Even thought leaders can get stuck in the past for a while and the Information Technology Alliance is no exception.

In the words of president Ron Eagle, the ITA has long tried to represent “community, collaboration, education, thought leadership and fun.” Now, after 15 years of its existence, members appear ready for change and the cloud (big surprise) is a part of it.

Yes, it was little surprise to see breakout sessions during the group’s recent Fall Collaborative in Austin dominated by cloud and SaaS, and with good reason. The discussions among ITA members about adopting cloud applications or developing cloud-based practices have clearly shifted from “if” to “how.”

If anyone needed additional evidence of the interest in establishing a cloud practice, one needed to look no further than the heavy courting going on between cloud vendors such as NetSuite and Intacct, and ITA member accounting and consulting firms, many of whom have historically represented legacy ERP systems. In fact, Intacct invited nearly one-quarter of the entire conference to dinner during the first night to show its appreciation to current and some potential partners.

Cloud accounting and ERP weren’t the only ones at the proverbial discussion table as there were plenty of meetings between potential partners and the likes of Avalara, Adaptive Planning, SaasHR.com and SugarCRM, which is touting a new SaaS offering. Tax and accounting giants ThomsonReuters and CCH were also on hand to discuss their respective product roadmaps, which of course involve mobile as well as cloud offerings.

All courting aside, there were the numerous sessions and discussions around establishing a cloud practice or incorporating more cloud-based products and services into a firm. As recently as last year, tech consultant attendees who represented legacy accounting and ERP systems and accounting firms looking to expand their service offerings were—for the most part—not entirely sold on the cloud.

So what has changed? Well, for lack of a better phrase, change happens and it is apparently becoming the norm.

During a packed information session entitled, “The Big Shift: Reinventing Your Firm,” True North Strategies president Craig McCollum explained that whether you are a technology consultant, vendor, or accounting firm, you can no longer conduct business in the way you have become comfortable doing and – more importantly – the changes occurring now will not dissipate any time soon.

“I assume that even by being in this session you have accepted that change is happening and you want to do something about it,” said McCollum, a former vice president at Microsoft Dynamics and Sage North America. “That’s the first step. Change is now the norm and something we need to know how to adjust to and participate in on a regular basis. This isn’t just about moving everything to the cloud. Things will continue changing over time, and you have to be able to be light on your feet, and be able to move.”

This message resonated loud and clear. Conversations about how firms and practices are embracing change were heard throughout the duration of the Collaborative. For one, many traditional VARs don’t appear to have much faith that the respective publishers they represent will have a pure SaaS offering in the time needed for some of their clients’ purposes. They admit that hosting only goes so far.

To be fair, it’s not all about the cloud, as there were plenty of information sessions and discussions on the use of social media and the general shift towards becoming a more service-oriented practice or firm. What remains now is, quite simply, action. All too often meetings, conferences, collaboratives and what have you end on a high note, with all the best intentions to implement what was learned and discussed, but with few results.

Somewhere along the line, after expense reports are tallied, business cards are sorted, and obligatory follow up emails are sent, a void of inactivity sets in and routines resume. So what of the thought leaders, the community builders, the educators, the collaborators? Will change come for them or from them? That would be fun to see.

 This article first ran on the Accounting Today website.

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