We recently wrapped up the first round of the 2010 Boomer Technology Circles. Firms convened for the spring meetings in Kansas City at the Westin Crown Center over a period of 4 weeks spanning late April through Mid-May.
Fresh off another busy tax season, members were ready to renew acquaintances, meet new members, and resume sharing experiences, best practices, and lessons learned. While the discussions varied from meeting to meeting, there were a number of topics and trends that were consistent across all firms in the program.
BTC Metrics – Interesting Trends
In addition to Gary's Vision and Strategy and my Mad Lab sessions, we shared the results of the metrics we collect each year. With about 65% of member firms reporting thus far, we presented the numbers as well as some interesting trends that occurred during fiscal year 2009. While firms' revenue per full time equivalent (FTE is defined as total hours divided by 2080 hours) was slightly down at roughly $138,000, technology spending was actually up at 6.1% of revenue.
Despite the drop-off in revenue per FTE, our members are continuing to recognize the importance of investing in technology to gain a long-term strategic advantage. How much firms are spending is not as important as where they are spending IT dollars though. Investment in internal infrastructure and platforms is out, while spending on technologies that promote innovation, efficiency and revenue production are in.
The most discussed topic at each of the meetings was cloud computing. We heard from firms across the spectrum in terms of readiness and willingness to migrate to this new model. We had some excellent member presentations in Circles #1, #2, #4 & #7 that provided a comprehensive overview of the topic as well as some great examples of "low hanging fruit" to begin moving to the cloud.
One of these was given by Peter Henley from Clark Nuber (BTC #2) who provided a complete overview of Microsoft Online Business Productivity Online Suite. This offering provides hosted Exchange, Live Meeting, SharePoint and Office Communicator for $10/user/month. For minor additional fees you can also get encrypted email, email archiving, Blackberry support and much more. Boomer Consulting, Inc. has been using this service for over a year now and we have been very happy with it.
The general consensus amongst firms is there is tremendous value in moving the technology infrastructure outside the firm walls. However, valid concerns still exist.
- Availability/Connectivity – The example of auditors in the field without an Internet connection was top on the list of concerns. With coverage improving daily, this is becoming less of a concern but it still is possible. Technologies already exist that allow for work to continue when you're offline and seamless synchronization when you are back online. This will need to be a primary focus of the vendors offering web-based solutions moving forward.
- Security & Control – Many feel that you give up control and expose yourself to security risks when you move to the cloud. How many firms have a SAS 70 data center internally? The data centers that are hosting these services are much more secure than most (if not all) accounting firms across the country. In addition, Microsoft is putting their weight behind new cloud computing laws to address privacy and data security that will address many of these concerns.
- Flexibility – When you move to a hosted solution, you may lose some of the flexibility that you would have if you had the systems in-house. Too often firms get caught up on minor functionality that they could learn to do without. If an existing solution meets 95% of your needs, doesn't the cost savings (and decreased frustration) outweigh the 5% of features you would be giving up? Sometimes the answer will be "no" but I don't think that is the norm.
- Readiness of Core Application Providers – Concerns still exist about the readiness of the vendors to move to this model. Some already have components that are ready while it might take some time for others but the providers' focus is definitely on cloud computing. I believe we will see them make great strides over the next year.
Windows 7 Migration
Many firms plan to migrate to Windows 7 during the summer and we had a handful of firms that did so prior to tax season. The initial reports are all positive in terms of improved performance, security, user adoption and compatibility. The question of compatibility with CCH and Thomson Reuters products was asked several times.
Thomson Reuters' position is that all their products are Windows 7 compatible. Similarly, CCH's products are all compatible with the exception of foundation Document. Based on the member presentations and discussions, these reports are accurate and no major compatibility issues were reported. Bottom line, go for it!
Office 2010 is already being tested in many firms ahead of the general release sometime this month. Similar to Windows 7, most reports were positive. CCH and Thomson aren't able to guarantee compatibility with Office 2010 before its general release but both providers plan to do so as soon as possible after the release.
If your firm is already on Office 2007, the learning curve will not be as steep in terms of the ribbon functionality. Outlook will be the big change as it will adopt the ribbon feature in Office 2010. Firms will recognize the most benefit from Exchange and SharePoint as well as the free online versions which may be an alternative for employees that use minimal features in the Office products.
Server virtualization has been addressed by a majority of our member firms over the last few years. We are now seeing several of them attack desktop virtualization. They are virtualizing desktops or laptop computers in a private cloud. This reduces cost of ownership as well as increased data security and privacy. Richard Romano from Perkins & Company (BTC #2) gave an excellent presentation on their use of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 to create a secure and accessible private cloud.
Workflow & Automation
Firms continue to look for efficiency improvements in the form of workflow tools. We saw a number of presentations on what firms are doing in this area over this round of Circles. This is an important area that can have a major impact on the operational efficiency of your firm and one that needs focus in every firm. If you are still relying on Microsoft Excel to track workflow, you should move this up on your priority list.
Don't Get Left Behind!
If your firm is not yet a Boomer Technology Circle member and the kinds of issues shared in these meetings sound intriguing to you, it's never too late to join! Simply contact Eric Hunt at 888-266-6375 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will get you started on the first steps toward joining these great firms getting better together.
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