Aug 14, 2017

3 Tech Steps Every CPA Should Take for a More Strategic Role

Sean Stein Smith, CPABy Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, DBA

Regardless of what specific position a CPA holds in an organization, whether an organization itself operates as a for-profit or nonprofit, or what type of work is being performed, there is a technological tidal wave crashing through the marketplace. CPAs increasingly are at the forefront of their companies’ technology adoption, and they are expected to know how to leverage these tools on deliverables. A potential obstacle to adoption by CPAs, especially those tasked with dealing with internal projects on an operational basis, is that technology tools can be intimidating.

Cloud computingThe number of options available, many of which are continuously changing, can befuddle even the most technologically savvy individuals and organizations. But there are numerous opportunities for CPAs to effectively use tech tools, and intimidation should not hold you back. Arguably more important than any specific technology, though, is that by using technology you will open doors for broader engagement within your organization as you become involved in different and new types of projects. As technology becomes increasingly integrated into how organizations collect information and report results, incorporating different types of information into the budgeting, planning, and forecasting process, is an opportunity for CPAs to assume a larger leadership role.

The connection between technology and greater opportunities may seem unusual at first, but it makes sense when examined from a broader perspective. Companies, whether they are privately owned or publicly traded, answer to a broad group of stakeholders. Advances in the amount and type of information that can be collected by an organization allow CPAs to leverage existing skills to address the data requirements of these stakeholder groups. Such an environment and opportunity, however, requires CPAs to focus on the tools and tactics that deliver the maximum value for the minimum required investment.

To begin the process of embracing technology, there are three general areas where CPAs can learn new technical skills, add value to their organizations, and take on a leadership role.

The Cloud

Numerous articles have been written about cloud computing. But instead of focusing on specific tools, which will change and evolve over time, pay attention to the broad themes that allow CPAs to focus on the big picture implications of cloud computing. Implementation, ideally, should focus on possible cost savings, the ability to work remotely and access data from anywhere, and the ability to funnel cost savings into other projects. Simply bringing these possibilities to the attention of management, and working on the implementation process, will provide CPAs with more leadership activities.

Business Process Improvements

Many organizations still rely on manual processes and workflows where minor tweaks would help. The idea of business process improvement – specifically making minor changes to existing processes with technology to improve the said processes – represents a logical place to start. Taking these small initial steps with technology allows CPAs to achieve an all-important early win to help build momentum, and highlights the forward-looking mind-set that is so important in the modern business landscape.

Let Computers Do the Input

No one likes typing data into a system. Optical character recognition (OCR), while not necessarily new or ground-breaking, has become more affordable and simpler to use in recent years. Even better, by implementing OCR technology throughout different aspects of the organization, CPAs can reduce manual work, reduce paperwork logjams, and free up employees to focus on higher-level tasks. A win-win scenario like that is not always easy to come by, and it can be achieved without large financial investments.

Technology, analytics, and other technological tools represent a wave of change and innovation in the accounting profession. Even with all of the available information, analysis, and coverage of technology trends, getting the ball rolling on implementation often remains on the back burner for CPAs tasked with day-to-day operations. Stop delaying. There are numerous first-step tools and tactics that can be put to use at organizations large and small to help CPAs get more comfortable with technology, obtain larger leadership roles, and add value.

Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, DBA, is an assistant professor for Lehman College, a senior college of The City University of New York. He can be reached at

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