To help tax preparers and other professionals with the upcoming tax season, Ace Cloud Hosting interviewed Douglas Sleeter (Doug) for his take on the best practices and technologies, such as: going paperless, adopting cloud, and more. Doug explains how agility trumps ability in almost every accounting process including tax preparation.
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About Douglas Sleeter
Doug, the founder and former CEO of The Sleeter Group, has achieved several recognitions in the business accounting technology industry. Accounting Today has named him in “Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting” each year from 2008 to 2015.
Small Business Trends recognized him with the Small Business Influence Champion award in 2013. In 2017, has was inducted in The CPA Practice Advisor Hall of Fame in the accounting profession.
Doug has consulted with numerous technology companies and industry leaders including Intuit, Sage, Apple, and Adobe Systems, among others. He is also the author of The QuickBooks Consultant’s Reference Guide and QuickBooks Complete.
Ace Cloud Hosting Interviews Doug Sleeter
The interview was conducted with a focus on the upcoming tax season. We tried to gather Doug’s recommendations on how tax firms and professionals can prepare themselves to deliver better results for the client-centric services with the deployment of the right technologies.
You have repeatedly emphasized on ‘Agility Trumps Ability.’ How would you apply the agility concept to tax professionals as they enter the busy season?
Doug: My point about agility is that no matter what skills you have, your skills alone do not determine your overall success. For accountants and tax preparers who can access an ever-evolving set of technology solutions, the successful practitioner will continually update his or her tools and business models.
During the busy season, you’ll probably not have the time to evaluate new solutions, but you can implement systems to measure where your processes are slowing you down, providing sub-optimal client experiences, or causing errors in your work product.
Also, you can measure how much time you spend producing financial statements and tax returns (the work product) vs. advising clients and helping them build more success in their lives or businesses. By measuring these things during the busy season, you can prioritize which areas you’ll target the next time you evaluate new solutions.
What do you suggest is the one key change that tax professionals and firms should be making this year?
Doug: The first change I recommend is to take the “paper” out of your processes wherever possible. I’m not advocating zero paper – for example, many processes are enhanced by printing out the paper, doing manual markups, and then digitizing the results – but for all “process-oriented” tasks, the paper should be considered the enemy.
Once you get paper out of the processes, you can begin to take advantage of the benefits of digital processes in the cloud.
How should the cloud strategy of ‘tax firms’ be different from ‘individual tax professionals’?
Doug: The only difference between firms and sole practitioners is scale. I like to streamline processes for a single-person firm exactly as though I’m building a scalable firm. The best way for both firms and sole practitioners to grow and increase profits is to leverage technology in every corner of the practice.
The more we can streamline and automate, the more we can focus on the client relationship and advisory services that our clients really want. Automate your firm so that you can serve your clients instead of the data.
How does hosting all software – CRM, accounting app like QuickBooks, Excel, Word, Adobe Acrobat, and emails – on one place solve the issue? Does it make it an agile work-model?
Doug: Despite the incredible growth of pure cloud solutions, most of our software solutions are still Windows applications. So, the question is how to leverage both the cloud and manage desktop solutions. The answer is clear. Take all of the Windows software to a “hosted Windows environment” so we get the best of both worlds.
Hosting delivers most of the benefits of the “cloud” without requiring a switch to new software.
Of course, over time, most of the Windows applications will be replaced by true cloud solutions, but in the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, hosting is clearly the best overall solution.
Given that the cloud is not a new thing and almost every professional or firm is using it, what is the right way of using it most efficiently?
Doug: Of course, every firm will have slightly different needs, so it’s important to do an assessment at least once per year. Moving to the cloud is a process, not an event. My best recommendation for every firm is to embed a technology review process that happens every year.
Each year pick an area that could benefit from new solutions and evaluate options from there. Prioritize by measuring which processes are most costly, most manual, or most error-prone, and find solutions accordingly. Instead of focusing on the cloud for cloud’s sake, focus on processes, and look for solutions.
In most cases, you’ll find cloud solutions are superior to old-world ones, but if the Windows software does more of what you want, stick with it for now and re-evaluate next year. Of course, you should use cloud hosting for all of your Windows solutions.
Are there any particular companies, products, services, or solutions that you can name that can (bring in/help in deploying) this change?
Doug: I have many “favorites” such as Ace Cloud Hosting itself for hosting, and to list them all here would take many pages. Also, every few months new products arrive on the scene that makes me rethink, re-evaluate, and in many cases re-engineer our processes to leverage these new solutions. That’s what being agile is all about.
Since I’ve helped so many of the software companies over the years, I’ve developed an evaluation process for each area, and when I ran The Sleeter Group (now the Accountex Network), we gave “Awesome Application” awards (see https://www.accountexusa.com/) to the companies and products we thought did the best job.
In every solution area we evaluate, we start with the people behind the company and product. Great people make great companies, develop the best products, treat their customers well, and will be there in the future as we need support, updated features, and new solutions.
How should tax application hosting providers such as Ace Cloud Hosting should prepare to deliver up to the expectations of tax professionals for the upcoming tax season?
Doug: One of the reasons I like Ace Cloud Hosting so much is that they’re already doing the things accountants want by providing a reliable platform, great service, broad product offerings, and outstanding customer support. Accountants want solutions they can trust, and Ace Cloud Hosting has earned a great reputation by being there for the profession.