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10 Steps to a Digital Practice in the Cloud: New Levels of CPA Workflow Efficiency, 2nd Edition


Improve the quality, efficiency, and profitability of the services you offer your clients.

In today's marketplace, leveraging technology and cloud-based solutions to automate data processing and other low-value work is essential to running an efficient and profitable CPA practice. Given the pace of change, it’s also too easy to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of choices and make bad decisions that cost you time and money. 10 Steps to a Digital Practice in the Cloud will help you clear a path for your firm’s success.

This popular how-to guide is your roadmap to building your successful practice in the cloud in just 10 steps. You’ll get practical, comprehensive information with step-by-step instructions, covering areas such as:

  • Infrastructure
  • Scanning Solutions
  • Document Management
  • Client Portals
  • Workflow Management
  • Cloud-based Client Accounting Systems
  • Security
  • Disaster Recovery
  • And more!

Authors John Higgins and Bryan Smith guide you through each step, helping you implement best practices in each area, select the right solutions for your firm, and better serve your clients. They also include several real-world CPA firm case studies to illustrate how other firms have saved time and money while making their firms run more efficiently by moving to a digital practice model.

This second edition is updated to reflect the current state of the market and the technology solutions available for cloud-based server infrastructure, personal computers and software, mobile computing, scanning, client portals, document management, workflow, cloud accounting and more. Use it to develop your technology plan and make a valuable investment in your firm’s future.

John H. Higgins, CPA/CTIP, is the co-founder of CPA Crossings, LLC, which specializes in helping accounting, tax, and  financial professionals to leverage technology. John recently created the Cloud Accounting Learning Center to help CPAs leverage the new cloud accounting paradigm.

Bryan L. Smith, CPA/CTIP, CISA, serves as a virtual CIO to CPA firms and professional organizations. As a co-founder of CPA Crossings, Bryan specializes in helping CPAs to optimize the use of Excel through the new Excelerator Learning Center.

Chapter 1: The Nature of the Digital Practice Model and the Benefits to You and Your Firm 1

The Digital Practice Value Proposition 2

Key Challenges for Today’s CPA Firm and Technology’s Role 3

Staffing 3

Regulation 4

Firm Succession 4

Technology 5

Key Trends in CPA Technology 5

Cloud Computing (aka SaaS) 6

Mobile Computing 6

Client Portals 7

ExtendedWorkflows 7

Benefits of the Digital Practice Model 8

Quality of Client Service 8

Stronger Client Relationships 8

Do MoreWith Less Effort 9

Enhance the Overall Value of Your Firm 9

Chapter 2: The 10 Steps to a Digital Practice 11

Strategic View of IT Model 12

Infrastructure 12

Software Applications 13

Business Processes 13

Staff and Clients 13

The 10 Steps 15

Chapter 3: Infrastructure 19

Infrastructure Defined 20

Traditional On-Premise Model 21

Managed Service Model 22

Data Center Hosting Model

aka IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) 24

SaaS Model 25

Security in the Cloud26

Chapter 4: Broadband 29

Broadband Defined 30

Measuring Bandwidth 30

Broadband Requirements 31

Data Communication Service 31

Modem 31

Router 32

Wireless Access Point 32

Firewall 32

Wired VersusWireless 32

Wired Service Options 33

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) 33

Tier 1-5 (T1, T2, T3, T4, and T5) 33

Cable 33

Fiber Optic 34

Wireless Service Options 34

Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) 34

Cellular (3G, 4G) 34

WiMAX (Worldwide

Interoperability for

Microwave Access) 35

Satellite 35

How to Determine What You Need 35

The Number of Users Working in Your Office 35

Number and Type of Cloud Applications 36

Size and Type of Data Transmitted 36

Upload Versus Download Speed 36

Thick Client Versus Thin Client 37

Phone System 37

Where to Get Your Broadband 38

Telephone Company 38

Cable 38

Cellular 38

Regional 39

Recommendations 39

Contact Vendors 39

Main Communications Network 40

Back-up Communications Network 40

Two Alternative Approaches 40

Broadband to Go 41

Hotspots 42

Chapter 5: The CPA Technology Toolkit 43

Desktop Computer Versus Laptop 44

Recommended Desktop and Laptop Configuration 45

Multiple Monitors 47

Selecting Monitors and Accessories 48

Touch Screen Monitors 49

Windows® 7 50

Windows® 8 52

Microsoft® Office 52

Microsoft Office From the Cloud 53

Google Apps™ 54

Adobe® Acrobat® 54

Web Conferencing System 55

Smartphones and Tablets 58

Smartphones 59

Picking Your Platform and Device 60

Android™ 61

Apple iOS 61

Windows 62

Chapter 6: Scanning Solutions 63

Centralized Versus Distributed Scanning 64

Alternative Scanning Devices 65

Scanner Features 68

Advanced Document Processing Software for Tax Preparation 69

Workflow Integration 70

Front End Scanning  71

Mid-Point Scanning 71

Back End Scanning 72

Chapter 7: Document and File Management Systems 73

Metadata 101 74

Capture 75

Process 77

Store 77

Disseminate 78

The Big Picture 79

DMS Implementation Best Practices 79

Chapter 8: Trial Balance Working Paper Software 81

Features Review 83

Trial Balance 83

Journal Entries 83

Financial Statements 83

Working Paper Binder 84

Engagement Management 84

Review Notes 84

Tax Software Bridge 84

Accounting Software Bridge 85

Solutions Overview 85

Chapter 9: Client Portals--Gateway to the Future 87

Security 89

Task Automation 89

ExtendedWorkflows 89

Innovative Services 90

Developing Your Portal Strategy 90

Stage 1:Document and File Exchange 91

Stage 2:Workflow Integration 92

Stage 3: Aggregation and Single Sign-on 93

Stage 4: Third Party Cloud Applications 93

Portal Deployment Checklist 94

Chapter 10: Workflow Software 99

Process Mapping 101

Scheduling and Task Assignment 101

Dynamic Rules 102

Document and File Binder 102

Review Note Tracking 102

Electronic Forms, Checklists, and Routing Sheets 102

E-mail Alerts 102

Management Reports 103

Chapter 11: Cloud-Based Client Accounting System 105

It Is Time for a Change 106

Inefficiencies With the Traditional Client Accounting Model 107

Much Improved Service With the Cloud Accounting Model 107

The Opportunity 108

The Economic Model 109

Chapter 12: Security and Disaster Recovery 111

Data Security Strategies 112

Data Encryption 112

Password Policy 115

Cloud Computing 116

Secure Data Transmission 117

Antivirus Software 118

Firewalls 119

Mobile Computing Security 119

Data Backup 120

Disaster Recovery Protection 120

Chapter 13: Developing and Implementing Your Technology Plan 123

What Do I Do Now? 124

How Do I Approach the Process? 124

Strategy 124

Education 127

Analysis 127

Execution 129

Assessment 129

Chapter 14: Case Studies 131

Clark Nuber P.S.: Leveraging Confirmation Software to Streamline the Audit Process 132

Juravel & Company, LLC: Client Portals 133

Krueger & Associates, P.A.: Leveraging a Cloud-Based Client Accounting Solution and Other Portal Applications 135

Schlabig & Associates Ltd.: Outsourcing IT Infrastructure to a Data Center Hosting Service 136

Appendix A: Sample Tax Services Process Review 139

Appendix B: Glossary 145

Appendix C: Resource Center 149

Appendix D: AICPA SOC References and Resources 159

Appendix E: Reporting on Controls at a Cloud Computing Service Organization 165