Alexandra DeFelice
Alexandra DeFelice

Incorporating Technology Into Your Strategic Plans

How successful CPA firms do it.

November 9, 2009
by Alexandra DeFelice

High-performing firms include technology in their strategic plans and leverage those tools to help them succeed in areas such as client service, practice management and staffing, according to a survey by Opinion Research Center commissioned by CCH.

The survey included quantitative interviews with 100 partners at firms ranging in size from five to more than 100 employees that reported above-average revenue per employee.

Paperless practices topped the list of strategies these firms are using, with 75 percent having a paperless strategy in place, 52 percent of which have been executing on that strategy for at least three years. Within three years, 90 percent expect to have such a strategy.

The top practices included in those paperless strategies are:

  • A document retention and destruction policy
  • Policies and procedures for scanning and using scanned documents
  • Storing information digitally
  • Using tax software that takes advantage of multiple monitors
  • Technology for secure remote access of digital information

When it comes to the specific types of tools to help the paperless move, 83 percent of respondents currently use multiple monitors, with an additional nine percent planning to within three years. Following closely behind, 72 percent indicated they currently use document management systems and another 22 percent plan to within the next three years. In addition, 47 percent utilize scanning tools to organize their documents or electronically input information on tax returns and 21 percent use client portals.

Separately, social media turned up high on the adoption list, with 41 percent of partners leveraging social media tools for professional use, and the majority reporting at least weekly usage. Preferred channels in order of value to partners include professional online communities, followed by blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter respectively. Marketers meanwhile cited blogs as their top tool, as did recruiters.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

Adopting the right tools to give employees the ability to work any time from any place was a common goal among respondents.

Tied into the theme of anytime, anywhere access is the move toward Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, also referred to as “cloud” or Web-based applications. Today, 30 percent of high-performing firms use one more SaaS applications and that is expected to grow to 55 percent within three years, according to the survey.

Benefits these firms expect to realize as a result of SaaS adoption include:

  • Improved efficiency and time savings
  • Improved business continuity
  • Better client service and convenience
  • Lower total cost of ownership and reduced capital expenses
  • Improved application portability
  • Easier software deployments

Roughly 25 percent of firms reported they have professional staff working remotely and are putting solutions in place to support a growing number of mobile workers. When it comes to their devices of choice, 72 percent of those with mobile workforces support laptops that have wireless capabilities, 60 percent support BlackBerrys, iPhones or other PDAs/Smartphones and 25 percent support wireless minis/netbooks.

While this trend toward a mobile workforce is just starting to grow, firms that are using them say they will want those devices to do more over the next three years. Thirty-three percent would like to see them support document management solutions, 32 percent tax and accounting tools, 28 percent knowledge-management solutions and 26 percent tools for practice management.

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Alexandra DeFelice is a Journal of Accountancy senior editor and an AICPA CPA Insider™ columnist. To comment on this story or suggest future technology column ideas, e-mail her or call (212) 596-6122.