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My Technology Journey

By Tyler J. Wise|March 18th, 2020|Blog|


This month I have been fortunate enough to be around some very smart accounting professionals as I train for some CPA events this year. Once area that has been of particular interest to me is the development of technology within the accounting industry and what awaits it. Those who know me, know this is a serious passion of mine, and if not too self-indulgent thought I’d share my technology journey to date, and why I am always looking to push the boundaries of technology for myself personally, and within the industry.

For me it all started in 2009 when “the cloud” was not a common term, and it certainly was not embraced. To be honest it was not embraced, it was feared, and was part of the reason I left my last practice. They would not embrace the technologies. Being an early adopter, of sorts, I thought I’d give it a crack myself and it has been one of the best decisions of my professional career.

Initially, there was literally one practice management solution at the time, that was cloud based, and it did have some desktop modules but the development team had shown me the improvements and changes they were making in order to get this online. So, that decision was easy.

Document management was a little trickier, and involved a storage hack of sorts. The document management system I wanted was a desktop solution, relying on a server. Normally that would have meant I had no alternative, but rather than giving up I presented a work-around I had developed to the team, leveraging Dropbox, and just like that I had a bespoke cloud document management and storage solution. Granted this was not the most sophisticated set up, but it meant I could be paperless and cloud based, which for my start up was a non-negotiable.

At the time, everything was still paper based, so mail was still physical. It didn’t take me long to realise this was a major pain, and so I sprung for a duplex scanner and started converting the mail to digital formal and commenced emailing clients their data as opposed to the traditional snail mail. Wullah, another solution, and saved me a step as the mail was being filed as it was being sent. Perfect.

Clients were used to still receiving the ‘collation pack’ which was at least about 100 pages for most clients, and if you made a mistake, well, it was another 100 pages. It was on a typo where I got frustrated and thought, there must be a better way. There was. I invested in custom USB cards and commenced providing clients their data in electronic format, and only printing the pages that needed physical signing. This was a god-send to my printing and stationary budget, especially once clients were educated to return their USB drives on an annual basis so we could add the next years data to it.

Of course, as is the way with technology, nothing stays the same, and the ATO advised tax practitioners about the privacy policy, and just like that, we could no longer email clients their data that had tax file numbers on it. Hmmm, what were we to do? What if there was a way for clients to log in to our website and access their data direct? 

This lead us to our portal exploration, and while we have used various solutions (currently we are having a proprietary one developed) the outcome remains the same. It is a seamless and secure way for clients to obtain their data, exchange files with us, and ultimately serves as source of back up for them. We love the portal and everything it has facilitated for us. Combining with the portal closely is our digital signature software. This was a real game changer. Accountants sell time and knowledge, and one is finite. The portal magically gave me more time as clients were able to view and sig their documents at their leisure. Our analytics showed this was mostly first thing in the morninng or late at night, and well outside of traditional office hours. Suddenly we were “completing jobs” in our sleep. Do not under estimate the use of a portal, and always challenge what it can be used to solve within your business. 

Of course, having clients retrieve, upload and store data lead to me down another rabbit hole, and that was ensuring the security of our storage systems. We could not risk a client uploading a malicious file and infecting our internal systems, or just as bad, us being responsible for infecting a client machine and network. Having been ‘ransomwared’ once before, I take my storage solution, security and back up very seriously. After considerable evaluation, and use of cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox, Sharepoint and Google Drive we have settled in on Sync. Sync is the only solution at the time that offered end-to-end encryption ensuring that our data in the cloud is safe, secure and 100% private. I implore you to review your storage solutions and ensure security is maximized, and if you are already using cloud solutions to make sure the data is encrypted. The thing to remember about a cyber attack is, it is not what they want, but restricting your access to what you want. If I cannot get my data, I don’t have much, and accountants are still very much a trusted adviser and there would be nothing worse than disclosing a cyber attack to clients, which we are now obliged to do.

As you can see protection is paramount to my thought process and this will never go away. As someone who dabbles in cybersecurity I know the importance of data protection, but also physical machine security. Generally most professionals are woeful at machine hygiene. I do not mean wiping your keyboard down with sanitized wipes, I mean inserting any USB you come across in to your machine, installing applications because they save 5 minutes, and opening emails because they look exciting and are different from your daily problems that typically hit your inbox.
I am next level. I have USB-A port blockers all through my machines, and have a dedicated air-gapped (no network access) machine for quarantining client data before it gets uploaded to our system. I also NEVER connect to a network I do not own. I take my machine security so seriously it makes me seem weird, but maybe you should too? Just think about how exposed your machine and network are? Do you have policies and procedures in place? If I gave your staff a USB and said there was a file on it you needed would they insert the USB, and any sort of Malware that may be on it? Take time to consider this!

Finally, the reason I take my machine and network security so seriously is that it is always first class. A computer and internet connection is all I need these days, and all any accountant really needs; but if you skimp on ordinary hardware your ability is compromised. Accountant’s are good with money and investing in a strong processor and graphics card can seem a waste of money, because it seems intangible, but think about it, your bank balance is intangible too, until you need it. The same goes with your computer specs (even though it actually is hardware!). People cannot multi-task (well), but a computer can, and so make the computer your best worker. It delivers efficiency gains, and that in turn delivers profit. Invest in and cycle through your computers regularly. It hurts at the time, but technology moves so fast that having an outdated machine is like having an aging workforce, one who cannot keep up and adapt with the evolving requirements and expectations.

Evolution is naturally the conclusion of my journey. I am always looking to improve my service offering and how I deliver it. This is frustrating, don’t get me wrong, as reviewing hardware and software constantly is fatiguing, but staying nimble is important, and being ‘rusted on’ is something I could never let myself become. Technology has cost me hundreds of thousands dollars since I commenced Wise Accounting, but the return on investment has been there, and will continue to be there as long as I stay educated on what technology can do. It is a facilitator, not a solution, and that is the biggest misconception that occurs. Take the time to review your technology offering and evaluate the improvements. Do not change just for the sake of it, but instead make sure the net return is a positive one. You will be surprised at the gains you will make, and not just financially. Data security and technology knowledge are important resources to own too! 

My journey is not done, and neither is yours, but if you do not know where to start, or what to do, do reach out. As I said, technology is a passion of mine, but so is helping others and if you need it, you have only to ask.

 

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