The Accounting Firm and Operation Technology (AFOT) survey has measured the use of technology by accounting firms for almost a decade. The greatest benefit of the tech survey comes from taking the survey and receiving the results at no charge. However, there are clear action items from the AFOT survey that are applicable to all firms. In fact, we started the survey to learn what was essential to decision-makers in accounting firms and what projects were likely to be of utmost importance in the coming year. Like the prior years, this year's AFOT survey helps show the way.
The Most Important Action Items
Over the last decade, information technology has significantly impacted the job market and client service levels. Subsequently, technology invents new jobs, redefines old ones, or replaces them. As a result, technology sparked the digital transformation of businesses, and technology now touches practically every area of your firm and your clients.
This year's AFOT survey is the eighth annual survey with sixty questions. The results include longitudinal data with many of these questions included each year since the survey started. The results are statistically valid. While surveys have suffered some reputational damage for accuracy in the immediate past, our respondents typically help us see their future decisions based on the feedback.
The following areas are ones that firms expect action on soon:
1. Get a trusted consultant or peer for difficult decisions
Making software decisions and security & risk management were leading issues. Security was cited by 19% of respondents as the most significant technology issue faced. Further, outsourcing of labor from providers like Xpitax surfaced in our results. Joining an association like Woodard Institute, CPAConnect, or a comparable group reduces risk.
2. Training is needed to maintain a competitive IT edge
Cloud technologies do not seem to be reducing complexity. Implementing technology requires more knowledge than ever before. While hosting providers have eased the complexity of maintaining legacy desktop applications like QuickBooks Desktop and third-party add-ons, much focus is on SaaS offerings.
Microsoft 365, QuickBooks Online, digital plumbing tools such as Zapier, and choosing the right technology stack have become significant factors. Firm leaders and technicians alike participating in training is seen as a competitive advantage for IT knowledge.
Results also showed that 89% of practitioners attend webinars as a CPE activity during the year.
3. Spend what is needed on IT
We were surprised to see the continued shift from developing an IT budget to spending what is needed on IT.
- 88% of respondents no longer have an IT budget
- 83% use two or more monitors
- 74% use a secure portal to transfer or share files with clients
- 47% now use hosted email by Microsoft 365 or Google Apps outside of the office
.There are indications this trend of spending what is needed on tech is accelerating rapidly.
3. Workflow, work location, and qualified staff are top concerns
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 49% of our respondents faced communication and workflow challenges with 53% of our respondents spending 90% of their time working from the office.
Recruiting was cited by 32% of respondents as their top challenge in managing their firm. Recruiting seemed to be more of an issue for growing firms, and staff turnover is becoming an issue for many.
5. Zoom became a boom, and Teams closed the gap
Awareness about remote meeting tools has nearly doubled. Previously, only 45.5% of respondents were aware of remote meeting tools, but this year's survey showed that 81.8% of respondents were now familiar with these tools.
Zoom's market share went to 51.4%, with Microsoft Teams going from around 0 to 13.9%. GoToMeeting usage dropped for the third straight year.
Conclusion: Which tech is right for you?
Above, we have listed the five AFOT survey results that will need your attention. Note that obtaining outside expertise and training are critical to success. Further, software selection, including the proper tool stack, cybersecurity, workflow, and portals, is essential. Hosting and SaaS have become dominant delivery vehicles to support communication. Finally, staffing and recruitment are often solved by outsourcing labor.
In short, if you want to work in the constantly evolving accounting field, you will need to maintain and improve your skills. While accounting is full of discoveries and opportunities, where you will never be bored and have a chance to make a difference, supporting our jobs in the tech field is needed, too. Above all, you will be right in the middle of growth and disruption, thanks to technology. In conclusion, it will require a lot of effort, but you will be successful if you are willing to adapt and learn.
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To learn more about cybersecurity, consider one of our K2 security courses.