Over the past decade, the accounting profession has transformed significantly. Digital disruptions, increased competition, adjusting to a hybrid workforce and changing market demands are forcing firms to fundamentally change the way they operate and serve customers.\r\n\r\nTo stay competitive and meet market demands, firms must innovate their product offering, adapt to changing business needs, and offer an exceptional customer experience. This means doing more with the information they house and reallocating resources to high-value work like servicing customers, investing in more competitive offerings, or building expertise.\r\n\r\nHowever, archaic and outdated ways of managing information are hindering firms\u2019 ability to navigate these disruptions, curb competition and innovate to improve their client experience. Here are five of the key challenges CPAs must overcome to best use information to their advantage:\r\n\r\n1. Managing internal and external documents in an easy-to-use and centralized manner\r\np19fsrnkgk10dgee819suie91m3qk.jpgAccounting firms have moved away from traditional file cabinets and upgraded to shared drives and SharePoint for the storage and management of client and firm documents. While these new technology solutions have driven digital transformation, they have also created a fragmented IT environment and resulted in a sprawl of information across systems and repositories that is often challenging for employees to locate.\r\n\r\nSearching for documents, finding the most current version, or recreating a lost document wastes time and money, and can be a huge frustration for both staff and clients. Many legacy information management solutions still use the traditional folder tree structures to store and locate information, which is an antiquated artifact left over from last century, before the world of information and content evolved. To move away from this outdated document management structure, CPAs should look for an intelligent software application that taps into many data sources and centrally archives and retains emails, client documents, and deliverables, integrates with existing systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) software, and allows staff to easily search for and access the information they need to do their core work.\r\n\r\n\r\n2. Adhering to increasing compliance and regulatory requirements\r\nAdaptive security\r\nMaksim Kabakou/Adobe\r\nAccounting firms handle an enormous volume of confidential client information daily. From details about tax payments to sales figures, personal identification data to classified business communications, this information is delicate and needs to be secured at all costs. A data breach can not only be costly for organizations to mitigate, with IBM estimating that the average data breach costs a company around $4.24 million, but it can also harm a firm\u2019s image and reputation and break the bond of trust between the company and client.\r\n\r\nAs internal risk compliance and external regulatory compliance requirements increase due to the depth and breadth of services now offered by many CPA firms, companies need to ensure they have a flexible information management environment to help address data security concerns. With effective and intelligent information management, companies can ensure that access to certain types of documents is transparent and only granted to the relevant employees, control and visibility on shared documents is maintained, and the right information and evidence is available in minutes rather than days for audit requests. Deploying integrated systems with robust workflows, internal controls and reporting ensures greater compliance levels, reduces risk, and provides greater protection of data and critical intellectual property for clients.\r\n\r\n\r\n3. Operating a hybrid workforce and retaining staff\r\nMaintaining a team feeling while working remotely blog image\r\nMaskot/Getty Images\r\nIn the past decade, many things have changed in how we manage our personal and professional lives, but COVID-19 has brought that into the spotlight. Many employees have shifted their expectations, particularly in what they want from their job and their prosperity for change. A typical 9-to-5 job working on trivial, manual tasks no longer suits most workers. There is now a greater need for work that is flexible, collaborative and highly technological.\r\n\r\nAs the Great Resignation and skills shortages plague the industry, firms need to do everything they can to attract, develop and retain talent by offering a highly collaborative and rewarding hybrid work environment. As part of this strategy, CPAs should incorporate integrated document management systems with comprehensive workflow capabilities that can eliminate data silos and enable disparate teams to efficiently share information, which reduces knowledge gaps and \u201crecreating the wheel\u201d information practices. By creating a digital workplace in line with workforce expectations, staff can be more productive, efficient and collaborative with internal teams and clients, which makes their careers more fulfilling and increases the likelihood those employees remain at the firm.\r\n4, Seamlessly interacting with clients in a virtual world\r\nonline-zoom-meeting.jpg\r\n\u0122irts Ra\u0123elis\r\nCPA firms have evolved beyond the traditional methods of communication, such as phone and email, and now employ several different structured and unstructured communication methods for internal and external communications. This has been largely driven by client preferences as they seek increased transparency and enhanced collaboration with the firms they employ.\r\n\r\nIn a virtual world, poor communication can result in lost clients, so it is essential for accounting firms to keep communication across all lines of business timely and relevant. With the innovation of information management and collaboration technologies, CPAs can ensure efficient collaboration, instantly accessible and retrievable information, and increased productivity resulting in an improved client experience. Moving from manual and paper-intensive processes to automatic and digital also enables staff to focus on nurturing relationships with their clients \u2014 benefiting both the clients and the business's bottom line.\r\n5. Managing multiple business applications across your organization\r\ndata-issues.jpg\r\nDenis Ismagilov/ Fotolia\r\nThe rapid evolution of technology solutions in the CPA profession over the last decade has resulted in many organizations broadening their services to clients and leveraging complex data analytics solutions to provide deep analytical services across all services lines.\r\n\r\nThese solutions have driven dramatic efficiencies in service delivery and enabled firms to keep pace with emerging technologies but have created a more complex operating environment and silos of information that aren\u2019t always accessible across service lines. By enhancing data flow between systems and driving consistency in processes via workflow and integrated document management, CPA firms can greatly reduce the time spent on highly transactional administrative activities and allow employees to focus on value-added activities.\r\n\r\nCPAs need to move away from manual processes and inefficient, insecure information storage and management by deploying integrated technology internally and externally to ensure information is easily accessible and controlled across its full lifecycle. Effective, intelligent information management is the pathway to improved efficiency and client collaboration for accounting firms.