11 Jun June 2018
In the mid-90s, the tax and accounting software landscape was exploding with vendors. The personal computer market was in full swing— a virtual gold rush for developers. At the time, software solutions didn’t talk to each other. Remember, we were dealing with on-premise (desktop) solutions. Individual applications were developed by different vendors, so they weren’t designed to connect to one another.
Fast forward to the early and mid-2000s. Companies like Thomson Reuters, Wolters Kluwer and Intuit were doing their best to consolidate the software industry by gobbling up the competition. The goal was to create the all-encompassing software suite. Each of the big three had a different strategy on executing their product suite.
- Thomson Reuters followed a build-their-own approach, creating solutions from the ground up. I believe their thinking was that this supported the most seamless integration among solutions.
- Wolters Kluwer believed the opposite, adhering to an acquisition approach—buying up best-of-breed solutions and cobbling them together as a working suite.
- Intuit, as a general rule, seemed to be less interested in the idea of building a suite. Although they made various attempts over the years.
The software suite became a vehicle for indoctrinating the mass profession on technology infrastructure—with at least two of the big three promoting the concepts of “all-in-one” convenience and built-in operational efficiency. This made perfect sense at the time and offered firm owners a turnkey approach to rapidly implement a “firm operating system,” so to speak. But over the long haul, the effect has been to make firms dependent on those suites, with developers having little incentive to make more than minimal improvements to most of the products.
This was and has been a valid position for the past 20 years. But not anymore. In comparison to best-of-breed cloud applications, software suites have sunk to the level of just “good enough.” And that doesn’t cut it. As such, every technology solution we implement inside our firms should be cloud-based.
So, here we are at another crossroad. Maintain “good enough,” or rethink our technology strategy? I believe it’s imperative to do some rethinking.
Now, you might ask: “If it’s made sense for 20 years to purchase a suite of software from one vendor, why stop now? Why think differently?” I have two main arguments:
- API (Application Programming Interface)—This technology allows cloud-based applications to talk to one another…to easily share information. APIs discredit the outdated notion that you must purchase a suite in order to achieve end-to-end software integration.
- User expectations have changed drastically. Whether that user is a client or a millennial staff member, this new “audience” expects us to provide the same level of technology that they are using in their own lives. And that means on-demand, easily accessible and best-of-breed.
For the past 20 years we have been taught to believe that if a software solution simply integrated within a suite, we should implement it—that this was “good enough.”
Think about that for a moment…
- As long as the document management solution integrated within the suite—even though it lacked functionality and crashed occasionally—we should still use it.
- Even though the portal solution was not user-friendly and looked out-of-date, if it integrated with the document management system, it was good enough.
- And how about your website? As long as it integrated with portals, it didn’t matter that is was not well crafted, offered little more than an online brochure, and fell way short on delivering a positive, modern brand presence.
The world has changed. Our profession has changed…drastically. “Good enough” is no longer good enough! We live in a world where technology development is moving at a dizzying pace. Where consumers expect a stellar client experience. Where the number of technology tools we use inside our firms is expanding. So, it’s time to ask the hard question: whether we continue with “good enough” software suites or choose technologies that will positively impact our firms for years to come. Technologies that will affect the type of clients we attract, the quality of staff we maintain, and the ability to operate as a true modern firm.
We all began our software journey by simply identifying the best tools to operate our firms. Software suites met this goal for many years, but also held us hostage to accepting whatever was offered to us…good or bad. Suites no longer own the market on connectivity. API technology has opened the door to integration across various applications and vendors. And that means we have a choice. We can pick and choose the applications that work best for us. We have the choice to build a custom technology infrastructure to meet the needs of our staff and our clients. Say it again: “We have a CHOICE!”
We are talking about this topic in great detail at our summer Indianapolis Learning Center events, which are filling up fast. So, if you haven’t already, please register right away. I will be diving deep into the topic of the right technologies to power your modern firm, and I would love for you to be part of the conversation.
I look forward to seeing you this summer!
All my best,
Summer is in full swing. This usually means vacations, conferences, and catching your breath from tax season. This is also a key time for most firms to work on non-client related projects that are priorities for the firm. If you haven’t created your list of items to work on this summer, now is the time. Do not wait until fourth quarter to make changes or implement something new. Procrastination will set you up for failure.
If you haven’t created your list of things to work on this summer, below is a list of items that our education team sees as common items firms work on during the summer that will help things keep improving.
- Refine your products that you deliver. If you have a pick and choose menu of services, the firm and staff are less efficient day to day working on those tasks.
- Define your business model. This works in conjunction with refining your products, but the model also includes the technology used.
- Narrow your list of ways you work with clients. If you support every version of QB and other accounting software, it’s safe to say there are many inefficiencies that can be fixed.
- Complete or update your client transition spreadsheet. Then start working one client at a time to convert them to your ideal model.
- For new clients, only sell into your model and products.
- Implement new technology that you may be considering and haven’t done yet. This item typically gets put on the back-burner until the 4th quarter and then complete chaos happens. Based on recent calls with firms, below are some solutions we have heard firms referring to implementing this year.
- ADP Run
- Onvio Document Conversion
- Clean up your current databases. If your document management, practice management, or file server, etc. are a mess. Summer is a time to do that clean-up.
Remember we have many staff trainings recorded or coming in the future to help with some of these items. Our coaching team is also well versed in helping firms create products, help pick the right solutions, etc. with firms so you always have the ability to contact us for help. If you have specific questions regarding any of these items, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are in our third part in a five-part series talking about the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and the core functions of the framework. Previously, we discussed Identify and Protect. The next function in the NIST framework is Detect. Once you have identified your assets and processes, and have developed safeguards to protect them, you need processes and tools in place to detect potential breaches. There are three main points in the Detect function.
Anomalies and Events – activity, and its potential impact, shall be detected in a timely manner. One of the key words in this concept is the word “timely.” Timely can be subjective depending on the asset, data, or process that needs to be protected, and in terms of how quickly an anomaly should be detected. Given the statistic that attackers are inside a network 146 days before detection, too many firms lack the monitoring systems to meet the “timely” criteria on the biggest risks.
Security Continuous Monitoring – Information Resources shall be monitored at discrete intervals to identify cybersecurity events and verify the effectiveness of protective measures. “Continuous Monitoring” and “discrete intervals” can sound like conflicting concepts. However, continuous monitoring doesn’t necessarily need to be always ongoing 24/7/365. Routine diligence, scanning, and testing, whether conducted in an automated or manually way, is the key.
Detection Processes – detection processes and procedures shall be maintained and tested to ensure timely and adequate awareness of events. The key word on this point is “Tested” It’s one thing to have written plans and procedures (or backups). It is a completely different conversation on whether those processes and procedures will work for you when needed. Untested backups are useless. A monitoring system is also useless if misconfigured or if notifications fail to reach their intended targets.
When it comes the NIST Detect function, a continuous dialog with your IT Professional is essential. Discuss Intrusion detection and prevention, as well as active monitoring capabilities of your systems. Also cover the timeliness of those systems to notify the right people of potential risks. Finally, ensure that your backups, detection systems, and recovery plans have been vetted so that, when needed, they will successfully work.
The ability to identify a suspicious number of failed login attempts, for example, could be the timely detection that your firm needs to prevent a data breach, before a user account is successfully compromised.
Imagine hearing this today from your IT Professional: “Hey, we noticed while scrolling through the server logs that user ‘susie’ had over a hundred failed login attempts on the terminal server three weeks ago. Any idea why that was?”
In today’s cybersecurity threat landscape, such IT diligence just isn’t good enough anymore.
A decade ago, when I began teaching advertising principles at Indiana University, I asked my students, “How many advertising messages do you think you receive on an average day? Think it over: How many billboards, bus posters, kiosk flyers, radio commercials, website banner ads, marketing emails, commercial social media posts, ad nauseam do you think you’re involuntarily subjected to each day?”
That same decade ago, experts’ best conservative estimate was around 3,000 exposures a day. That figure is dwarfed in comparison to today’s approximation by digital marketing pundits. They figure that number has climbed closer to 10,000 a day, depending on a person’s media habits, of course.
Let that sink in. Ten thousand commercial messages. More than 600 each waking hour of the day. This mind-numbingly bloated figure reflects the digital revolution, with portable devices and pervasive media that have transformed our lives in just a few short years. This digital environment is fueled by content—the river of information that populates communication channels and search engine results.
Now ask yourself, “Do I consciously notice and evaluate every one of those messages?” Of course not. If you did, chances are you’d never make it past the breakfast table every morning. You’d be paralyzed—consumed with processing and discerning the value of each droplet in that relentless river of information. This illuminates a phenomenon called “selective perception.” The upshot is this: Each of us has an internal gatekeeping mechanism that perceives, evaluates and sorts the stimulus around us at a subconscious level, rejecting irrelevant or trivial messages and only elevating to a conscious level those that truly matter to us. Thank heaven we have that defense mechanism. Life as we know it would be impossible without it.
But the implication of selective perception to your own marketing content is that you have a high hurdle to clear before your messages will make it past the subconscious gatekeeper and into the conscious awareness of your audience.
So how do you clear that hurdle? I’ll share with you the litmus test I give my students to help them create content that stands the best chance of connecting with people. It involves a few basic criteria:
- Relevance: The most important aspect of communicating is to offer content that is meaningful to your audience—that has a direct connection to their needs, concerns and desires. Irrelevant messages are ignorable messages. The internal gatekeeper will shoot them down.
- Significance: To make it past the gatekeeper, present a message that has weight. Your content needs to go beyond the trivial and offer your audience information that’s important to them—information and knowledge that has impact.
- Timeliness: This one’s easy—if your message isn’t delivered at a useful time, you’ll find yourself tripped by the selective perception hurdle.
- Simplicity: Messages that are too complex, unclear, or meandering impose a degree-of-difficulty penalty that drastically reduces your audience’s willingness to engage. Be clear and get to the point briskly.
- Reward: Give your audience content that offers a reward for the time they spend with you. Give them cause for delight and leave them thinking, “I’m glad I read/viewed/listened to that.”
Know your audience. Understand what’s meaningful and important to them and give them timely content that’s rewarding to consume, not just content that’s “good enough” to fill your channels. You’ll stand a better chance of clearing the hurdle of selective perception in world that’s saturated in a never-ending deluge of information.
New Grow Is Online
Our new Grow system launched May 15. If you haven’t activated your account on the new system yet, here’s the easiest way to do so:
- Go to Rootworks.com.
- Click the Log In link at the top right.
- Click the “Forgot Your Password?” link to reset your password and activate your account.
NOTE: Do not click the “Need an Account?” link.
If you’d like to learn a little about the new system, you can watch our recorded May 22 instructional webinar here.
Webinar and Staff Training Schedule
June 14—Vendor Hosted Webinar: National Payment. First International Bank & Trust in Watford City, N.D., has bought InterceptEFT. For anyone using Intercept to process direct deposits, this session should serve as a comparison between National Payment and Intercept.
June 19—Rootworks Training on the new Grow Platform. This training will be a repeat of the May 22 session, augmented with discussion on new features that have been added since the initial launch. If you’d like to watch a recording of the May 15 training, you can find it under Online Learning.
June 20—Guest webinar: Building a Talent Pool for Your Firm. Fletcher Wimbush with The Hire Talent will discuss how to position your firm to find the best talent available, even in a tight labor market. The process starts with truly evaluating the position you’re hiring for and assessing what kind of candidate you want.
June 27—Vendor Hosted Webinar: Intro to Bill.com Technology and Resources for Accountants. This webinar is for firms that are new to Bill.com and those that would like to see the sales and marketing resources they have available to accounting firms.
June 28—Vendor Hosted Webinar: ADP—Greater Expectations… How to Leverage Vendor Partnerships to Meet the Lofty Expectations of Modern Clients. Although Darren is a presenter, ADP is hosting this webinar; not Rootworks. You can register via the link on the ADP Vendor Info page in Grow.
Advantage and Academy Members
June 15—Staff Training: Creating Worthwhile Client Surveys. The goal of the class is to give you the know-how to create a survey that clients will take that yields feedback that your firm can use.