You might feel overwhelmed by emails, ads, event booths and just simple conversations about which applications you absolutely have to have if you want your firm to survive. If so, you’re not alone. Accounting technology is proliferating. Keeping up with what’s new is almost impossible. Actually implementing it all would be impossible.
That’s not to say that you need to go back to pencil and paper to keep your records. The right technology stack can help you make your firm more efficient, make your employees’ lives easier and help you build stronger relationships with clients. But in an environment where tech vendors seem to be recreating a Vegas strip for accountants, you need to know what you need and how to get it.
You own your accounting technology; it doesn’t own you
Your firm isn’t a test lab or showroom for accounting technology or any other kind of application. It’s an accounting firm—and hopefully one that offers a wide range of services to clients. You need technology to serve you and not the other way around.
Keep a few things in mind when you’re looking at filling out your tech stack:
Outsource what you can
It’s up to you how far you want to go with this, but the more technology somebody else can take care of, the less you have to worry about. Moving applications such as QuickBooks® Desktop to the cloud enables you and your employees to work in the same files at the same time from anywhere. You can tie other key applications into your cloud environment and do the same with them.
If you want to outsource your entire IT operation, that’s also an option. Take a look at the technology you’re using now, which processes you’d like to improve and which types of applications you think you might need in the future. And then outsource as much technology management as you’re comfortable with to a trusted partner. When you work with a cloud partner, you don’t have to worry about maintaining a server, updating applications or—perhaps most compelling—dealing with cybersecurity.
Keep the learning curve simple
One of the biggest roadblocks to implementing new technology is learning how to use it. Researchers have even come up with a phrase for the anxiety that often accompanies implementing new applications: techno-uncertainty.
The CPA Journal reports that techno-uncertainty: “Is produced when constant IT upgrades and changes create stress and anxiety for the user. Considering the plethora of accounting applications in existence today, CPAs must constantly learn and educate themselves with the functionality of various software.”
If you or your employees are spending so much time learning how to use new applications that you’re having trouble getting your jobs done, your technology isn’t working for you. Part of what makes technology worthwhile is ease of use. Pick applications with a short learning curve and let a technology partner maintain them—so you don’t have to deal with the hassle.
Beware of shiny-object syndrome
Most advertising is based on making you think you need something that you might not actually need. The problem is that with technology, buying something you don’t need or won’t learn how to use can be an expensive mistake. A lot of technology companies are really good at marketing. Don’t fall for every new application dangled in front of you.
Some experts call this “shiny-object syndrome,” and it’s as much of an issue with software as it is with cars, smartphones or breakfast cereals. Look at what your needs and goals are before you decide to implement a new application. And if you need help, get it. You can reduce research time by checking references from peers and talking with other users of the apps you’re looking at adopting. A cloud partner or other trusted advisor can also help steer you in the right direction.
Accounting technology basics your firm needs
With all of that in mind, you need accounting technology and other applications to keep your firm running smoothly. There are six basic areas your firm should cover:
1. Cloud hosting and security.
Again, accounting works better in the cloud. When you run hosted applications, you don’t need to worry about maintenance, availability or security. Someone else does all of that for you. All you have to do is run your firm and use your technology to perform client services. The right cloud-hosting partner offers comprehensive security and disaster recovery to keep your clients’ data safe.
2. Collaboration tools.
Collaborating effectively both internally and with clients is critical. A cloud provider can set up a portal that enables you to communicate securely and easily with clients and team members in real time. On top of that, you need a cloud-based communication platform such as Microsoft 365 to maximize efficiency and get the most work done in the shortest amount of time.
3. Cloud-based accounting applications.
Give yourself and your employees the freedom to work together on client files from anywhere and without worrying about security, updates or maintenance. Let a cloud partner handle all the back-end work for you while you enjoy the speed and efficiency of applications such as QuickBooks Desktop, Lacerte or ProSeries, or Drake Software.
4. Document management.
You need to know where files are when you need them. Don’t waste time trying to find documents. Document management tools such as SmartVault can save you time by automating manual, paper-based tasks and creating standardized workflows—enabling your firm to store client files in one central location.
5. Time-tracking tools.
Your firm almost assuredly tracks hours worked in some way, whether you’re tracking billable hours or simply studying how much time you spend on each client. A cloud-based time-tracking tool can save time by eliminating cumbersome manual processes and also reduce errors. Plus, in the cloud, your critical data is secure.
6. Project-management tools.
While this category aligns with time tracking, cloud-based project management offers visibility across clients on project progress at any given time. You can use this type of application to eliminate missed deadlines and let employees know what they should prioritize on a given day.
Get results with the right accounting technology
Firms that have effectively deployed the right technology are getting results. Accounting technology isn’t a necessary evil, although it can sometimes seem like one. It is, however, necessary. The key is to manage your tech stack properly; cover the basics; and let a trusted partner handle the laborious tasks of managing maintenance, updates and security. It’s your technology. It should help you do your job more efficiently.
Building the right accounting technology stack begins with moving to the cloud. Get started today.