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Tech survey reveals accountants’ gripes, ‘dramatic’ shifts


A survey of the systems and technology Australian accounting firms use has revealed where the biggest movements have been in the use of software, storage of data, and practice management tools and systems that have had the biggest impact on productivity.

By Katarina Taurian 13 minute read

Accounting firms surveyed for ATSA’s annual technology survey - over 180 across Australia - are now mostly operating on Windows 2010, 2013 and 2016. Use of Microsoft Office 365 has doubled in the last 12 months.

“Unfortuntately for me, Google Apps is still not getting very far,” founding director of Smithink and ATSA, David Smith, told delegates in Sydney. Proportion of Google Apps users have been less than 5 per cent since 2014.

About 40 per cent of respondents are also using “relatively old” versions of server software, dating back to 2012. Cloud-based storage continues to steadily increase, after barely factoring in 2008 when the survey was first launched.


Firms listed the principal challenge with leveraging cloud-based systems as client reluctance to pay, which Mr Smith believes translates to the value of those systems not being articulated to clients.

Client confidence in the cloud was also a primary concern for firms, particularly given some high-profile data breaches in the last 12 months.

“I’d be less worried about client reluctance to pay and more worried about client confidence in the cloud. All of the good stories about the cloud tend to disappear from view when the hacking cases are put forward, and there’s a lot of sensationalism around the cloud and cloud security,” Mr Smith said.

Firms also listed lack of time to exploit cloud uses and lack of staff with sufficient training to properly implement cloud-based systems as barriers and frustrations to rollout.

Internet speed and infrastructure reliability concerns were also factored in as reasons firms hesitate to make the cloud switch. To the agreement of several accountants in the room, one delegate pointed out accountants in remote areas of Australia are facing mounting woes in terms of internet speed and capacity.

Accountants Daily has previously spoken to Mr Smith about the infrastructure barriers to new technology rollout, particularly faced by smaller or rurally-based firms. He’s confident that infrastructure — particularly from the private sector — will make its way to Australia as a consequence of market demand and necessity. You listen to more about this here.

The proportion of firm employees using a multi-screen work station has remained relatively steady since 2011, and Mr Smith emphatically endorsed additional screens as “one of the cheapest” ways to bolster productivity in an accounting firm.

“We asked which technology gave you the biggest productivity list, and screens came in the top five,” Mr Smith said.

“The cost of a screen is so low. It’s the quickest, easiest productivity lift you can bring to a firm,” he said.

Basic security functions are ongoing offenders in a firm’s cyber security and data protection practices. Less than 50 per cent of firms recorded using strong passwords, having forced password changes, two-factor authentication, mobile remote wiping and regular security reviews.

“You are one of the points that the bad guys and crooks want to go to, because you have a treasure trove of data,” Mr Smith said.

“There are scams out there where criminals get into accounting firms, get into client data, and lodge tax returns to get refunds, so get this stuff right,” said Mr Smith.

Fully paperless operations are continuing to steadily increase, with the biggest movement in accounting firms being internal communications making the switch to being 100 per cent digital.

“You’ve got to take a no prisoners approach to being paperless,” Mr Smith said.

“Work out your barriers, work out your training. It’s entirely possible, but it requires committment and a willingness to move past the barriers you find,” he said.

“Once you work in a paperless environment, it’s enabling. It’s incredibly empowering for me to know that wherever I am, I have access to everything I need, and it doesn’t matter where my team is,” Mr Smith said.

“But to make it work, you need to be 100 per cent paperless,” he said.

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Katarina Taurian


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