Need Tech? Call Your Accountant
Awash in new players and old, today’s technology marketplace looks both foreign and familiar. There are the usual suspects selling direct or online — major vendors such as Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, Apple, Amazon and so on. And there’s the enormous downstream network of tech-focused, third-party service providers, resellers and distributors that push a bulk of sales and tech-related services.
But that’s not all. Increasingly, we see a new breed of tech influencers operating from far outside the technology industry altogether. That’s right. Think accountants, lawyers, marketing specialists. Many of them, along with other professional-services professions, have launched a tech practice as an adjunct to their core businesses.
And why not? As longtime users of technologies focused on their industry, professional-services firms could argue they have become de facto experts in certain vertical IT solutions. And now they are monetizing this expertise with their own customers. CompTIA’s recent study on the SMB market, “Technology Buying Trends Among Small- & Medium-Size Businesses,” found that among professional-services firms, the No. 1 business priority for this sector is launching new products and services, with 67 percent of respondents saying technology is a primary factor in reaching this goal. As a blog in Accounting Today, an industry publication, put it: “The most important thing… to remember is that technology becomes part of the products you sell. This is a totally different way of looking at technology in a CPA firm. In a traditional firm, technology is a tool or piece of overhead. In today’s ‘new firm,’ technology is a component of what we sell. It becomes part of the product.”
CompTIA’s study, which is confined to professional-services firms with 1-249 employees, found that 52 percent of are offering some technology services to their customers. Three in 10 are not doing so, but considering it, while just 17 percent have no plans at all.
Cloud-computing adoption is leading many professional-services firms to dive deeper into technology both internally and in their interactions with customers. Rather than hew to the traditional packaged software they have typically used to prepare a client’s taxes, for example, many CPA firms are turning to cloud-based applications that allow for greater interactivity with customers. Among law firms, technology consulting services are increasingly popular. Consider the work that many legal firms are offering today in the areas of compliance audits, which are critical for many industries such as financial and health-care sectors. When it comes to marketing firms’ expansion into technology-as-business, they are heavily investing in services that revolve around website development, social media consulting and execution, and e-commerce.
Customer demand and availability factor strongly into this shift. One-half of respondents cited customer demand as the main driver behind their tech work, which may reflect a desire by today’s customer to attain as many services as they can from a single provider. Other drivers include a desire for new revenue (43 percent) and for new partnerships (36 percent), presumably with tech firms. Notably, just 14 percent cited competitive differentiation as a driver, which could mean that offering tech products and services is no longer considered unique in this sector, but rather becoming table stakes.
Professional Services and Growth
For those professional-services organizations that have taken the plunge, incorporating technology services as a complementary piece of their core business portfolio is …