Our conversation with Seth covered top accounting trends for 2013, the role of cloud computing as firms evolve, and technology spending in the coming year. Here are the highlights...
INTACCT: Your Manhattan offices were affected by Hurricane Sandy. How did cloud-based applications play a role in keeping the staff productive?
SETH FINEBERG: Without the cloud, we wouldn't have been able to put out the December issue of Accounting Today or keep our sites and newsletters current. In Battery Park, where our offices are located, the water had come up high enough that it had caused flooding in the building. Fortunately, our disaster recover servers kicked in from an offsite data center, so we could all set up shop from home or wherever and continue to produce content. It was a good wake-up call that businesses cannot keep all of their data and technology in one location. You have to have a backup site. Even though we've had a few hiccups, we were able to continue working and be productive even without access to our office. This was also possible because we use a lot of Web-based applications to run our business, such as Outlook Web Mail, iProduction for our Web site and online versions of our page production system.
INTACCT: What are accountants and other experts you speak with saying about the fiscal cliff?
SF: It's still very divisive and unclear. It’s all coming back to the working middle class. Obama has been stuck on the $250,000 cap for defining wealth, but is this an arbitrary number? It depends so much on your situation--where you live, are you self-employed or receive corporate benefits, your family expenses and so on.
INTACCT: Let's talk a little about accounting firms. What do you see as the top trends for 2013?
SF: Top of the list is that accounting firms are looking beyond delivering tax and compliance services. It's all about client service and staying relevant. Firms are experimenting more with the cloud and paying close attention to their clients’ needs. Beyond quarterly taxes and audit work, firms can do BI on financials and see where clients are competitively speaking, where they are spending and where can they cut back. Another area is in business process outsourcing. Firms are providing valuable work in bookkeeping, payroll, and controller-level activities such as financial planning. So the accounting firm essentially becomes the virtual CFO for a company that doesn't want to invest in hiring that person. This is a service that's in demand right now and also provides recurring revenue streams for the firm.
INTACCT: What IT changes must occur in firms to make that leap?
SF: Bring the IT consultant in when the firm is looking to evolve; he or she can help map a plan for the next five years. This may involve upgrading some of your business systems to enable the transition to a service-oriented firm. Look to IT consultants as an advisor to help grow your business. Changes may come from simple software purchases, while others may involve an overhaul of the firm’s entire IT systems from servers to telecom. Aside from all of that, it’s really not all a technology or IT decision but a practice management decision.
INTACCT: What is the role of the cloud as firms evolve?
SF: The cloud more easily allows accounting firms to try out new business models. Virtualization technology is also critical, because it creates redundancies for disaster planning and enables fast remote connections for employees. This requires some investment to switch from on-premise and legacy systems, but over time it's going to save money. The added expense of new technology is nominal compared to what the firm can gain in revenues from these new full-service areas. They will see client retention increase and revenues. More and more, virtual and cloud technologies are becoming a cost of doing business.
INTACCT: When it comes to technology, are you seeing any propensity by firms and their clients to spend more or to make do with what they have?
SF: There is more pressure today to spend in order to stay competitive. In some firms, 10% of their entire budget is going toward IT next year. There are definitely more firms that are open to change right now, but most of them really need a strategist who can come up with the right plan for the business.
INTACCT: Which specific technologies are being adopted most rapidly right now by accountants?
SF: They are interested in anything that can help them better serve their clients and be more efficient across the board. That could be workflow and document management, portals, collaborative client tools for sharing files and data, online systems for billing and mobile access to practice management systems. Technology that is allowing firms and their clients to work together securely online is an enormous trend. This makes everyone so much more efficient while also tearing down the walls of data so that clients can compete more aggressively and make sound financial decisions.
INTACCT: Now for a few fun questions to help our readers get to know you a little better…
What is your favorite place to go in New York on the weekends?
SF: With the kids: Most museums, Brooklyn Children’s, Natural History, or any of the parks here. Without kids: I have a handful of Asian and Italian restaurants my wife and I love as well as a couple of bars in the neighborhood we still enjoy.
What is the best book you have read lately?
SF: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It came out 12 years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. (I am a foodie!)
If you didn't live in New York, you would you like to live….
SF: That’s a tough one, maybe in the Bay Area.
If you want to stay connected to Seth, be sure to follow him on Twitter (@SethTechEditor) and read his articles on AccountingToday.com. You can also follow Intacct on all our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also join the Intacct Cloud Accounting group on LinkedIn to network with other people interested in cloud financial applications.
Do you have interesting industry insights you’d like to share? Do you know someone else that we should interview? Send us your suggestions for consideration.
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