EY Interact Enhances Tax Collaboration

The tax practice of New York-based EY (FY16 gross revenue of $11.2 billion) has launched EY InteractSM, the latest innovation in a series of breakthrough technologies that provides real-time access and visibility to tax engagements.

While collaboration portals exist, EY Interact gives clients one site to access all of their work products and engagement data, and to receive personalized alerts and secure document sharing across their EY tax projects. This central access helps improve efficiency, provides critical business insights and tracks project status and work streams for easy client interaction.

“EY Interact is one tool among our broader technology solutions investments that improves exceptional client service,” says Kate Barton, vice chair of tax services. “This is just the latest example of our commitment to offering the most advanced technology and services available to our clients.”

The EY Interact client dashboard tracks the status and provides a comprehensive view of projects. The EY Interact engagement dashboard allows teams to find related documents so engagement goals stay on target.

“This digital destination makes it easy for clients to manage their tax functions by providing access to all of their EY tax engagement information,” says Jeff Saviano, EY Global tax innovation leader. “EY Interact also offers status tracking so that leaders can be informed of project developments and work seamlessly with EY teams by sharing information across the organization.”

Top 20 Technology-Driven Hard Trends Shaping 2018 and Beyond

Daniel Burrus highlights his top 20 technology trends that present themselves in a broad array of applications and industries.

Daniel Burrus

Daniel Burrus

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing Applications Advances in machine learning and AI, such as Google’s DeepMind and IBM’s Watson, coupled with networked intelligent machines and sensors will create a giant leap forward thanks to exponential advances in computing power, digital storage and bandwidth.
  1. Adaptive and Predictive Cybersecurity Systems With the rapid growth of connected technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles, security systems will move beyond reacting faster to include adaptive security systems using AI and other advanced tools, such as behavioral analytics.
  1. Big Data and the Use of High-Speed Data Analytics The goal is to bring enterprise-wide visibility and insights that enable making rapid, critical decisions. Using advanced cloud services, high-speed data analytics will increasingly be employed as a complement to existing information management systems and programs to identify actionable insights from a mass of big data.
  1. Advanced Cloud Computing Services Businesses of all sizes will increasingly embrace new variations on public, private, hybrid and personal mobile clouds. This represents a major shift in how organizations obtain and maintain software, hardware and computing capacity to cut costs in IT, human resources and sales management.
  1. Virtualization of Storage, Desktops, Applications and Networking Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) is increasingly joining Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), creating what some have called “IT as a Service.” Virtualization of processing power will continue to grow, allowing mobile devices to access supercomputer capabilities and apply them to processes such as purchasing and logistics. These services will help companies cut costs, as they provide access to powerful software programs and the latest technology without the expense of a large IT staff and time-consuming, expensive upgrades.
  1. Virtualization of Processes and Services (On-Demand Services) The virtualization of processes and services will increasingly be accessed by companies needing to update and streamline existing services, and to rapidly deploy new services. The rapid growth of collaboration-as-a-service, security-as-a-service, networking-as-a-service and many more is giving birth to everything-as-a-service.
  1. Blockchains and Cryptocurrency Given their security and lower cost, blockchains create a platform that will impact limitless products and services. Look for applications in health care, supply chain and finance to grow rapidly.
  1. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Apps and Devices Commercial growth in VR will focus on more specific industries. For instance, it’s already being used by architects and designers to show potential clients specific features of buildings prior to actual construction. But that’s just the beginning. AR and VR will soon shift from a single-user to a multi-user social experience.
  1. Smart Virtual e-Assistants and Voice-Enabled Devices The use of smart e-assistants is accelerating, offering what is rapidly becoming a mobile electronic concierge available on any smart device, including phones, tablets, televisions and cars. Soon retailers will have a Siri-like sales assistant, and soon many of us will be using an e-personal health assistant that taps into the real-time health data from a smart watch to predict potential problems and offer suggestions.
  1. IoT Becomes Increasingly Intelligent Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications using chips, microsensors and both wired and wireless networks will join networked sensors to create a rapidly growing IoT, sharing real-time data, performing diagnostics and making virtual repairs, all without human intervention. By 2020, there will be well over 50 billion “things” talking to each other, performing tasks and making decisions based on predefined guidelines using AI.
  1. 3-D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) of Finished Goods Personalized manufacturing of finished goods using 3-D printing will grow exponentially. This allows companies to manufacture one-of-a-kind or small runs of items quickly, locally and with far fewer costs.
  1. Smarter Smartphones and Tablets Drive Mobile Process Innovation The vast majority of mobile phones sold globally have browsers, making a smartphone our primary computer. This signals a profound shift in global computing, allowing businesses of all sizes to transform the ways in which they market, sell, communicate, collaborate, educate, train and innovate using mobility. An enterprise mobility strategy that puts mobile first is rapidly becoming mandatory for organizations of all sizes.
  1. Mobile Apps for Business Process Innovation As we increasingly transform business processes using mobility, use of mobile apps for purchasing, supply chain, logistics, distribution, service, sales and maintenance will grow rapidly. There will be an increasing focus on business app stores within companies, giving the company a competitive advantage and giving users access to the personalized information they need on their mobile devices anytime and anywhere.
  1. Mobile Banking and Payments Mobile banking, using smartphones as eWallets, is finally taking off on a larger scale in the U.S. thanks to an increasing number of phones with secure mobile banking apps, Near-field communications (NFC) chips, biometric identification and the use of tokens where no credit card or personal information is exchanged.
  1. Wearables and Applications More complex software and applications will drive further innovation and sales in other wearable technology. One example is a patch that can be attached to the skin for remote disease management, diagnostics and general health via wireless transfer.
  1. Social Business Applications Social software for business will reach a new level of adoption, with applications to enhance relationships, collaboration, networking, social validation and more. Marketers and researchers will employ social search and social analytics to measure real-time sentiment of large groups of targeted people.
  1. Visual Communication for Business Visual communication takes video conferencing to a new level thanks to free programs like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and others for video communication on phones, tablets and home televisions. Businesses of all sizes are rapidly embracing this as a primary relationship-building and communications tool.
  1. Enhanced Location Awareness for Retail Location awareness using in-building systems allows customers with smartphones to navigate stores and quickly find what they are looking for. This, combined with geo-social marketing and AR, will drive the creation of more business-to-consumer apps. In addition, geospatial visualization combines geographic information systems (GIS) with location-aware data, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and other location-aware sensors (including identifying the current location of users from the use of their mobile devices) to create new insights and competitive advantage.
  1. Drones Reach a New Height Adding AI The explosion of hobby drones will drive innovation for both personal and industrial applications. Drones have already proven to be of high value for search and rescue, and are rapidly being applied to many industries. For example, agriculture uses drones to check crops, fences and cattle; utility companies use them to look for downed power lines; and real estate agents use them for aerial photography.
  1. Energy Storage and Microgrids Energy storage starts to become a reality as companies such as Tesla begin to sell their smart battery systems (SBS) to businesses and homes that generate some of their own power using solar, wind or other systems. In addition, as first-generation hybrid vehicles get too old for the marketplace, there will be millions of batteries that will still hold enough of a charge to be repurposed into inexpensive energy storage systems. This will enable a national network of smaller and more secure smart microgrids.

Windham Brannon and Digitize.AI Form Partnership

Windham Brannon (FY16 net revenue of $24.6 million) of Atlanta and Digitize.AI, an independent artificial intelligence (AI) company, announced a strategy technology partnership that will allow the firm to offer AI and intelligent automation to its health care consulting clients to further improve their revenue cycle management.

The partnership incorporates new tools to help health care clients more effectively address revenue cycle inefficiencies. Even as revenue cycle management becomes increasingly more complicated, there are a number of repetitive and predictable processes involved that make it an area perfect for the efficiencies that AI and intelligent automation offer.

“The ability to apply artificial intelligence to the revenue cycle gives us yet another tool to identify inefficiencies, then allows our advisors to work with hospitals to redesign their processes and re-allocate internal resources to maximize their net revenues going forward,” says Valerie Barckhoff, principal and health care practice lead at Windham Brannon. “We see a huge opportunity to gain 25% to 50% efficiencies for clients. Our partnership with Digitize.AI, a technology pioneer in the healthcare finance space, allows us to immediately change the way hospitals conduct business.”

Lia™, Digitize.AI’s patent-pending and AI assistant for health care finance leaders, works with existing software, workflows and teams to automate, accelerate and prioritize pre-certification tasks to maximize insurance authorizations and secure revenue for health care providers. Trained in machine learning by leading data scientists and engineered by health care operations veterans to solve pre-certification challenges, Lia delivers a number of benefits for hospitals including:

  • Grows revenue and decreases financial leakage;
  • Reduces operating costs and administrative activities;
  • Ensures finance teams are more engaged and productive;
  • Improves the patient financial experience; and
  • Helps prevent physician burn-out related to payer gamesmanship.

“Successful revenue cycle management boils down to effectively using people, processes and technology,” says Justin Adams, CEO at Digitize.AI. “Partnering with Windham Brannon’s health care experts allows us to augment the people and process pieces that they offer with innovative, easy-to-implement technology that delivers immediate return on investment. Artificial Intelligence is no longer the ‘tech of the future.’ Health care providers are using AI to cut costs, increase productivity and grow revenue in their operations.”

2018 AI Predictions from PwC

New York-based PwC (FY16 gross revenue of $14.3 billion) has made eight predictions, based on insights from AI experts, as well as what PwC leaders see as they advise clients around the world who are putting AI to work in their own organizations.

AI will impact employers before it impacts employment
According to PwC, AI-savvy employees won’t just need to know how to choose the right algorithm and feed data into an AI model. They’ll also have to know how to interpret the results, need to know when to let the algorithm decide and when to step in themselves.

AI will come down to earth
AI is ready right now to automate increasingly complex processes, identify trends to create business value and provide forward-looking intelligence. This AI is often “entering through the backdoor” as everyday applications incorporate it.

AI will answer the big question about data
Organizations no longer need to decide to “clean up data.” They should start with a business problem and first quantify the benefits of AI. Once data is used to solve one specific problem, further data-driven AI solutions become easier and a virtuous cycle can begin.

Functional specialists, not techies, will decide the AI talent race
As AI leaves the computer lab and enters everyday work processes, domain experts will be even more important than computer scientists. Sixty-seven percent of jobs requiring data science and analytics skills are in fields other than AI, according to the report.

Cyberattacks will be more powerful because of AI—but so will cyberdefense
Intelligent malware and ransomware that learns as it spreads, machine intelligence coordinating global cyberattacks, advanced data analytics to customize attacks: it is all on the way. Since even AI-wary organizations will have no choice but to deploy AI cyberdefense, cybersecurity will be many enterprises’ first foray with AI.

Opening AI’s black box will become a priority
Pressure will grow to open up “black boxes” and make AI explainable. But that involves trade-offs in cost and performance. Enterprises need frameworks to assess business, performance, regulatory and reputational concerns as they decide the right level of AI explainability.

Nations will spar over AI
AI is a gigantic opportunity, and many governments are working to make sure that their countries get a big piece of the pie. Canada, Japan, the U.K., Germany and the UAE all have national AI plans. Tax reform and deregulation in the US may give AI a boost in the U.S.

Pressure for responsible AI won’t be on tech companies alone
Self-regulatory organizations will likely be a growing solution to the gaps in responsible AI usage that regulators leave behind.

Read the full report here.

Five Workplace Issues We’ll Be Talking About In 2018

According to FastCompany, there are five main issues that will be significant for the workplace in 2018:

  • Unequal Pay
  • Workplace Harassment
  • Generation Inclusion
  • Flexible, Remote and Freelance Work
  • Robots and AI

Unequal Pay
According to a report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, closing the wage gap could add trillions to the economy, but at the current rate of change, it is estimated that it will take 42 years.

“Organizations that work to close gaps now will pay less than those that wait to take action,” says Monique McCloud-Manley, the total rewards practice leader CEB, a best practice insights and technology company. “The average cost to correct gaps increases by $439,000 each year.”

Workplace Harassment
The EEOC reports that about 70% of those who experience sexual harassment at work don’t tell a superior about it.

“Employees expect their leaders to restate their values and workplace policies,” says Geri Johnson, the senior vice president of innovation at SSPR, a technology communications agency. “Mentorship will not solve for the overarching harassment issues we see coming to a head in 2018, but it will show you who is interested in change, becoming a well-rounded leader and someone who values diversity.”

Generation Inclusion
This year marked the first for generation Z’s college graduates to enter the workforce full-time.

“Older millennials are entering the C-Suite, and they will be asking boomers to help them as advisers, coaches, or mentors,” says Elaine Varelas, MP at Keystone Partners, a career management support company.

“They will look for advisers who have broad experience in a range of economic cycles to map strategies to each organizational goal, as long as the advisers work transparently, are open to change, consider the best way versus the traditional way, and move quickly.”

Flexible, Remote and Freelance Work
According to a study from Staples
, only 32% of employees spent all their time working in or at their office, and 43% of employees say remote work is a must-have.

The number of U.S. freelancers now stands at 57.3 million, representing an 8.1% increase over the last three years. As many as 36% are earning over $75,000 per year.

Robots and AI
A report from McKinsey notes that 60% of jobs, at least one-third of the work can be automated.

Chris Bolte, cofounder and CEO of Paysa, an employee empowerment firm, says that a recent company survey revealed that there will more demand for workers skilled in artificial intelligence. “Just over the past six months alone, we’ve seen AI investment increase dramatically at $1.35 billion,” says Bolte.

A Call for Definitive Taxing Structure of Cryptocurrencies

In 2014, the IRS implemented guidelines on how cryptocurrencies should be taxed, but the government did not declare it an actual currency.

Even though the industry has grown exponentially since 2014, the IRS has not issued any new regulations. This has prompted the AICPA to request that the agency “release additional, much needed, guidance on virtual currency.”

According to CNBC, Tyson Cross, a U.S.-based tax attorney, began assisting clients with declaring their digital currencies as early as 2013.

Cross suggests that crypto holders try to preempt any tax-related issues by taking a few preventative measures:

  • Establish a record-keeping process. Capital gains tax should be implemented for every crypto transaction.
  • Regularly download your transaction history. This includes keeping a separate record of these transactions as a backup.
  • Determine your gains and losses after every transaction. Virtual currencies held for less than 12 months are seen as a short-term gain, while those held for longer are seen as a long-term gain.

Postlethwaite & Netterville Announces Sage Intacct Partnership

Baton Rouge, La.-based Postlethwaite & Netterville (FY17 net revenue of $58.3 million) entered a partnership with Sage Intacct, the customer satisfaction and innovation leader in cloud accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

As a Sage Intacct Partner, P&N professionals work with small and mid-sized enterprise clients to implement and support Sage Intacct in response to increased demand for cloud business solutions to improve company performance and make finance departments more effective.

Sage Intacct’s applications deliver real-time reporting and business analytics, automation and integration; all while maintaining compliance with generally accepted accounting principles, international financial reporting, Sarbanes-Oxley and payment card industry data security standard. The ERP solution brings cloud computing to finance and accounting, with significant flexibility and the capacity to scale with business requirement changes.

Sage Intacct is the only AICPA-preferred provider of financial applications. The system includes accounting, cash management, purchasing, vendor management, financial consolidation, revenue recognition, subscription billing, contract management, project accounting, fund accounting, inventory management and financial reporting applications.

Veem Wins Emerging App Partner of the Year in Xero Awards Americas

Veem, the first global payments platform to use blockchain has won the Emerging App Partner of the Year for 2017 in the annual Xero Awards Americas.

Xero, a global small business platform, has over 100,000 business advisors worldwide as part of its network. Veem’s integration with Xero makes it easy to seamlessly pay international vendors directly from the cloud-based accounting software.

“Today’s accountants and bookkeepers are becoming true business advisors, with technology giving them the room to evolve into these roles. Using next-generation cloud technology, an advisor can point out pitfalls and opportunities along the way that many small business owners might miss, especially newer ones,” says Keri Gohman, president of Xero Americas. “Therefore, we are very proud to award Veem with this honor, as we know they are truly dedicated to helping small businesses grow globally and build long-term sustainability.”

Winners were judged across a number of criteria including innovation, ability to boost productivity and provide client solutions, strong marketing strategies, certification and usage of cloud technology tools to provide value to small business customers. This year’s Xero Awards Americas judging panel included key executives from Xero and guest judge Laurie McCabe, co-founder of SMB Group.

“Working with Xero has been wonderful for us. Much like Xero, we want to make it easy for small businesses to get their job done so they can focus on building their business,” says Marwan Forzley, CEO and founder of Veem. “It’s an honor to be recognized by Xero and look forward to working with the team to continue to building innovative solutions that improve the lives of small businesses.”

Blockchain & Bitcoin: Why the Accounting Profession Should Take Notice

By Joe Murray, Audit Supervisor, WithumSmith+Brown PC

Joe Murray

Joe Murray

Bitcoin, which has been plastered all over the news lately, is the new green – as in currency. Since Bitcoin’s founding in 2009, the cryptocurrency has had many ups and downs. Currently, at the time of this writing, Bitcoin is sitting above $10,559 per token, yet its future runs the full gamut, from heavy optimism to extreme reservation.

On one hand, Charlie Shrem, founder of the first Bitcoin exchange – Bitinstant – thinks anyone who can purchase a Bitcoin token under $100,000 is getting a bargain. However, in contrast, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has stated Bitcoin is a “fraud” that will eventually blow up. He even went so far as to juxtapose the infamous tulip bulb market bubble in 1637 to Bitcoin by claiming it “is worse than tulip bulbs.”

Regardless of Bitcoin’s uncertain future, the underlying technology is where the true disruptive power lies. Known as the blockchain, this technology is the catalyst of the “recent” cryptocurrency boom. It also is the foundation for the birth of initial coin offerings (ICOs), which is creating widespread buzz within most industries as well as several governments. Given the current blockchain climate, there is no doubt it will shape the future of payments.

Shift in the Accounting Profession

Based on what is known, the blockchain will greatly improve the efficiency and speed of how transactions are recorded. Using current practices, most audit clients typically take a week or more to close their month-end books. With blockchain, this can be done within hours at the click of a button.

Furthermore, smart contracts will reshape how payroll managers track vesting schedules, EBP-related compliance and identity. This breeds higher levels of comfort with less resources. Accounts receivable and payable will no longer need to be vouched because the data on the blockchain ledger indicating that Company A actually owed Company B is already verified by the majority consortium. The result: significant reduction in testing procedures and time surrounding both of these major accounting cycles.

Such conditions are challenging – and will continue to challenge – how accounting firms adapt audit approaches. In short, the shift from “ticking and tying” to “big data” will be significant. While this will not happen overnight, a future generation of aspiring CPAs who can visualize big-picture accounting concepts and interpret “big data” will be in high demand.

Excitement over the possibilities of blockchain also raises concern over the demand for accountants in the automated world. Many firms, especially audit-heavy ones, will need to consider other value-add advisory services such as consulting or business process improvement.

Most critical is the need to be at the forefront of embracing blockchain technology and its impact on the profession. Those who are slow to adopt and brace for the disruption of the blockchain could face significant downturns in economic growth. In contrast, firms that are already partaking in the blockchain revolution could reap many future economic benefits.

Look no further than the early 90s when the internet altered how the public viewed information. In the 21st century, blockchain technology will certainly change how the public views trust. For auditors, the primary task is to be a third party validator of trust. With the blockchain shifting how the public trusts, there are many, many questions, including but not limited to: Will audits even be needed in the future? What role will the CPA profession hold in 10 years? Will you be prepared for the change or fall behind? Stay tuned.

Guest Article: What Do My Employees Need to Know About Cybersecurity?

By: Bryce Austin

If you are not educating your employees on cybersecurity best practices, you are missing the biggest opportunity for improvement in your entire cybersecurity profile. Your employees have business-need access to a lot of important data, and their ability to protect that data—or to inadvertently let it walk out the door of your organization—is strong.

Lack of education was at the heart of a number of incidents of a major security breach. You have probably heard about the new HR employee that got an email from the president of the organization asking for all the W2 information on every employee, so that person sent them exactly as instructed. The employee did not recognize the fact that the email came from a hacker impersonating the CEO, and a major security breach took place.

Entire business models are based on this kind of fraud. Let’s pretend that I am going to build a site with the world’s best collection of cute pet pictures. I’ll give you the first 10 for free (and those 10 are the most adorable pictures you have ever seen), but to see more, you need to set up a username and password. The access is still free, though.

No big deal, right? Wrong. In this scenario, I own this website and I am a criminal, and my business model is to try to use the username and password you just entered at every major banking website, on all major email providers, on your company’s VPN portal, and anywhere else that I think you might have used the same username and password. I will then extract any valuable information I can from those sites, sell the information for a profit, possibly ransom your own data from you to make even more money, and then move on to the next victim.

Need some numbers to illustrate why educating your employees about cybersecurity practices is important?

  • Per IDG’s 2016 Global State of Information Survey, 48% of data security breaches are caused by acts of malicious intent. Human error or system failure account for the rest.
  • According to the Ponemon Institute, 60% of employees use the exact same password for everything they access. Meanwhile, 63% of confirmed data breaches leverage a weak, default or stolen password.

So where can your company start? Start with a training program. Your employees need to be educated on cybersecurity best practices. One of the issues that any cybersecurity awareness training program should address:

Implement real password policies.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: Passwords stink. They are no fun to create, no fun to remember, and no fun to type in. That being said, passwords are still the most common authentication method today. It is imperative to implement a password policy requiring complex passwords that can’t easily be guessed, and end-user training to go along with it. Microsoft’s Active Directory “require complex passwords” setting is a start, but end-user training is also mandatory.

Many users use the same passwords for every online system they need a password for. This is a problem. If one site gets hacked, cybercriminals will try your credentials at all common websites, and possibly at your business’s VPN. It is imperative that your cybersecurity awareness training program encourage your team members to use different passwords for different sites, and especially for any system that your company uses.

Most companies have some sort of safety guidelines that their employees must follow or be aware of and cybersecurity should be no different.  There are a number of companies that specialize in this type of training, and they may or may not be a good fit for your company culture. Picking the right type of training is critical; having a good cultural fit is more important than the actual content. Be sure to do proper due diligence to ensure that the training content offered by the company or companies you are considering is a good fit for the culture of your company.

The important message here is that you already know you must train your employees on certain things in order to have them perform their job functions. Cybersecurity is one of those things. If you are uncertain as to how to structure a cybersecurity training program, find an advisor that can help you.

Questions to explore this topic further with your company’s leaders:

  • When was the last time you were trained on cybersecurity? What did you take away from it?
  • Do your team members who have access to sensitive data get additional training above and beyond those who do not?

About the Author:

Bryce Austin is the CEO of TCE Strategy, an internationally-recognized speaker on emerging technology and cybersecurity issues, and author of Secure Enough? 20 Questions on Cybersecurity for Business Owners and Executives. With over 10 years of experience as a Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer, Bryce actively advises companies across a wide variety of industries on effective methods to mitigate cyber threats. For more information on Bryce Austin, please visit www.BryceAustin.com.