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As an SMP, are you making the most of technology?

It can be challenging to implement new systems when you don’t have dedicated resources in place. But as experts point out, having a plan is half the battle

Dedicated team working late at office While it might be tempting to jump onto a new technology trend, it’s important to assess the short- and long-term benefits first (Getty Images/ FG Trade)

Technology is the great enabler for levelling the playing field for small and medium-sized practices (SMPs), as technologies such as cloud computing, software as a service, and even artificial intelligence (AI) are readily available to operations of any size.

“Smaller practices can now do everything they want, and have access to everything they might need,” says Marc-André Paquette, CPA, principal, research guidance and support, CPA Canada. “There are all kinds of opportunities out there. The real issue is getting to know the solutions and implementing them quickly and properly.”


Cloud services and SaaS have made almost any technology affordable for smaller practices, says CPA Obed Maurice, founder, Maxim One in Lethbridge, Alberta. “For a reasonable monthly fee, SMPs can have access to the world’s best technologies, including AI tools, video messaging, online forums, website building, business intelligence and more. Cash outlay is not a barrier. The biggest cost for CPAs is the learning curve and their time.”

Small practices, including sole practitioners, have the advantage of being able to adopt new technologies at their discretion, says CPA Chris Mossop, of Christopher S. Mossop Inc. in Bedford, NS. “I can adopt technologies quite quickly, which is a decided advantage.”

However, it can be difficult to know which ones to adopt as they are built for different markets, he says. “When I decided to implement a management system last summer, it turned out the solution I chose wasn’t quite the right fit. It wasn’t the expense, it was the user friendliness of it, as well as the fact there were some features that I didn’t need.”

When exploring new technologies, Mossop focuses on efficiency improvement tools that are easy to implement, such as paperless assistants. Internal controls can also be supplemented electronically, including approvals, invoices, billings and payment processing. “Solutions like Plooto can be very efficient in accepting and issuing electronic payments without the user having to be tech savvy.”


While it might be tempting to jump onto a new technology trend, it’s important to assess the short- and long-term benefits first.

 “You should adopt only what’s right for you and your firm,” says Mossop. “Look at the cost of implementing them in terms of the efficiencies gained over time. In some cases, it might be cost prohibitive not to adopt certain technologies.”

 “It’s a mistake to initiate a discussion with the technology: start with the pressing issues for  your business,” advises Paquette. “First find the issues you need to address. Then look at your existing tools before investing a lot of money and effort into frontier technology. Have you optimized your use of the tools you have, such as Excel? Chances are you have not.”

Maurice adds that his best adviceis to start with your firm’s strategy. “What kind of client experience are you looking to bring to market? Are you generalists or specialists? Are you virtual or bricks and mortar? Are you holistic planners or are you compliance based? Get a general idea of what your firm is about.”

When looking for a digital adoption strategy, don’t be afraid to reach out to subject matter experts, says Maurice. “It shouldn’t cost a lot. There are grants such as the federal government’s Canada Digital Adoption Program (CDAP).” The CDAP program offers small businesses up to $15,000 to hire a digital adoption expert to develop a digital adoption strategy with specific recommendations on technology, installation, implementation time, etc.

It should be possible to integrate the technology you choose with your firm’s accounting tools without having to do duplicate data entry, says Mossop. “That’s incredibly important. Many times, that is the main factor in whether we choose to move forward or not.”


Include your people in the decision, advises Maurice. “You need to have a clear upside not just for clients, but your team members as well. You definitely want to do some beta testing and include stakeholders on those conversations before making a significant investment. You might be surprised at what people are willing to adopt—or not.”

“Sometimes you have to push if you truly understand it’s best for the clients and work toward building in a comfort level for them to move forward,” says Mossop. “They may be risk averse but willing to if it can demonstrably improve their business efficiency.”

Also leave some time for employees and yourself to try new things, notes Paquette. “Don’t try to implement and change your business all at once. Put some time and effort into testing, and quickly find ways to embed a new technology into your day-to-day activities.”

“You should not be adopting AI without a data governance and privacy policy in place. CPAs are at particular risk as they have fiduciary responsibility for client data”


With the recent accessibility of AI tools such as ChatGPT, practitioners of all sizes are exploring options in this area. “The challenge is how to make the most out of these technologies,” says Paquette. “There is some great potential, but there is definitely risk as well, especially when dealing with private and personal information.”

Alain Fortier, FCPA, auditor, partner, assurance services at Mallette, says the Quebec-based firm has been analyzing AI tools for the past five years. “When we started, applications were not commercially mature. We have since implemented an AI-based application called MindBridge for our audit and review services and DataSnipper, an Excel add-in.”

As a mid-sized firm with multiple branches, Fortier believes they are in a good place in using advanced technology tools. “The big, big challenge, however, is change management. We must be guided by the application and be critical of the results, or it simply won’t be effective. That requires an investment in training and resources who might be dedicated to the application and be able to monitor its development.”

“I would never say to avoid AI, but I would say avoid the hype,” says Maurice. “You need to come to terms with privacy and compliance obligations. You should not be adopting AI without a data governance and privacy policy in place. CPAs are at particular risk as they have fiduciary responsibility for client data.”


When seeking recommendations, Mossop often turns to other accountants running smaller practices to understand how they are applying their tools.

There is also an endless supply information in the form of online communities and forums, says Maurice. “Resources like LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook groups, private Slack channels and online communities have thousands of world-class experts who vet technologies, share tech stacks, and discuss processes openly. Any day, I can ask a question online and get 300 answers from experts.”


Formalizing processes is also important. Even though Maurice runs a small practice, he works with security experts to walk them through security settings, setup and checklists for an affordable annual fee.

“We must recognize that responsibility and bring in the right people to help us manage it. We can rest easy knowing we have done our due diligence and have the right training protocols in place. We can’t forget that as practitioners we are in a data governance role. I worry that rushing into new technologies, CPAs can forget that our classic obligations still exist.”

Maurice and his team have an established process for software selection. The checklist goes through the quality of the support, pricing, security white papers and policies, and testing. “Make sure you are adopting technology in an organized and structured way. It doesn’t have to take a lot of hours. Just have some plan for adoption. Saying ‘I saw this. It’s cool so let’s plug in the client data’ is not a plan.”


Check out CPA Canada’s extensive tech resources and learn about the steps involved in digital transformation. Plus, find out more about some tools that can help take your practice to the next level.