“LEAN” Tax Production Opportunities

Your firm went paperless for tax processing a long time ago, but are you really taking advantage of the digital tools and production processes that have evolved since then? Many CPA firms created digital versions of processes that simply emulated their manual processes. For example, moving physical check-in lists to spreadsheets, scanning a client’s tax return at the back-end for archival, converting tax routing sheets to PDFs or practice management projects digitized each of those processes, but they did not significantly improve production efficiency as processes often remained compartmentalized with personnel doing their work in the same fashion as it always had been done before. If you were starting a firm from scratch today, you would look to implement the latest stable and proven integrated technologies that allow for mobile access and collaboration by design. Through Lean Tax Optimization (LTO) consulting with firms, we have identified specific applications and process changes where firms make the most consistent improvements in tax productivity, which we suggest firms evaluate and pilot during the summer season. (more…)

Updated: Ergonomics to Improve Your Firm’s Productivity

*This article was originally published in 2015 and was updated in April 2017 for this audience.

Accountants spend huge amounts of time at their desks, many of which were acquired before the advent of multiple monitors and the knowledge of optimum ergonomic desk configurations.  While most of us were taught in school that sitting up straight, having an organized study space with good lighting, and focusing on one subject at a time makes us more productive, those lessons are often forgotten within firms, particularly during the more hectic busy seasons when individual productivity really needs to be optimized.

When a discussion on ergonomics comes up, most partners think about extreme examples such as the lost productivity of a co-worker due to a repetitive stress injury or absenteeism caused by a person with a chronic issue such as back pain.  While critical issues must take precedence, owners often forget about or discount the daily loss of productivity caused by an improper working environment.  Improper equipment and subpar work environments create fatigue that causes more work errors, resulting in lower profitability.  Add on top of that study after study pointing to the negative long-term effects on our bodies from too much sitting, and firm owners should realize that allocating time to promote proper ergonomics just makes good business sense.  Below we summarize some core tenants of ergonomics as a starting point to building firm awareness. (more…)

CES 2017: Laptops For Mobility

2017 marked the 50th Anniversary of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and our 13th year on the show floor to peruse and discover the latest technologies that could be showing up in our accounting firms in the near future.  With CES Showcasing 3,800 vendors spread out over 2.8 Million square feet of show floor (43 football fields), it was impossible to see everything, so our efforts focused this year on hardware that could improve mobility.  For most accountants, having a 15”-17” laptop with a full keyboard/number pad is the standard selection, but new features and form factors are giving desktop users and consultants more interesting options than ever.  In this article, we feature the laptops, prototypes and head scratchers from our four days on the CES show floor. (more…)

Eight Reasons Firms Should Move to the Cloud

The 2017 CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA.org) Paperless Benchmark Survey released in the first quarter of this year, found that 23% of firms had moved their IT Infrastructure to cloud providers instead of building and maintaining them themselves among other findings.

Read below as to why this trend is accelerating and why your firm should be considering the move if they are not already.

Replacement Cost of Onsite Network

As servers come to life there is a cost of not only replacing the physical equipment, but conducting a thorough evaluation of current options and whether your internal personal have the experience to properly implement the new solution the first time.  Case in point, for the majority of firms Hosted Microsoft Exchange is a no-brainer from a cost/feature perspective but internal IT personnel want to maintain control of email. (more…)

Strategically Optimizing Information Technology in Today’s CPA Firm

CPA firms are amongst the most complex business entities, from an IT perspective, as their individual departments require unique applications and equipment to optimize each department’s production processes.  The average CPA firm utilizes more than sixty applications that are constantly being updated on a wide variety of workstations, ranging from multi-monitor tax desktops to mobile workstations designed for auditors and remote consultants.  Add the varying production requirements of each department’s file transfer, remote access, information security, optimized workflow, and disaster recovery, and it is easy to see that information technology impacts every aspect of firm production and needs to be integrated into the firm’s overall strategic plans.  This article will outline key considerations to ensure that firms strategically optimize their IT planning. (more…)

Technology Apps and Trends

The 2017 CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA) Paperless Benchmark Survey was completed just before this past busy season with the purpose of identifying technology trends within medium and large accounting firms, which eventually trickle down for use by smaller firms. A block of questions was targeted specifically towards audit and accounting adoption and highlighted areas where firms may want to rethink their current applications, tools, and procedures.

Audit Suites

Firms traditionally had a “best of breed” approach when it came to selecting which audit programs/approach and engagement binders they would use, with most firms using a combination of Thomson Reuters/PPC, CCH, and Caseware products. The 2017 survey found that 60% of firms had transitioned to a single audit suite (up from 34% in 2015), which points to increased efficiency and integration within a single vendor suite. This integration can also carry over into your tax practice, as the majority of respondents (62%) linked their engagement binder trial balance to their tax program for a digital import instead of re-keying the data, saving the firm time and reducing errors. (more…)

Administrative Findings From 2017 Paperless Benchmark Survey

CPAFMA has authored the longest-running paperless benchmark survey focused exclusively on the accounting profession (since 2003) with the intention of providing firm administrative managers actionable information to improve their firms.  This year, four *NEW* Administrative questions were added to the 2017 Paperless Benchmark Survey to identify emerging trends impacting our own CPA firm back office operations.  These questions focused on the applications firms were using for recruiting, evaluations, CPE tracking and storing of CPE certificates.  Below we summarize those items which may provide a solution to one of the administrative issues you are facing today!

Digital Tool for Recruiting

Only one out of seven firms (14% of survey respondents) were managing their recruiting with a dedicated application/service so we would place this technology in the “emerging” category.  BambooHR (3%) and JazzHR (2%) were the top two selections of peer firms followed by individual firms selecting UltiPro, Ascentis, Halogen, Mangrove, ADP, Bullhorn, Silkroad, MyStaffingPro, and Exacthire.  As human resources is a trending issue in most of our firms, look for these applications to be discussed more in the future.

Digital Tool to Manage Employee Evaluations

One fifth of responding firms (21%) were using a dedicated evaluation tool.  The top three firm selections were: Performance Pro (4%), Halogen (3%) and Bamboo (2%).  While another 2% of firms had developed their own products, there were a significant number of firms using tools integrated by their payroll provider (i.e ADP, UltiPro, Paychex, Paycor, etc.) which we anticipate will be the fastest growing solutions in the future.

CPE Compliance

61% of respondents tracked their CPE records digitally with 25% stating they did so within their Practice Management application and 7% utilizing Excel internally.  However, the remainder of firms were using web-based applications with Thomson Learning (formerly Reqwired/LearnLive) garnering 13%, Micron CPE Manager 4% and both CPELink and AICPA LMS getting 2% adoption).  With more applications being run in the cloud, we expect the latter products to become even more prevalent in future years.

CPE Certificate Archival

The 2017 survey found that almost half of the firms (47%) were storing their CPE certificates digitally.  While 10% utilized Thomson Learning and 3% Micron CE Manager, the bulk of the firms that were keeping CPE Certificates were storing PDF images on the network (probably to support their internal Practice Management and Excel spreadsheets).

Each of these questions were exploratory in this year’s survey and while CPE Compliance and Archival are on their way to becoming standardized products, we see the HR products having to evolve some before the best long-term solutions become apparent.  To learn more about the results of the 2017 survey and solutions selected by peer firms, the CPAFMA website has a recorded webinar to get you up to speed in under an hour!

This article was originally published on The CPA Firm Management Association’s blog and has been modified for the audience of this blog.  Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.

Beware Technology “Gotchas” in M&A

Merger discussions kick into high gear each summer as partners look to expand their practice reach, combine well-suited practices, discuss new service opportunities, and address succession and retirement issues.  Often, these discussions focus on tax and assurance practice compatibility from a financial and cultural perspective, and while Information Technology is touched upon, the lack of IT knowledge often has the negotiators defaulting IT issues to a later time.  Unfortunately, many firms have found out that there are a variety of IT “gotchas” that can result in major headaches with hidden financial consequences after the deal is closed.  Below we share a number of technology surprises that firms should look out for before the M&A celebrations start. (more…)

2017 CES Technology Trends to Monitor and Gawk At

Each January, Las Vegas plays host to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is the world’s largest consumer technology show, with 3,800 vendors and over 175,000 attendees from all over the world looking to find the latest and greatest home, office, and automotive technologies. While most of the featured technologies are targeted outside of the accounting profession, those that are successful on the consumer side often find their way into our firms to provide innovative solutions to improving productivity. With that thought in mind, we highlight the top CES trends and representative products that caught our eye at this year’s show. (more…)

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