Industry Insights—A Conversation with Bob Scott

For our latest Intacct Industry Insights conversation, we recently had the pleasure to talk with Bob Scott, the executive editor of The Progressive Accountant. Bob has provided information to the tax, accounting, and mid-market financial software community for more than 20 years, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. For the past decade, his weekly Bob Scott’s Insights email newsletter has provided insight and analysis for the reseller community.

Our conversation with Bob covered a variety of topics, including cloud accounting applications, CPA collaboration, and the consumerization of business software. Here are the highlights…

INTACCT: Are cloud applications changing how accountants and accounting firms work?

BOB SCOTT: They are changing things slowly. Accountants are not technology laggards, but they are frugal. Firms will move quickly if they see a return on investment, such as with online tax research. Buying multiple monitors is another trend that was huge for them. They quickly saw the value of having more than one screen on their desk. Anytime that technology can help improve processes, you are better off. Accountants tend to use elements of technology when they see the need, which means it's not necessarily all tied together. They're not really sitting down yet and thinking about how technology can help them redesign their firm. So I think when it comes to the cloud, it is still an unknown for many accountants.

INTACCT: Is this somewhat shortsighted of them?

BOB SCOTT: I don’t think it’s a matter of being shortsighted. It’s just that adopting new technology is difficult for most people. They are focused on doing their business, not on understanding technology trends. That’s why they often need outside advice, such as from resellers or consultants, to not only make the move, but to understand that change might be to their advantage.

INTACCT: Do CPAs really care about being able to better share information and collaborate with colleagues, due to new technologies?

BOB SCOTT: If your job doesn't involve collaborating to begin with, then you really may not care. The main thing for accounting types is avoiding the re-entry of data. They are very keen on avoiding errors and having the ability to communicate electronically from anywhere. There’s no such thing as a snow day at this point, as long as you have access to the Internet. Anything that allows a CPA to keep billing hours is good news, and if the cloud allows that, then yes, they do care. It's also important for managers because they can use the cloud to always be updated on the status of projects. And they're doing this in their own office by walking around with a tablet. That simplifies the process of finding a document and people really appreciate that.

INTACCT: Are accounting software systems still too difficult and unpleasant to use? Should they really be as easy as Facebook, or are users expecting too much?

BOB SCOTT: There is a difference between ease of use and the ability to understand processes. No matter how easy the system is to use, people still need to understand the basics of accounting if they are using these systems regularly. The more important thing is the ease of completing tasks. Software has a way of making us feel dumb. Users tend to get frustrated and discount the software too fast, and then they don’t use it. Users don't need to read the whole user manual, but instead should focus on what they need to know to do their job. There's got to be some investment in learning made by the users. It's never going to be as easy as "paint by numbers."

INTACCT: Speaking of ease of use, how has “consumer IT” and social media affected financial and accounting apps when it comes to interface and design?

BOB SCOTT: I think it affects all the vendors because people these days learn a lot about technology through using Facebook and their mobile phones. Technology is less intimidating to most people because they have learned so much in the last few years. Technology is now intuitive to our culture. As a software vendor, however, if you're not incorporating tenets of consumerization and social media into your product, someone else will. You've got to respond to those trends.

INTACCT: Now, a few final questions just for fun…

What is the most memorable movie or show you've seen lately?

BOB SCOTT: I want to see a lot more of “Confesiones de una Doctora”—Confessions of a [female] Doctor. It’s a series done in Germany, but run on the Spanish stations. I put the closed caption on and off to help with the Spanish. I watch “Criminal Minds”, “Big Bang Theory”, and travel shows like “Rick Steves’ Europe” as much as possible and quite a bit of “Antiques Road Show.

What would you do if you weren't a writer?

BOB SCOTT: I would run a small, nonprofit organization, such as a community organization. I have been on the board of directors of our community pool since 2000, and president since 2005. From my experience there, I think my temperament is as a turnaround person—go into something that has a lot of problems to be fixed.

If you could take a month off of work and travel, all expenses paid, where would you go?

BOB SCOTT: Manhattan is on my list. I commuted there for 25 years and it is only 28 miles away. I want to spend two or three months just living in the city to experience all the cultural opportunity, the events, the atmosphere, and all the ethnic food. If I had to choose a foreign city, it would be Paris. I have a saying that you can’t go to Paris often enough and that’s for similar reasons as New York: the cultural opportunities and French cooking.

To stay connected with Bob, you can follow him at Twitter (@BobScottInsight) and follow his posts on the Bob Scott’s Insights page. You can also follow Intacct on all our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To network with other people interested in cloud financial applications, be sure to join the Intacct Cloud Accounting group and the CFOInsights group on LinkedIn.

Do you have an idea for someone you think has interesting industry insights we should interview? Send us your suggestions for consideration.