The accounting profession is undergoing rapid change, but many of its greatest challenges are issues that firms have been wrestling with for years — among them, fragmented software solutions that do more to obscure the state of the firm than illuminate it.

This year’s BDO Alliance USA Conference provided an excellent opportunity to hear from CPA firm leaders representing about 80 firms across the U.S. In our discussions with these leaders, we confirmed that most practice management systems — rather than solve firm management problems — create additional barriers to running a profitable practice.

Technology provides today’s firms with unprecedented access to critical business intelligence: clients, engagements, billing, and firm performance can each be tracked in detail to provide useful information. However, when that data exists in separate silos, its value for driving business decisions is significantly diminished.

Practice management systems are designed to reflect the real-world needs of accounting firms, yet what we heard at the conference confirms our belief that most leave users spending too much time in exchange for poorly integrated data. The predictable result is a widespread sense of disappointment and frustration that the software doesn’t deliver the increased efficiency, visibility, and profitability firms had hoped to gain.

Based on our interactions at the conference, these are the three biggest frustrations that accounting firms find with their practice management systems:

  • Multiple point solutions, each requiring “care and feeding.” Many of these single-function solutions do in fact perform their individual tasks well. The problem is that when relevant data is siloed and can’t be easily combined with the data in other systems, it’s impossible to make strategic decisions based on current information. The solution: Accounting firms need a client-centric, holistic ecosystem that provides a single source of the truth about their clients and their firm.
  • No real-time insight into how a project is progressing. This lack of visibility leads to understandable frustration. Worse, it creates the potential to leave huge amounts of money on the table due to inadequate communication. Without access to real-time numbers regarding engagement data (billables, deliverables, actual time spent on a job versus projected time), isolated reporting makes it impossible for firm leaders and project managers to determine and pursue an optimal path. The solution: A practice management system that truly meets user needs must provide anytime, anywhere access to real-time work-in-progress data to inform strategic decisions.
  • Lack of visibility into metrics that matter. Point solutions typically provide metrics relating to the function they perform. But they don’t begin to meet firm leaders’ need for performance measurement data. How is the engagement progressing in comparison to the original plan for it? Which types of engagements are the most profitable? Without being able to find answers to questions like these, isolated metrics have limited utility. The solution: A fully functional practice management system should include a dashboard with real-time, actionable business intelligence that integrates data from all sources, avoiding the need for error-prone and inefficient manual migrations.

Most practice management systems can yield answers to some of their users’ questions. But unfortunately the answers are too often incomplete, inaccurate or overly broad. Meaningful answers tend to require a granular approach along with access to data from multiple sources. To deliver full benefit, your PM system should be able to offer clear answers to questions such as:

  • Are my billers getting bills out the door on time?
  • Who owes the firm money?
  • How much business have we done in each industry?
  • What’s our work in process? By office? By business line? By responsible partner?
  • Could a current engagement become more profitable with more or different staff?
  • Are my operations as efficient as they appear at first glance?

Minimizing risk, knowing where the firm stands, and maximizing profitability aren’t new hurdles by any means. These are the frustrations, which we have experienced in our own CPA firm,  that led us to develop PracticePro 365.

If your current practice management system can’t give you the answers you need, think about the opportunities you could be missing. Is that lost potential an acceptable cost? To learn how PracticePro 365 supports visibility, real-time insights and an integrated approach to managing key data, request a demo today.