culture. It demands that firm leaders look beyond basic integration and ask a different set of questions:

  • Does our firm support a digital culture that embraces modern tools?
  • Does our technology support a modern client experience? Is it frictionless and highly convenient?
  • Does our digital stack support mobile?
  • Does our digital culture embrace the highest level of security?

To keep up in a rapidly changing technology world requires time and attention. It requires firms to actively seek out and evaluate multiple solutions to identify world-class cloud technologies in order to meet the demands of tech-savvy staff and clients. And that means that “good enough” for any solution just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So, we are at a major crossroads in the profession. Do we maintain a “good enough” mentality and hope to support today’s staff and clients? Or, do we embrace a new era and start thinking differently?

Why it’s critical to think differently

In 1997, Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple implored us to “Think Different.” At the heart of this popular ad campaign was a push to get people to view the world differently than they had before; to think creatively. The Think Different campaign aligned with the advent of technology devices — foreshadowing the impact they would have on the broad consumer market. Little did we know back then just how big of an impact these devices would have on our daily lives.

Today, we are again in an era of immense change and transition. And this time the impact will be far greater in terms of disruption to our businesses. The Think Different era represented a time of mass consumer empowerment while the current shift will be more disruptive, especially at the professional services level. This requires accounting professionals to think differently about how they meet client expectations, how they cultivate a digital culture, and how they operate their practices overall. Of course, for many, this is much easier said than done.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer Inc., wears an iPod Shuffle around his neck during his keynote at Macworld in San Francisco  on January 11, 2005.
Apple Computer Inc.'s Steve Jobs wears the new iPod Shuffle as he talks at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, California, January 11, 2005. Bloomberg/Kimberly White

Accounting professionals tend to be creatures of habit; they get comfortable with the status quo. This is exactly why “good enough” has been the norm for more than two decades. This is what needs to change. The time has come for firms to take the wheel. To be responsible for driving their digital culture. To think differently about what it means to implement real change.

The profession is at a point in its business evolution where firms should be evaluating (and consistently re-evaluating) every digital tool used and every service offered. And firms must be strategic and deliberate about it — or otherwise run the risk of being negatively disrupted. Even for firm owners who plan to coast to the end of their career, current major shifts could significantly reduce the value of the business they’ve worked a lifetime to build.

Why it’s time to move beyond incremental change

Many firms are still operating with desktop-based and/or hosted software that they’ve arguably been using for the past 20 years. And many are also still delivering the same services. Forgiving the generalization, it seems that the majority of accounting professionals avoid change when possible — the natural tendency being to accept incremental change, especially in the realm of technology.

It’s now time to consider going beyond just the next evolution of change, whether that’s your service offerings or the technologies used to deliver them. It’s time to strive for significant improvements. To consider technologies that take you out of the status quo and allow you to work and serve your clients to meet modern-world expectations. To change the way you’ve always done things. To work the way your staff and your clients want to work — mobile, convenient, secure and frictionless.

So here are the next big questions: With the world changing at a rapid pace, does it make sense to do the expected and accept incremental change — to essentially keep doing what you’ve always done? Or should you think differently and consider all the possibilities, even the ones beyond your comfort zone?

These questions cannot be taken lightly. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, does that mean it’s the right way? Is it the way of the future?

Taking the unexpected route means actively vetting digital tools to enhance experience at every level of your firm — from staff engagement to client interactions. For example, it means moving out of siloed and highly insecure email (91 percent of security breaches start with a simple email) and adopting world-class communications apps like Slack and Zoom for internal staff communications and an invite-only communications platform for clients. Moving to a cloud-based digital stack to support client accounting and advisory work using modern technologies like Bill.com, Fathom and QBO, to name only a few. These are the types of world-class applications that will not only support today’s clients and staff, but also prepare you for the future and the coming age of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. But you get the picture — the bigger picture — to think ahead and to think differently. It’s time to be intentional about your digital culture. It’s time to position your firm for today and the future.

If you are in a state of being comfortable with the status quo, you are not alone. But this is not an excuse to stay still. Shake the status quo. Stop accepting “good enough.” If an application is not world-class, then it doesn’t belong in your firm. The choices you make over the next couple of years will set the stage for the types of employees and clients you attract; today’s clients, your ideal clients.

It’s time to reconsider “good enough.” It’s time to think differently and to go beyond incremental thinking. We are firmly in a new digital era, which demands a new, modern digital strategy.