Delivering critical decision-making data to firms of all sizes.

By Randolph P. Johnston, Leslie Garrett, and Brian Tankersley



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Related reports available exclusively from CPA Trendlines:
Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey – for Medium and Large Firms
Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey – for Solo and Small Firms
Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey – Tax Software Report



Firms of all sizes. Responses from across the nation

  • Firms of all sizes.
  • Responses from across the nation

The Accounting Firm Operations and Technology report is 191 pages in length and features 89 survey questions, and overall results for each survey question presented in easy-to-understand charts and tables. The report also provides survey results by size of firm broken down by solo practitioners, small firms (1 to 10 employees), mid-sized firms (11 to 49 employees) and large firms (over 50 employees).

The Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey examines the inner workings of accounting firms including operations and the technology being used by firms of all sizes. Guidance and direction for this survey were provided by an advisory board composed of executives who have established tenure and credibility in the profession. The national promotion of the survey was a collaborative effort with promotion partners resulting in an equal opportunity for participation from accounting professionals working as sole practitioners or accountants working in firms of all sizes. The survey has approximately three times the number of respondents necessary to establish validity for the U.S population of accounting and bookkeeping professionals. The findings reveal the overall responses and further expand on results to show responses based on size of firm.

  • Inside the Numbers: For each section of the survey (Demographics, Practice Management, Technology Management, Operating Systems, Computer Hardware, Application Software, File & Date Storage/Management, Remote Access/Internet/Telecommunications, and Technology Decision-making, Annoyances and Trends) our research, analysis and editorial team reports on significant findings in the data. The content in these sections is data-driven, based on survey results.
  • Consultants Counsel: For each section of the report, the research team provides consulting commentary to help practitioners understand how they might apply the results to their practice, which aids in planning and future decision-making.
  • Trend Watch: For select survey results the authors comment on trends revealed in the results, giving readers the opportunity to adjust operations and technology planning accordingly.
  • Thought Leadership: Several of the profession’s most respected thought leaders weigh-in and provided insight into select results: Daniel Hood, Editor-in-Chief of Accounting Today, Rick Telberg President and CEO of CPA Trendlines, and Bob Scott, Executive Editor of The Progressive Accountant.





Randolph P. Johnston, Leslie Garrett and Brian Tankersley

We launched this survey project to discover the most comprehensive information about technology U.S. accountants were using in their practices. Although there are many good surveys, there were many unanswered questions. The intent of this project is to discover and share factual, actionable items and insights that are not available from any other source.

Our primary goal in producing this research is to deliver a reference tool accounting professionals can leverage when making operational and technology decisions.


The first step towards accomplishing this goal was to develop a validated survey instrument vetted through an advisory board of several of the industry’s highly respected thought-leaders. The second step in this process was to ensure national participation from firms of all sizes to further validate results. The final step was to develop and publish the findings, a collection of the survey questions, participant responses, and analysis.

The insights, experience, and analysis provided in this survey have been accumulated through the hundreds who took the survey and our team’s thousands of hours consulting with firms of all sizes around the U.S.

Our entire team hopes that this study helps you better understand how firms are currently using technology as well as how our profession is changing the way it works to better meet the needs of our clients and employees.

All practitioners have seen massive changes in how our profession works over the years. When the editor, Brian Tankersley, started his first job as an auditor with a Big Six firm in 1992, he was given a couple of mechanical pencils, a couple of pens, a well-worn leather audit bag, and told where to find the columnar paper and the reinforcement labels. Over 20 years later, many of the menial tasks which punctuated that first year in the profession are now performed by computer software, allowing modern firms to accomplish more work with fewer staff people.

Computer hardware and software are not the only tools which have changed our profession. The speed with which the world has adopted mobile and cloud technologies is also amazing. Most Americans now have a smartphone, at least one cloud-based personal e-mail account, and store documents in digital format. Our profession must continue to evolve and meet client needs for real-time information, or we will be left behind by history. This rethinking of how and where we work and collaborate with others increases some short-term risks to your firm but is necessary for your practice’s long-term survival.


Each with detailed statistics, trends, and expert consultant advice:

1. Practice Management

2. Technology Management

3. Operating Systems

4. Computer Hardware

5. Application Software

6. File & Data Storage/Management

7. Remote Access/Internet/Telecommunications

8. Technology Spending, Decision-Making, Annoyances & Trends


  • Survey Respondents: A majority of the small firms (1-10 employees) were either the sole owner of their practice (53%) or had 2-3 partners (36%).
  • 45 percent of medium-size firms had three or fewer partners
  • 66 percent of large firms had 11 or more partners.
  • 93 percent provide tax preparation
  • 93 percent provide accounting and bookkeeping services
  • 89 percent provide tax planning services
  • 84 percent provide business consultation.
  • 71 percent of all firms operate from a single location, and 56 percent of all large firms have three or more locations.
  • 70 percent provide payroll services
  • 66 percent were key decision-makers in firms (CEO, Partner, Managing Partner, Shareholder/Owner, or Sole Practitioner).
  • 56 percent of solo practitioners report they bill between $50,000 and $200,000 annually.
  • 34 percent of small firms report they bill between $500,000 and $1 million dollars annually
  • 67 percent of medium-size firms report they bill $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 annually.
  • 46 percent of large firms report they earn between $10,000,000 and $25,000,000 annually.

Top 20 Key Findings:

  1. The biggest technology challenge remains workflow efficiency (34%).
  2. A new category for this year, security (19%) is the second biggest technology challenge.
  3. That’s followed by getting clients on board with working with the firm in a more digital way (14%).
  4. The most common channels for new client referrals are current clients (97%), referrals from other professionals (80%), professional partnership referrals (e.g. financial planners, law firms, etc.) (59%), and their firm website (50%).
  5. The percentage of respondents who use a practice/business intelligence tool doubled to 30% in 2016.
  6. To control costs, 65 percent of respondents consider examining the firm for technology, process, or workflow inefficiencies to be either effective or somewhat effective.
  7. Other significant cost controls include 52 percent who report raising fees is somewhat effective or effective, followed by 37 percent who identify working from home as a somewhat effective or effective method of cost control. Delaying/eliminating staff development or delaying/eliminating technology upgrades are both seen as either not effective or marginally effective ways to control costs.
  8. To generate revenue, somewhat effective or effective methods include upselling existing clients (56%), raising fees (53%), adding services (51%), and teaming up with another business (43%).
  9. Acquisitions, while less popular (28%), were used by more firms in 2016 as compared to 2015, and overall, firms found them to be more effective than in the prior year.
  10. 84 percent of the respondents indicate that 76-100% of users in their firm work on more than one monitor.
  11. 78 percent of all firms use a practice management or time and billing software, and four percent use Excel or have an in-house developed solution.
  12. 74 percent use a Web portal to share files or documents with clients; a substantial increase over the prior year results (60%).
  13. 64 percent of all firms financially support one of the following: Apple iPad, Android tablet (any brand) or Windows-based tablet; an additional 17 percent encourage Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
  14. 56 percent host email outside of their office and 44 percent host email internally. 75 percent of large firms host email internally, a significant decrease from prior year results.
  15. 54 percent cycle/replace their desktop computers every 3-5 years, 47 percent follow this same schedule to replace their laptop computers.
  16. 53 percent of all firms spend 10 percent or less time working from a location other than their office, 39 percent work 11 to 50 percent of their time from a location other than their office, and only two percent report they work 76 to 100 percent of their time working from a location other than their office.
  17. 51 percent have considered expansion via merger or acquisition in the next year or more or are investigating options for being acquired, 38 percent are not and an additional 11 percent are unsure.
  18. 19 percent of firms use outsourced managed services instead of having a traditional IT department, and 22 percent of respondents use external IT services for projects or when needed. We noted that the percentage of firms with an IT department has increased by 12 percent from the 2015 results to 22 percent of all firms, while the respondents are reporting that they handle IT issues themselves has dropped by 12 percent this year to 24 percent for all firms.
  19. 18 percent use 100 percent paperless delivery of income tax returns to clients, 66 percent deliver a portion of income tax returns using email, and 70 percent use a client portal to deliver varying percentages of the income tax returns their firm prepares.
  20. 11 percent are considering a de-merge and starting their own firm.


DETAILS: 8.5″ x 11″  /  Full Color Bleed on White paper  /  196 pages  /  Published by CPA Trendlines Research
ISBN-13: 978-0986258947v /  ISBN-10: 0986258946  /  BISAC: Business & Economics / Accounting / General
 Note: Due to the nature of digital product, purchase may be ineligible for return or refund




You save $250.03 (45%)!