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The Boomer Bulletin - 2010
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Each month the Boomer Bulletin explores the most pressing issues and concerns facing the accounting industry. Drawing upon the trusted wisdom of Boomer Consulting Inc.'s consultants and other industry experts, The Boomer Bulletin is a must read for partners, managers and anyone looking to take his or her firm to the next level. (Note: All articles © 2010 Boomer Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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Top tags: IT planning  Jim Boomer  Sandra Wiley  Human Capital  management  new technologies  personnel  Eric Benson  Information Technology  L. Gary Boomer  Economy  Harwell Thrasher  human resources  Strategic Planning  team building  training  Arianna Campbell  Circles  Cloud Computing  communication  customer service  Deanna Cox  delegation  Doug Donald  Flexible Schedules  flextime  hcls  industry  Jon Hubbard  leadership 

CPA Firm LBMC Selects Deltek Maconomy

Posted By Jon Hubbard, Friday, January 7, 2011
Top 50 U.S. certified public accounting firm selects Deltek Maconomy to improve operations and support the needs of its diverse service offerings

HERNDON, VA – January 3, 2011 – Deltek (Nasdaq: PROJ) today announced that Lattimore, Black, Morgan & Cain, PC, – a full service accounting firm with a broad range of financial, human resources and technology services – is implementing Deltek Maconomy. LBMC will be using Deltek Maconomy as an integrated enterprise resource planning system that will drive efficiencies across its back office and provide improved business intelligence throughout its organization.

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Millennials Seek Long-Term, Trusting Relationships

Posted By Rebecca Ryan, Next Generation Consulting, Monday, December 13, 2010

[Note: This interview originally appeared in the June 2010 edition of Inside Public Accounting]

Firm leaders were just beginning to address how to deal, manage and engage a new generation of employees – the millennials – when the economy tanked and took with it concern about human capital.

Fast-forward a few years, and with the first signs that we’re climbing out of the recession, thoughts of recruiting and retention are once again starting to come back to the forefront. So what’s the new "normal” when it comes to the newest group of workers?

According to Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis., the recession created a feeling of vulnerability and has made the newest generation of workers yearn for stability.

"Overall, people under 30 are the most unemployed generation. They’re having a rude awakening,” Ryan says. "But every generation has had its own rude awakening. For the boomers, it was that the ‘make love, not war,’ antiestablishment values were not going to work in corporate America.”

Many Gen-Xers also came into the workforce during a recessionary period (the early 1980s and early 1990s), but whereas the Gen-Xers were job hoppers during their early career, the millennials are looking for long-term employment. Just don’t expect them to shut up and live with whatever they’re dealt.

"There’s a mentality that millennials should be happy to have a job, and that they should stop asking for things because we’re having hard financial times,” she says. But that’s just not in their nature. When Ryan interviews industry consultants, she asks them: How do you think the next generation is different from yours? "They all tell me, ‘When I was 22 or 23, I wanted the same things. The difference is, I didn’t ask. I shut up and kept my head down.’”

In an age of Twitter, Facebook and reality-TV confessionals, "this generation has learned to use their words and tell you what they’re thinking,” Ryan says. Millennials are passionate about making a difference in their firm, and to them, that often means sharing their ideas with you.

Ryan encourages younger employees to learn how to communicate with their superiors by being concise and "not being a human suggestion box.” She encourages firms to find ways to channel those great ideas. Several firms have created staff advisory boards of younger employees who meet regularly with the MP to suggest ways to improve the firm. The one rule is that these employees need to come to the table with not just a list of complaints, but, a set of solutions.

Opportunities for development have always been high on the list of wants for millennials, and the recession has done nothing to shake that craving. A recent study by Texas A&M researchers, in cooperation with HR association WorldAtWork, showed the opportunity for development for young accounting recruits was the most significant factor. Firms shoot themselves in the foot when they ignore this desire for growth, Ryan says.

Investments in staff does not always have to involve a higher salary or expensive training. A simple gesture sometimes has the biggest impact, such as when a partner takes a staff member along when meeting with a client or prospect. "It doesn’t cost you any more to put one more passenger in your car, and it gives that millennial an awesome experience,” Ryan points out. "They will tweet and blog about it – ‘I got to hang out with the MP today!’”

Offering younger employees a seat at the decision-making table is another way to increase their level of engagement. "Too often, firms lock the partner group away at retreats and expect them to come up with answers,” Ryan says. There’s a long-term value of giving younger employees a seat at the table: "When you give next generation leaders something real, it deepens their level of engagement and [increases their] loyalty to the firm,” she says.

One of Ryan’s clients, a top 20 firm, invited a group of high-potential, non-partner staff members to address issues raised in the firm’s employee engagement survey. "They worked during busy season and generated solutions, and five of their six ideas were green-lighted,” she says. "The really great thing was that afterwards in the hallway, partners were saying, ‘If this is our future talent pool, we will be fine. They had their business plans thought out.’ It gave both groups confidence.”

While there are differences in how different generations behave, balance is one thing people want from an employer regardless of age. Millennials see work as part of life – not separate from it. And increasingly, it isn’t just women demanding balance. "We have the first generation of millennial men who grew up in a household where both parents worked,” Ryan says.

"I’m not saying we coddle the next generation,” she continues. "It’s okay to say, ‘I need you to double down for the next few months.’ But we, as leaders, have to allow for regeneration time.”

One Ohio firm’s manual states that employees will not be asked to work more than 40 hours a week outside of busy season. And that flexibility extends to partners, too, some of whom work a part-time schedule.

Ryan offers a prediction: "If I could look into my crystal ball, this notion of part-time partnership is one of the things that will make a big difference in retaining awesome talent.”

Another common denominator for employees is the desire to work with people they trust. "Trust is like the air in your firm,” she says. "You can’t see it, it’s hard to quantify, but if you don’t have it, the firm will die.”

With the economy starting to pick up in some markets, recruiters are starting to target the three- to five-year accountants once again. And if they feel that your firm hasn’t treated them fairly or that there isn’t an opportunity for growth, you can kiss them goodbye.

One firm passed over a young woman (let’s call her Cynthia) for partnership, explaining that it was a "bad year.” This explanation, while it may have been true, didn’t pass muster with Cynthia, who left the firm soon after. Within a few months, other high-potential women also left the firm, saying, "What you did to Cynthia was a signal to us that the door to partnership isn’t open. She did everything you asked of her and you still didn’t make her partner.”

Even more offensive to employees is when partners do not share the pain. "When you lay off 10% to 15% of your staff, but under-performing partners aren’t moved out … that’s a signal to people throughout the firm that when times are tough, they’re going to take the brunt of it,” Ryan says.

As the economy warms up, the shoe will be on the other foot, she warns. "In firms where that trust has been broken, there will be an outward migration of high-potential employees,” she says. Firms with a reputation for treating employees well, on the other hand, have positioned themselves to be the beneficiaries of this migration.

In one Pennsylvania firm, partners cut their own salaries by 10% before asking employees to take a pay cut, Ryan shares with IPA. That sacrifice reinforces the trust level and ensures the firm continues to be an employer of choice.

Another way to build trust is to let people know when the worst is over. "People are feeling like they’ve just come through a knothole backwards,” she says. "There’s a heavy anxiety laying over the firm. It’s important [for the staff] to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Tags:  millennials  trust 

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Developing the Middle of Technology

Posted By Eric Benson, Monday, December 13, 2010

Removing the technician mentality from the IT profession

In the world of technology, the idea of the microcomputer seems to be coming full circle. Bill Gates took advantage of free programming on a mainframe using a terminal in high school. He and many others were responsible for the microcomputer revolution to bring personal computing to homes and businesses. And now, the personal computer and the processing power included is becoming something superfluous for most daily computing tasks. Virtual desktop & application delivery are becoming hot topics along with cloud computing, both of which take the processing power back to a centralized location.

With this change, the mentality that surrounds information technology professionals will change as well. Right at the moment, especially in firms with a lighter technology staff, each IT professional has to wear the hats of surgeon, mechanic and when things get rough, the exterminator. It’s a weird blend of high level project management and knowledge combined with low level support and "sneaker net” (code for walking from computer to computer to run a software update).

With a move back to centralized processing and delivery, there are many IT professionals who will be primed to take advantage of the higher road – the one with project management and strategic investment in the firm. I’ll be the first to say that the infrastructure people will always be around, but in firms with the ability to centralize applications to places that don’t require a mechanic, these positions will start migrating out of the firm. And with that comes the question – what do you want to be when this happens?

If you believe you’d like to take a step in the direction of becoming a trusted professional in your firm that transcends the "shift” back to centralized technology, read on.

Find a mentor to help you transition beyond pure IT

There are mentoring programs that are very successful in firms across the country, but often they focus on the service lines in the firm. Here I am proposing a directional move, with the approval of your superiors, to find someone that has an interest in your personal development beyond technology. In many instances this person may not know much about the deep workings of IT, and that’s exactly the point. I’ve seen many, many technology people with deep operational knowledge but little true grasp of business side of the firm. In addition, the soft skills necessary for strong business relationships are often not developed in technology people.

This does not need to be often, but the meetings should concentrate on bringing your skills beyond your current skillset. This will benefit you first, but it will also benefit the firm as you get one to one access to how the firm truly works. The process/project mind you possess will apply well to issues your mentor has. All in all, with the right fit, a mentoring relationship can not only provide you with missing skills, it will provide you with an advocate in the firm.

Establish regular project briefings with key up and coming service line leaders

Develop a team of up and coming service line leaders in your firm that regularly meet to discuss upcoming technology projects and discuss upcoming projects from their area. This meeting should not focus on the technology, but the deliverable the technology enables. Each area should spend time explaining upcoming projects and past accomplishments, possibly on a quarterly schedule.

These groups establish three functions for your development beyond pure IT:

  • The ability to communicate about technology projects to an audience that, although not management, has a vibrant interest in the success of the firm
  • You will learn of projects that involve technology earlier in the process, alleviating gotchas and last minutes issues
  • The group of people in the room should include people with drive to increase the amount of cross pollination. This is critical to not only your success, but the success of the others at the table

In these meetings, communicate to management the outcomes of the meetings. Make sure that the progress is within the strategic plan of the firm – if so, the progress made on projects will benefit the entire firm. The interaction and ability to communicate will increase your standing in the firm as a key component to project success.

Establish a dedicated program that increases overlap between business and technology

One of the magic elements of the Boomer Technology Circles™ involves bringing together IT professionals and technology partners from different accounting firms to share best practices. The model involves both facilitated discussions, peer presentations and development of accountability. It succeeds because the people in the room start with a common base. A model like this can also be used in an accounting firm to develop a program that brings the IT department into a position of authority and leadership, bringing together people with a common base from their firm to share best practices. In addition, the accountability from listening to others and being able to contribute to their success will improve both the perception of working together as well as the productivity of the firm as a whole.

This step is the most resource intensive, but the culture that it creates can transform the entire firm. Being a leader in developing a program like this will improve the success of technology projects and educate members of the firm in ways that are not possible with traditional sit down training sessions.

To learn more about the success of one such program, read Jim Boomer’s article about Bridging the Gap in this month’s Boomer Bulletin.

Each of the steps above addresses a specific aspect of your development in the firm. The mentoring takes a one to one approach, and will give you an advocate in the firm as well as needed understanding of firm operations. The regular meetings with up and coming leaders will generate good firm communication of technology objectives and prevent gotchas. Finally, establishing a circle in your firm may bridge the technology gap and make technology a desired asset in your firm that not only delivers services, but firm wide innovation and leadership.

These steps can put you in a position to succeed in a shifting information technology landscape. Each of these pieces is being used with success in firms around the country. Combining them will make your position secure and upwardly mobile. You will transcend from "IT professional” to a trusted leader in your firm with a knowledge base that is essential for the success of all projects at the firm.

Tags:  Information Technology 

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Bridging the Gap! (Part 2)

Posted By Jim Boomer, Monday, December 13, 2010

Last month I wrote an article titled, "Bridging the Gap” that discussed the importance of aligning business and technology strategies within your firm. In this article, I will highlight one firm that is turning the tag line into a reality. In the fall meeting for Boomer Technology Circle #7, we facilitated a panel of partners and I.T. professionals with the goal of building the bridge. The group provided several valuable insights into the communication between the I.T. department and the management group, including a number of tips and ideas for implementing these practices in your firm.

Applying the Circle Model in the Firm

Watkins Uiberall PLLC is a single-office firm in Memphis, TN with about 65 employees and 9 partners. The firm has been a member of the Boomer Technology Circles since 2006. Sherry Perry, the partner in charge of I.T., recently came up with an idea to help bridge the communication gap between I.T. and business, a common issue in accounting firms. She proposed that the firm take the model from the Boomer Technology Circle program and apply it internally. According to Perry, "This is one of the things we’ve done that has really had a strong impact in a short amount of time and took off in a way that I never really imagined.”

The firm implemented the technology circle concept this year and recognized immediate success. "We formed the technology circle and it meets three times the year after each of the Boomer Technology Circle meetings. We selected folks from across the firm. Every department has a representative on the technology circle serving a two-year term,” said Perry. The highest level represented is Senior with no Managers or Partners in the group. The one-day meetings are run by the firm’s Information Systems Administrator, Nicole Chatham.

"The first thing we do is talk about the strategic vision of the firm and what our primary initiatives are within the firm. We then conduct a Mad Lab where we introduce some new technology ideas for them to think about. We also break out into smaller groups by department to review 90-day accountability reviews.”

Although the program is in its infancy in the firm, the group has bought into the concept and feels like part of the decision-making process. "They are able to make an impact from a technology standpoint now,” said Perry.

During the first meeting, the group was introduced to desktop scanners, multiple monitors and Verizon hotspots. They were able to get their hands on the technologies and experience first-hand how each would benefit them in their daily tasks.

Based on what they learned, the tax and audit representatives drove the I.T. purchase decisions to align with their business needs. "They were heroes when everyone received scanners for their desktop. And, it has been very empowering to those involved because they now have input in the decision-making process,” added Perry.

Based on the initial success, the firm plans to continue the internal technology circle model. In fact, the partners now want their own circle, which Perry plans to implement in 2011. She plans to select partners she thinks are strategic to the direction of the firm in terms of technology.

Effective Communication is Critical!

The example highlighted above underlines the importance of opening the lines of communication between I.T. and business and our entire panel from Boomer Technology Circle #7 agreed it is critical to bridging the gap. They pointed out that if the I.T. department doesn’t have someone that is a good communicator, the firm needs to send them to training to improve those skills. This might seem like common sense but it simply isn’t happening in enough firms. When there is a barrier to communication, it leads to frustration and complaints from both sides. This further increases the barrier to communication.

Some of the tips for better communication that came out of the panel included:

  • Show Respect – No one appreciates being talked down to or made to feel incompetent when learning new information processes. Whether it’s an I.T. or accounting concept, keep in mind it may not be their specialty and it might take them a while to grasp the concept.
  • Meet Regularly – Schedule time on a recurring basis to sit down and update each other on what is going on. Don’t expect to bridge the communication gap without regular conversations. This will also strengthen your relationship that will serve as the foundation for trust. As trust increases, the likelihood for successful communication also improves.
  • Celebrate Success – Too often, the I.T. department receives attention only when something goes wrong. It’s uncommon to recognize the I.T. department when the technology is working as expected. Celebrate the technology successes of the firm.

Tags:  technology 

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The First Steps In Building a Strengths-Based Firm

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Monday, December 13, 2010

The economy is on the rebound and your team is feeling the impact. Your firm is improving with the result of over extending your existing staff or losing key team members to other firms and they need to be replaced. Either way, you know you want the best possible hire, someone who can quickly start contributing and who will hopefully stay with you for a while.

What do you do?

In Good to Great, by Jim Collins, he explains the importance of "getting the right people on the bus” as the first step toward creating a vision for greatness. He stresses that your team should not be tied to a specific firm strategy (strategies change) but should be committed to your firm. The purpose of this article is to help you understand how to apply his theory to the hiring process in order to achieve peak performance in your company.

First Step – Building the Candidate Profile

The first step to hiring and retaining team members who will be great contributors to your firm is to define the profile of the employee you wish to hire. This approach goes beyond the standard job description to an analysis of the personal attributes, strengths and technical skills that this person will need to be successful with your firm. Get this step right and the odds of finding and keeping the right person are vastly improved.

As you develop the candidate profile, analyze your firm and your current culture. With this analysis as a foundation, build a list of personal attributes required for this new employee to be successful. If you are in the process of changing your culture, you can base the profile on what you want the culture to be, but you must disclose the current status when interviewing candidates. For example, you may have a hierarchical culture but want to create a collaborative culture. You would list attributes such as collaborative work style in your profile.

A strength, as defined by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton in Now, Discover Your Strengths, is "consistent near perfect performance of an activity.” They document research supporting the premise that to achieve peak performance a person must be maximizing their strengths. If you can match a person’s natural talent with how they spend most of their time on the job, they will reach their level of peak performance in your firm. In addition, they will be truly committed and fulfilled by their work. This gives you the added benefit of hiring a person who will not be easily enticed to leave your company.

Most positions in today’s workforce require a certain level of skills and specialized knowledge. This section of the profile should consider the time it takes to acquire specific skills as well as how long those skills will be relevant to the job. Most unsuccessful hires are a result of a mismatch of personal attributes. The best person for the position may be a candidate who has the personal attributes to succeed and lacks skills that can quickly be acquired. Be sure to include distinctions between required and desired attributes for this employee.

Second Step - Develop a Recruiting Plan

Your ability to hire the person you want is always impacted by the hiring environment. You may be looking for an employee with a profile that is in short supply or you may be able to easily identify numerous candidates for your position. Analyzing the recruiting environment and developing a strategy that will ensure success is the critical component of this step. What is your competitive edge in the hiring marketplace? Are you hiring an employee that is in high demand? Do you offer top compensation and benefits, work/life balance and career growth? Often the answer is somewhere in between. Now is the time to honestly assess how your opportunity will be perceived in the current market and to plan your recruiting strategy accordingly.

Bearing in mind the results of the above analysis, the urgency for filling the position and the internal resources of your company, you have several options for how you can identify the best possible candidate for your position:

Employee Referrals: This can be a great way of attracting talent to your firm. Many companies offer bonuses to team members for referred candidates who are hired as a result of this process.

Advertising: Effective venues might include local newspapers, trade journals, associations, and job boards.

Job Fairs: When hiring large numbers of team members, a job fair can be an efficient way to quickly assess the market and find good applicants.

Contingency Staffing: Employing the use of a contingency staffing firm will assist you in finding candidates quickly and to identify a portion of the "passive candidates” in the market. Fees are paid by you and are only incurred should you hire a candidate represented by the firm.

Retained Search: A retained search firm collaborates with you to hire a candidate who has been specifically identified by the firm for your position. This approach is generally used when a very specific combination of skills, personal attributes and abilities is required in the person you plan to hire.

Third Step – Interviewing and Selection

Your interviewing strategy should be designed to give the candidates an accurate and positive impression of your firm. Include in your plan the following:

  • Develop a consistent interview plan for all candidates and schedule the same members of the interview team with each of the candidates.
  • Design the specific interview questions to determine how the candidates’ skills, attributes and abilities align with the profile you developed.
  • Provide each candidate a focused, comfortable and uninterrupted interview experience.

The top candidates should be interviewed a second time. This step may include the use of assessments that are designed to give additional information about the candidate. Either way, a second interview will give you a more in-depth understanding of the person you are considering and give them the chance to learn more about you.

Obtain detailed references for the top individuals who are under consideration. At this point, it is time to compare all of the information you have gathered to the criteria you established at the beginning of the process and make your decision.

In a perfect world you are now ready to make an offer. Of course this is not a perfect world so do not be surprised if you find that you are hesitant to move forward. Often during this process you will discover things about your firm or the candidate market that may cause you to rethink the position. This could mean starting the search over with a different set of criteria. Or you may decide to create a different position to bring in a talented individual in a different role. If at any point you think you need to adjust your plan–do it! Taking the time to identify and hire the best possible talent for your firm is critical to creating and sustaining a great company.

Interested in learning knowing more about building a "Strengths Based Organization”? Check out and explore our agenda for our special keynote speaker Melinda Figeley Dean who will be presenting the keynote on Building a Strengths-Based Organization: A New Paradigm for Development.

Tags:  strengths based firm 

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Watch our 2011 Human Capital & Learning Symposium Xtranormal video!

Posted By Jon Hubbard, Friday, December 3, 2010

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Watch our Strategic Planning Xtranormal Video!

Posted By Jon Hubbard, Friday, November 12, 2010

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Setting Up Shop In the Cloud - Part 1

Posted By Eric Pulaski, Monday, November 8, 2010

What accounting firms need to know about cloud computing and making the leap to online document management.

Eric Pulaski, CEO and Founder of SmartVault Corporation

Moving applications and data to an online environment is inevitable. It’s simply part of the accounting profession’s evolution. If you look at the continuum of change, it becomes clear where next generation accounting firms are heading. Pencil and paper to green bar reports and manual data entry…DOS to Windows…software CDs to web download…and finally on premise-based IT solutions to SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). The message from thought leaders has been consistent and direct: Get on board with technology, or be left behind. The fact is that more firms are getting on board, though it’s still only a fraction of the broad profession. Those that are adopting advanced technologies in their firms are doing the research and applying the right technologies to create integrated systems that support completely paperless processes. And SaaS has been at the heart of this movement, supplying accounting professionals with easy-to-use, powerful web-based solutions that turbo boost operational efficiencies and convenience. In fact, dedicated internet-based service providers—leveraging their expert resources and spreading their costs over thousands of customers—can deliver lower cost and far more reliable and secure services. So, we know that a small percentage of the profession is in a state of transition. But the majority of firms have yet to get on board with SaaS. The biggest issue being that they simply don’t know where to start on their journey to the Cloud.

What is the Cloud?

Let’s first explore what it means to move to "the Cloud.” There has been a fair amount of confusion around this term, as well as the term Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). And if you don’t know what these are, how can you begin to adopt the technology?

Cloud computing and SaaS are overlapping terms. SaaS is technology that is designed from the ground up to live exclusively on the web. SaaS-based solutions support multiple tenants, meaning users share processing power and database space that is managed by the SaaS provider. The benefits of SaaS are many, which we’ll explore a little later.

The acronym, SaaS, has slowly morphed into the popular pseudonym, the Cloud. The Cloud is a general term used to describe services (as opposed to applications) that are provided over the internet. Cloud computing looks like local computing, but the computing power and storage space live solely on the web, just like SaaS.

In a nutshell, here’s the difference in meaning between these two terms: SaaS means web-based applications. Cloud computing means services used by computer programmers and IT gurus to access resources over the web. Many business users, however, use the terms interchangeably to mean "web-based solutions.” To sum it all up, SaaS and the Cloud are both ways of describing solutions that live on the internet.

The confusion around these terms is important to note because firms can’t be expected to adopt what they don’t understand. And the first step toward making the transition to the Cloud is understanding what it means.

The Value of SaaS—and Getting Over the Fear

The list of benefits associated with SaaS is long and continues to grow. Nonetheless, the biggest obstacle in transitioning to SaaS still seems to be fear. Accounting professionals continue to questions whether their data is safe and who has access to it once it moves online. SaaS is indeed at the center of the next big paradigm shift in the accounting arena, but the actual move to fully web-based software can be scary for those not yet comfortable with data moving out of the walls of their office and into the Cloud. However, the efficiency and convenience that SaaS applications offer cannot be overstated. Consider the benefits:

  • Offers Security and Privacy—The SaaS environment is far more secure than maintaining your software and data in-house. Consider the possibility of fire, flood, or theft. Once your computers and servers are damaged or gone, so is your data. SaaS securely houses data offsite and provides daily backups and backup tests. Many firms claim to perform data backups, but how many are actually testing the data that is backed up by initiating a restore?
  • Lives on the Web—Because SaaS solutions are deployed on the Web, they offer ultimate convenience. Implementation is simplified because there is no hardware to buy and no software to install. Users simply access the service via the internet and get to work. Whether in the office or working offsite, the service is always available with an internet connection.
  • Supports a Paperless Environment—Operating in a paper-heavy environment is costly, not to mention very "un-Green.” SaaS supports electronic entry, flow, and delivery of data without requiring a printed document. Going paperless is gaining momentum in the profession, as more firms realize the immense time and cost savings associated with Cloud computing.
  • Eliminates CDs, Manual Updating, and Need for Hardware—You no longer need to deal with physically boxed software. SaaS solutions are always up-to-date and accessible via the internet. That means you can say goodbye to ordering CDs, keeping up with hard-copy manuals, managing software updates, and investing in costly hardware or IT staff required to support desktop applications.
  • Offers Subscription Service Model vs. Software License—SaaS is offered via affordable monthly or annual subscription rates, depending on the vendor, and is far less costly than software that is licensed. In addition, even larger than the initial cost of traditional software is the expense associated with long-term maintenance of the software and servers, which all goes away with SaaS solutions. Most SaaS vendors offer a fixed monthly or annual fee, so you can easily budget your application costs throughout the year, and there are also no up-front costs.
  • Enhances the Client-Accountant Relationship—Today’s clients demand service that is convenient. SaaS solutions provide an advanced platform for real-time delivery of services. Via the web, clients can easily view and access their documents without having to wait for an email or fax. Let’s face it; clients have come to expect this level of service. Would anyone really use a bank that didn’t offer online services?

When is the Right Time for Accounting Firms to Adopt SaaS?

Of the accounting, audit, and tax experts consulted on this topic, the consensus is: The time is now. SaaS is well established in the profession…with many proven solutions available. The selection of vendors is rich, many of which are established in the profession and viewed as reliable and forward thinking. Well past the "early-adopter” stage, where technology is still new and the risk is higher for users, most of today’s SaaS applications are advanced and have thousands within their user base that praise the convenience and efficiency SaaS offers.

With the solutions readily available, accounting professionals need to consider the positive impact Cloud computing has not only on their firms, but on staff and clients as well.

Implementing SaaS-based solutions puts the right tools in the hands of your staff. Working within a web-based environment supports highly efficient processing and the ability to establish standardized operations, so everyone is following the same procedures.

SaaS also opens the door to working remotely. Staff no longer need to be onsite. They can simply log in online and work from a client’s office, home, or even a plane! And don’t forget the heightened use of mobile devices as productivity tools, like popular electronic tablets. SaaS supports working on the go using these tools. In the end, staff will work more efficiently and appreciate having advanced resources to perform tasks.

Clients benefit as well. Web-based applications support real-time exchange of data and ultimate convenience. Not only can clients access their documents on a 24/7 basis via the internet, firms can also place other helpful information within SaaS-based portals, including helpful links, notices, and articles. Many SaaS solutions offer so much more than document storage and exchange—they provide a platform for extended client communication, which serves to continually strengthen the client-accountant relationship.

A Final Word…

It’s fast becoming a SaaS world. Cloud computing is being discussed in just about every media channel and online forum. Those who have set up shop in the Cloud realize the immense benefits—from working paperless to the convenience of accessing version-current, web-based solutions.

SaaS is at the core of today’s "e” movement. That’s simply where the profession is heading, so getting engaged now is critical. Remember what the thought leaders are saying: Get on board or be left behind. And fear not…today’s SaaS vendors are poised and ready to help you make a smooth transition.

About the Author - Eric Pulaski, CEO and Founder of SmartVault Corporation

With over 20 years of experience in network security systems and a focus on cloud computing, Eric founded SmartVault Corporation in November of 2007, and currently serves as the company's Chief Executive Officer. Eric has made it his personal mission to deliver a simple, low-cost, paperless, SaaS solution to small businesses and accounting firms.


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Bridging the Gap!

Posted By Jim Boomer, Monday, November 8, 2010

”Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Practice Management.” If you’ve received an email from me you’ve probably seen this tagline in my signature. We use it to describe what we do at Boomer Consulting, Inc. and in the Boomer Technology Circles. It’s so much more than a tagline though, it is a concept that is critical to the success of any business. Aligning business and technology strategies is much easier said than done but it is worth the effort. It can transform I.T. from a "cost of doing business” to a "strategic asset.”

The Norm
Too often, the I.T. department simply takes direction from the partners about what technology needs to be implemented. Since I.T. isn’t familiar with the firm’s strategic plan, it is difficult to identify solutions and make suggestions to help the firm achieve its strategic objectives. This is an incredible waste of talent and knowledge that could be providing valuable input into the firm’s strategic direction. The norm is for I.T. professionals to go to their training and conferences and the partners go to theirs. It’s completely separate. The topics being discussed in each of these venues may overlap but too often the messages that are delivered are miles apart. This leads to a major disconnect between what each party is hearing. Compound this with the fact that a debrief is rarely conducted to make sure both sides are on the same page and you end up with people moving in different directions.

A Better Way
What if partners and I.T. professionals attended the same event and heard the same message? It’s a simple concept but quite powerful. Each party will take away their own conclusions and ideas but they will have at least heard the same thing. This opens the door to further discussion to better understand the different perspectives. What if, beyond hearing the same message both I.T. and partners heard what their peers were doing to improve their firms? They’d both be able to see real world examples of how technology could improve their firm. Again, both sides would likely view the information from their own different perspective but at least they’d be seeing the same thing. What I’m describing above is the underlying premise behind the Boomer Technology Circles. Get a group of partners and I.T. professionals in the same room and discuss the most relevant technology and practice management topics facing our industry today.

The benefits are numerous but some of those most mentioned by our BTC members include:

  • Accelerate alignment of the I.T. strategy with the firms’ strategic objectives.
  • Partners and I.T. professionals gain a better understanding of top issues by hearing the same message and discussing immediately.
  • Learn new ideas and pitfalls to avoid by collaborating with peers from firms across the country.
  • Gain confidence that your firm is headed in the right direction (or the wrong direction).
  • Ability to benchmark firm performance against other leading firms based on financial and technology metrics.
  • Access to key business partners at a high level, not just at the sales level through the BTC Vendor Sponsor program.•Dedicated time for partners and I.T. to talk outside the office.
  • Access to key business partners

I.T. Does Matter
Thus far, I’ve primarily focused on aligning business and I.T. strategies by hearing the same message from outside parties. Equally important is making sure that they’re both hearing the same message within the firm. How can I.T. effectively support and execute the firm’s strategic vision if they don’t have input into the planning process? The short answer is they can’t. This is why it is critical that I.T. have "a seat at the table.” There is a reason most businesses have technology professionals on their internal staff. It’s because they offer a skill-set, knowledge and perspectives that are different from what most accountants possess. These should be leveraged and not ignored. I’m not suggesting that I.T. has all the answers but they do have valuable information that could go unheard if they are not represented when it comes time to set the strategic direction of the firm.

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The Firm Summit…making good things happen!

Posted By Gary Boomer, Monday, November 8, 2010

Firms who are serious about growth have a few things in common, one being a more strategic approach to planning and place a higher value on management. They take time to think about where they are going and how they will get there. They assess their dangers, opportunities and strengths and focus on the top three by reducing or eliminating the dangers, focusing on priority opportunities and leveraging their strengths. Times have changed! It is impossible to focus on every danger and every opportunity. Also, it is not enough to identify issues (which is often all that happens at traditional partner retreats); you must also address those issues if you expect to grow. Some of the top issues in firms today are succession, workflow, lack of integrated technology, lack of accountability and lack of growth.

Why a "Firm Summit” and not a "retreat”?

"Retreat” implies that you are looking to the past and moving backwards. "Firm Summit,” on the other hand, implies a more ambitious approach—one that incorporates a broader participation base that will distinguish your firm from its competition. The purpose of a Firm Summit is to bring leaders and firm members together along with outside expertise and facilitation in order to initiate strategies for significant growth. Most firms spend too little time working on the firm and too much time working in the firm, especially where governance is less defined. In those firms everyone believes he or she is in charge but is too busy to lead—so little growth happens. Too often firms put the same people in a room year after year, hold a retreat and call it good. But you can’t expect exciting and revolutionary results using this formula. Accountability is the key to success. Who holds the partners accountable in your firm after your retreat? It takes a process, not a slogan in order to insure accountability and success.

Break out of the CPA mold

Now is the time to change your format, make these meetings fun and create some excitement. If you don’t know how, ask your spouse! The following suggestions will improve your Firm Summit’s results as well as make it a much more enjoyable experience.

  • Select a relaxing venue away from the office.
    Get people out of their daily routine. Meetings at the office just don’t work. There are too many interruptions, and participants have trouble focusing on strategic thoughts. Choose an out of town location—preferably a resort—so there are leisure activities available. One firm recently conducted its Firm Summit on an overnight sailing trip. If you’re afraid to sail, try a ski lodge or even a sports arena.
  • Encourage everyone to participate during parts of the Firm Summit.
    Be inclusive rather than exclusive—fresh ideas and "new blood” should be welcomed. Management’s participation is also a must. While transportation and lodging expenses are always a consideration, off-season rates at many venues make them easily affordable.
  • Utilize a professional facilitator as your leader.
    Use an experienced facilitator to keep participants focused and on the agenda. It is difficult, if not impossible, to facilitate your own Firm Summit. Most firms have partners who can easily become tactical rather than strategic. A good facilitator will keep them from going off on tangents and diluting the focus of the meeting. You might be surprised at how focused participants become when an outsider is involved. Using a professional facilitator also ensures the Firm Summit will happen as scheduled.
  • Start your Firm Summit with a positive focus exercise.
    Take time to celebrate and be grateful for your successes. This exercise requires mere minutes but is often overlooked. Take a little time to reflect on the most positive events during the past year, why they were important and if any follow-up is needed. Better decisions result when participants feel confident and positive.
  • Work from an agenda and stay on time.
    Don’t surprise participants. Solicit agenda items in advance and distribute an agenda with meeting materials. Do your homework prior to the meeting. Keep each item strategic and stay on time.
  • Avoid the numbers, stick to the concepts.
    Force participants to think in terms of the big picture. The tendency is to focus on tactical rather than strategic issues. Tell participants up front to avoid restraints such as budget and time. It pays to dream. You will find the time and budget for great ideas and strategies. The chances of identifying great ideas and strategies are diminished greatly if you start with the premise, "We can’t afford that.” Think in terms of who can "pull this off” or "whom do we know that can help us?”
  • Keep minutes of the Firm Summit and share with the entire firm.
    Document the "who” and "what.” Accountability is essential, and minutes help you avoid conflicts later on while keeping participants focused. They also can become very valuable as a resource in years to come.
  • Think strategic rather than tactically.
    Utilize your agenda to avoid tactical discussions. Also highlight the benefits of strategic thinking when you announce the Firm Summit date as well as the beginning of your session. An experienced external facilitator is especially helpful in maintaining focus on the "big picture” and providing references to best practices by leading firms and companies.
  • Take breaks of 10-15 minutes every hour.
    People need time to move around and interact. Strategic thinking is hard work. Most people and organizations avoid it simply for that reason. A good rule is to work for 45 minutes and break for 15.
  • Mix the sessions in with activities such as golf, tennis, or boating.
    Plan for social activities and make a special effort to include those who are more introverted. We recommend an Audience Response System to engage all participants during the meeting. Team activities such as a scramble in golf are fun and allow those with less skill to participate and still enjoy the event. Every firm outing needs a driver for the "beer cart.”
  • Invite outsiders such as experts or even clients.
    Outsiders bring a fresh perspective and generally command respect. Don’t expect them to provide answers to all of your problems. You should expect them to have opinions and ask penetrating questions.
  • Name task forces for follow-up with a responsible person and due date.
    Each person must be held accountable for his or her part. Allow those responsible an opportunity to agree upon due dates, which will ensure the chance of each project being completed on time. This is all part of leveraging your firm’s resources.
  • Conclude the Firm Summit with a brief statement from all participants.
    Take a few minutes at the end of the Firm Summit to allow all participants an opportunity to voice their perspectives. What did they find to be the most valuable aspects of the meeting, and what changes would they like to see in the future?
  • Create a One-Page Laminated Game Plan.
    A one-page laminated game plan is critical to success. It allows you to easily communicate vision to members inside the firm as well as to stakeholders outside the firm. Include your firm’s vision, mission, core values and strategic initiatives on one side. On the other side, list strategic initiatives with one or more measurement methods, key steps, due dates and responsibilities. No one throws away a laminated document. Review it frequently and hold people accountable, because many firms have great ideas—but few execute.
  • 90 Day Game Plans and Accountability Reviews.
    Each partner and manager should develop a personal 90 Day Game Plan in support of the firm’s strategic plan. At the end of 90 days, an Accountability Review should be held for each partner and manager. No more than five people should report to any individual. You will find this process reduces management time and forces people to focus on the priorities. Under performers will be immediately identified and should have special coaching or be terminated.

Firm Summits can be productive and fun!  Thoughtful planning, facilitation and location contribute to their value. Delegate the planning if it’s not your unique ability. Every firm has or should have a social chairperson. Give that person a reasonable budget. Don’t wait—schedule your Firm Summit today!



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