The Cloud

It’s High Time for CPAs to Rise to the Cloud

How the cloud can make CPA firms better strategic advisers to small-business clients.
Taylor ProvostDecember 7, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More accounting firms are turning to cloud technology, a trend that should help them serve their small-business clients better and sharpen their industry-specific expertise, said Geoffrey Moore, speaking to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’s (AICPA) “Digital CPA” conference Thursday.

“The CPA has always been a surrogate CFO to small businesses,” Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, a book about software adoption cycles, told CFO before the conference. “But frankly, if all [the CPA knows] is the tax laws, or bookkeeping and compliance issues (all that’s fine: I need that), that’s not all I need.

What businesses need from CPAs today, Moore suggested, is industry-specific expertise. The cloud, he said, allows CPAs to acquire that knowledge through online benchmarking and other Internet-enabled capabilities.

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“With many clients in the same industry in one central online repository, now suddenly the CPA can advise clients with an informed viewpoint on the industry,” he explained. “Say florists are my client base. Let me benchmark your business across my database of florists and talk to you about where people are doing well, how you can improve on some metrics, and what you’re getting ahead on.”

By leveraging analytics tools provided by software-as-a-service applications, CPAs can also help clients determine the key performance indicators for their businesses.

Moore suggested that CPA firms should focus on a particular line of business to build their client base rather than simply reaching out to local businesses, which means small-business owners are not limited geographically either. After all, location doesn’t matter in the cloud. CPA firms that become industry experts can use that knowledge to build the intelligent, repeatable processes clients need.

However, if you’re a small business looking for that perfect surrogate CFO to provide you with a forecast from the cloud, you might be looking for a while. Only 11% of CPA firms operate completely in the cloud, according to a survey of 624 AICPA members released by the organization Wednesday. And Moore admitted change management could be an issue.

“In any community, there are going to be early adopters, and folks in the middle that are pragmatists, who say ‘I’ll do it when I see everyone else do it,’” he said. “How you get pragmatists to come on board is where we are with this issue.”

But accounting firms that can pull off the transition to the cloud become more strategic, and therefore can better play the CFO role to small business, rather than remaining a necessary evil and a cost center.