I’ve been part of the CPA profession since I graduated from the University of Tennessee and joined one of the “Big Six” accounting firms in 1992. I started during the waning days of working papers which were made of paper, and had the privilege of carrying a 40 pound Compaq “luggable” transportable PC as my first work computer shortly thereafter – so I’ve been around a while. During the last 25 years, we’ve transitioned from paper to computer-based documentation, and have also seen the rise of the internet. The changes we’ve seen – the rise and fall of Yahoo, Amazon’s domination and disruption of everything, and the rise of smart phones – are nothing short of breathtaking. When viewed in the context of how we worked 40 years ago, it’s important to remember they didn’t change overnight – it took decades for things to shift to the new paradigm.
The late Roy Amara, a respected researcher, scientist, and futurist who led The Institute for the Future during the 1970’s and 1980’s, is credited with creating “Amara’s Law”. His maxim states, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” If you think about the tools we use in our offices every day, almost none of the tools we used forty years ago are used today. Gone are the paper rolodex cards, typewriters, 10-key adding machines, workpaper binders, 5-column paper, phone books, and colored pencils from the past, replaced by multiple monitors, printers, e-mail, and software like ProSystem fx Engagement. An accountant from 1978 who visited a cloud-based accounting firm without a physical office wouldn’t recognize what he or she saw. They would be shocked how simple tasks like payroll have been automated and centralized into computer data centers operated by ADP, Paychex, and Intuit which are accessed using the internet– they would be completely lost in today’s world.
We are all learning about emerging technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and process automation. While most of these technologies are platforms for software developers instead of applications you can use to solve a specific business problem. As I write this in the spring of 2018, there aren’t many ways I can utilize these technologies today – but I believe that they will impact how we work in the future in ways we can’t imagine.
It’s important to stay current on technology, but that doesn’t mean that you have to know everything about it – or as my friend Gary Boomer often says, “you don’t have to know how the movement mechanism in a wristwatch works in order to tell what time it is.” The time to change your work processes is when it makes financial and operational sense to do so, not when “the cool kids” say it’s OK. Keep up with your competitors and don’t get behind on technology– because there are a lot of dinosaurs with dusty offices full of paper who upon retirement will realize smaller gains when selling their practice because they didn’t keep up.
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