How to take advantage of trends in accounting technology

Artificial intelligence is already changing accounting. Other innovations will, too. Is your firm ready to embrace them?

minute read

Last Updated May 3, 2024

Category Tech trends


We are at a fascinating milestone in the evolution of accounting technology and its impact on business. Many working professionals can still remember the infancy of accounting technology. Paper ledgers gave way to spreadsheet applications. Accounting professionals passed files back and forth from shared drives or emailed them to peers and clients.  

Then, those spreadsheets became more advanced. Accountants shared them in content management systems or stored them in the cloud so that multiple people could work simultaneously. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enable applications to draw conclusions and anticipate trends. 

The rush of technology advances will certainly impact the accounting profession. Thinking about all of the different ways that technology could impact accounting is as dizzying as it is speculative. So, how can accountants prepare for a future where technology remains somewhat unknown? 

“You can’t run an accounting firm today like you did in 1980, but it amazes me how many people try,” says Bill Carlino, managing director at Whitman Transition Advisors LLC. “Historically, the accounting industry has not been the fastest to adopt change, but there have been seminal technology events that have really advanced the pace of change—and the industry is now changing faster.” 

Broad technology trends like cloud computing, cyberthreats and AI are impacting all businesses. But which future trends in accounting will impact accounting firms, and how?  

You can make better decisions in the cloud 

Some level of remote work has become the new normal for many accounting firms. Flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere are critical for employees and firm leaders. As a result, document management systems have taken on a more critical role. With digital document management, firms can create workflows that establish repeatable processes and give leaders and employees a real-time view into the status of projects and client engagements. 

In the cloud, firms can merge sales data, client interaction information, financial reports and contract information to form a complete and continually updated online profile for each client account. Data analysis applications enable firms to develop strategies and improve client service based on real-time information with help from cloud services that provide assistance with decision-making. It’s essential that firms store data and run applications in the cloud to ensure they and their clients have secure access to updated data from anywhere and at any time.  

Emerging concepts are making an impact on accounting technology 

Just a few years ago, hardly anyone in accounting or any other profession could have imagined the cultural and business applications that AI has today. But AI has worked its way into our everyday lives quickly, and it’s making an impact on accounting technology, too. With Spark, Rightworks has created an AI engine dedicated to the accounting profession based on decades of experience working with accountants.   

While AI has arrived in the accounting profession, another innovation is mostly still on the horizon: blockchain technology. Mostly associated with cryptocurrency trading for better or worse, blockchain, a sort of decentralized, distributed database, could make a significant impact on accounting technology. For instance, a record on the blockchain that is self-auditing and immutable could lead to a reduction in the time and effort necessary to verify company financials. It could also drastically reduce the difficulty and complexity of audits.  

Prepare your infrastructure (and your budget) 

Accounting firms need to take advantage of technology that is available now and prepare for what will be available in the future.  

“The first thing to do is get complete partner buy-in,” Carlino says. “Everyone has to be onboard with embracing technology and preparing for the future.” He added that if an accounting firm has a state-of-the-art technology platform, it should still invest 4%-7% of top-line revenue in IT. He anticipates some firms investing up to 10% as new technology becomes more prominent. However, firms that partner with a cloud provider will be better prepared to predict and control IT costs than those that don’t.  

Running applications and storing data in the cloud is essential to preparing for the future. In the cloud, you and your clients can access data anytime and from anywhere. And you can let experts take care of cybersecurity, accounting technology updates and other critical IT tasks while you run your firm. Better yet, you can do all of this while easily budgeting technology as a monthly expense.  

Get the help you need to make accounting technology work 

Having a great technology stack isn’t going to help much if no one in your firm can maintain it. Managing IT is a full-time job, and IT experts are expensive and difficult to find. Bringing one or two in-house is well beyond the reach of smaller firms. You need a partner who will offer the expertise and experience you need to maximize your technology investments while you focus on serving clients.   

Firm leaders need to spend time focusing on honing “soft” skills, such as advising clients and nurturing relationships with them. Managing IT just gets in the way of improving client service. Accounting experts say firms should shift their mindset from thinking like technicians to thinking like leaders and service providers.   

“Practice owners need to delegate,” says Salim Omar, president and CEO of Straight Talk CPAs. “For so many years, they’ve done technical work and gotten satisfaction from it. They think, ‘I produced this; I got paid,’ and then they go on to the next thing.” 

Omar says softer skills such as client nurturing and providing strategic advisory services will position a firm positively for the future. “Utilize technology for better solutions to get the commodity stuff done,” he says. Only then can accounting professionals win back meaningful time to play the role of trusted adviser. 

About Bill Carlino 

Bill Carlino is managing director at Whitman Transition Advisors LLC. Previously, he served for nearly 12 years as editor-in-chief and editorial director of Accounting Today and, where he was responsible for all content—print and online. Bill Carlino has been a frequent speaker, presenter and panel moderator for the accounting profession. He has appeared as an expert commentator on CNBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNN as well as National Public Radio. 

About Salim Omar 

Salim Omar knows the keys to success for any CPA firm. He’s used his financial expertise and his own struggles as a springboard for understanding the success principles that create accounting firms that are profitable, respected and fun for their employees. 

Get started with your move to the cloud today.  

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