by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, LSS BB
Transforming your practice into an Advisory Machine is one of the hottest topics being discussed in firms today as it requires a significant shift not only in everyone’s client service thinking, but also a significant advancement of the information technology solutions that will support this environment. Client Accounting and Advisory Services (CAAS) will be built upon information systems that can provide business owners and their CPA Advisors real-time data to evaluate and make better business decisions. This business information will consist of several different applications that can be integrated or “stacked” atop each other to automatically transfer the data, hence the term: “CAAS Tech Stack.” To be effective, the information system must be available at all times to all the suppliers of information and the users, which by default means it must be built in the cloud.
Built Around Accounting: At the core of every tech stack is the hub that can connect to the various business information resources, which in finance terms is the accounting application. It is important to build your tech stack around those applications your clients are using or would benefit the most from transitioning to, and to standardize on the top two or three applications. According to the latest CPA.com and AFOT surveys, QuickBooks Desktop, QuickBooks Online, and Sage Intacct are the most often accounting products selected by CPA firm clients. While QuickBooks Online and Sage Intacct are written natively in the cloud, QuickBooks Desktop needs to be hosted to have the same cloud capabilities. As Intuit’s leading QuickBooks Desktop hosting partner, Right Networks has built a platform that CPA Firm clients wishing to stay with QuickBooks Desktop can build their tech stack upon.
APIs Integration: The next phase of the CAAS tech stack is integrating applications that natively transfer data into the accounting program. This is done through Application Program Interfaces, called APIs which link specifically to the accounting product the client is using. Both the QuickBooks and Intacct products have a library of applications that are natively integrated with APIs which usually consist of payables, banking, payroll, time sheet entry, expense reporting, etc. Once the firm has selected and implemented an individual component of their tech stack (i.e., accounts payable using Bill.com) they can evaluate what other clients would benefit from that integration and expand advisory to those clients. This process would be repeated for each of the other business information components needed by clients (i.e., payroll, expense reporting, etc.) which is the next phase of building out the tech stack.
Data Automation: For business information components that do not already have an API built, firms will have to learn to utilize tools that can manipulate data from these other sources such that they can be transferred consistently into the accounting product. In many cases, accountants are using spreadsheets to import and manipulate data before that information can be re-keyed into the accounting program. In this situation data automation tools can “memorize” the processing steps similar to Word and Excel macros that many firms have utilized in the past. Transaction Pro Importer Exporter* is one of the leading tools selected by accountants for this purpose to pull data in multiple formats and format it for import into QuickBooks products, which with tools such as AutoFy* can be configured to run routines on a schedule to update data automatically according to the accountant’s needs
Data Visualization: The next phase of building the tech stack is presenting the information in such a way that it facilitates decision making. While there are tools such as Qvinci that automate the creation of numerical reports, most people are visual learners so utilizing dashboards that allow users to understand changes graphically are very helpful. The most prevalent data visualization tools in use are Tableau, Domo, Qlik and Microsoft Power BI with the latter being the most likely choice by accounting firms since the basic components are already in their basic Microsoft 365 (formerly Office) license. Developing dashboards with these tools requires a lot of training so some firms find it helpful to partner with experts in these tools prior to developing their own.
RPA and AI: The final phase of building a CAAS practice tech stack is developing expertise in advanced data automation tools that incorporate robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). RPA tools such as UIPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere can “learn” routines to collect and process information from multiple sources (including websites) which emulate the manual processes performed by human input. Many of the API and automation tools are also integrating “AI” capabilities so they can “learn” to handle specific entries or events consistently when those scenarios repeat themselves. In our view these tools are closer to “augmented intelligence” (scripted by humans) rather than “artificial intelligence” tools which would tend to interpolate or learn on their own.
From all indications, CAAS appears to be the direction that the accounting profession is moving towards and building a CAAS tech stack will be an important component of that practice. To learn how you can objectively build a tech stack that is ideal for your client base and future firm CAAS growth, you can download our eBook: “Tailoring your Tech Stack for CAAS“
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA is Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and partners exclusively with accounting firms on production automation, application optimization and practice transformation. He has been consistently listed as one of INSIDE Public Accounting’s Most Recommended Consultants, Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People, and CPA Practice Advisor’s Top Thought Leaders. He will be presenting his Building a CAAS Practice webinar to Boomer Consulting circles on December 2, 2021 – register today!