Change is inevitable, and knowing that we need to watch out for evolution in our profession is not a new story. However, the amount of change we see is growing each year, and it is hard to keep up with everything. Here are some of the technology trends that tax professionals and accountants need to be aware of for 2017 and beyond:
#1 – More Automation and Less Data Entry
Automation has been a growing trend in the past few years. With all the advances in technology, we are seeing developers take on data entry for accountants and small businesses. For example, you can use an app, such as Hubdoc, that pulls in statements from your bank and credit card accounts. You can set up a credit card statement to be automatically recorded and pushed to Bill.com for payment. All the data is pulled and your transactions are entered for you.
As accountants, we have opportunities to save a ton of time in our workflow, but we will also need to take the time to understand how these new technologies work. It is important to understand the technologies and build a process around them before we put our clients through the process. And, I have already started to see how accountants are shifting from doing data entry to having to troubleshoot apps. Do you have someone in place in your firm to be able to manage app issues? How do you plan on managing new technologies in your firm? Getting in front of these technology issues is important to ensure that you’re saving time with data automation so that you can focus your time on offering insights and being a true advisor to your clients.
#2 – Niche Apps
It’s all about apps, apps and more apps. Developers have worked hard to develop an open platform with quite a bit of tax and accounting software – and you can expect even more integrations in 2017. What will also be different in 2017 and beyond are more apps that focus on certain niches. Imagine the simplicity for the business owner, or even someone wanting to start a business, where all you have to do is subscribe to a few different systems and you have a business operating system ready to go. And, since these are all monthly subscriptions, the cost and risk for new businesses will be nominal.
#3 – Technology Overload
More choices are great for the marketplace, but they can have a downfall. We’ll see businesses using more and more apps, but will all of them work together effectively? Will our clients set up the connections and workflows properly, or will we now have more clean-up work because of all these different technologies?
Some of the apps are already addressing these issues. They are finding ways to integrate, which is great, but the logistics of having two systems talk to each other has been a big deal. Today, we are talking about three or more systems talking together. That is a lot of data going in different areas. The good news is that we may soon have revenue opportunities here – to be proactive with our clients to help them find new solutions and implement them.
#4 – Big Data
Companies will be using data more in more ways to help us save time and, in the example above, grow our revenue. AT&T just announced it will stop using web-browsing information of its broadband customers, but isn’t it a good thing for businesses to learn about us and provide us solutions that make life easier?
Indeed, big data is behind quite a bit of the work we do with our clients, and we are going to see more widespread use of big data in 2017. One major benefit will lead to less data entry, which goes back to our first trend to watch for in 2017. Another benefit is that the data will be available to business owners so that they can better understand their business. Imagine these systems automatically looking at trends and forecasting business results. They’ll be able to show how a business is operating compared to its industry. This will push the accountant even further away from data entry and more into an advisor role.
#5 – Mobile Tools
The last trend to look for in 2017 will be the increase in mobile tools. We already have the Apple watch, where information is being sent to a wearable device. In 2017, I believe we’ll see more instances where we will be able to take action on mobile devices. Imagine completing a complete tax return on a smartphone! Developers are going to make using these smaller devices easier on us so that we not only can get information when we need it, but also, we can take action when we want to – and from anywhere. This will change the way we work even more. The question is, how do we manage all these new advances, without letting them take over our lives?
All in all, developers are busy creating all these things to make life easier. Just like the development of email and the Internet, we have some great advances ahead of us, but it is also important for us to keep an eye on our big picture. How will this change the way we work? What are we willing to try, and what advances are just not within the current needs for our business? How are you going to move forward with technology, without it taking over your world?
If we don’t manage new technology effectively, then our lives can easily turn into complete chaos. Remember the words of Steve Jobs, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But, it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Editor’s note: For more information about how technology may impact your practice, read the ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center article “How Changing Consumer Tech Trends Affect Your Practice.”