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Ian Pay, Head of Data Analytics and Tech at ICAEW, outlines the aims of the research and key themes that have emerged from the findings.

There has never been a more exciting time to be in the technology space in the accountancy profession. In recent years, we’ve seen substantial changes in the sector, with a plethora of new software vendors emerging to support all aspects of practice.

The accessibility of technology such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence has given more firms the opportunity to adopt game-changing technologies, without huge upfront costs. But there are still challenges in the sector, which has historically been dominated by a relatively small number of software providers, with staffing and skills high on the agenda in many firms.

Pay says: "For ICAEW, it’s important that we continue to provide support to members on the aspects of technology where it is most needed. In conducting this research, our intention has been to update our understanding of the technology and software landscape that members in mid-tier firms are operating in."

Julie Corkish, ICAEW Head of Practice, adds: “Our engagement with member firms tells us technology is high on the list of priorities and this research is incredibly valuable in providing deeper insights and helping us to understand trends.” 

ICAEW's previous research – in 2011 and 2019 – identified some progression, but the 2019 research focused mostly on smaller firms. We know that a lot has changed, even since 2019. As we all adjust to post-pandemic ways of working, we’re excited to be able to share this exploration of where mid-tier firms see themselves on the technology adoption journey.

Key findings

The research findings highlight three main themes.

  • There is an overall sense of optimism and a positive attitude towards new technology. We have seen an increase in firms adopting specialised software since our 2019 research, and a net satisfaction with software stacks of 75%. We’ve also seen a significant increase in the use of cloud-based solutions compared to 2011. However, there are nuances in relation to firm size, and we note that some categories of software, such as practice management, payroll and tax, appear to be less cloud-based than others. Certain categories – such as practice management – are cited as underdeveloped, with user experience and level of integration flagged as areas for improvement. Advisory services has been identified as an area where there is further opportunity to increase the use of specialised software.
  • Staff retention and wellbeing are among the key drivers for technology adoption. Together with other drivers around skills and the availability of mobile apps, it becomes clear that the experience and abilities of staff are intrinsically linked to the technology they are using. Process efficiency also plays a role in driving adoption, with integration and the usability of software again featuring prominently in responses.
  • Barriers to adoption include the effort and capabilities required to adopt new software. There is a need for staff to buy into the adoption of software, and have the necessary training to use it effectively.

Looking ahead, we have explored what the next steps might be, with some clear insights that can be taken to firms and software vendors, and also to inform ICAEW’s approach in this space. Corkish says: "The real work starts now with us unpicking the detail and considering how we can better support firms' journey through this complex landscape.”

The research was conducted between February and April 2023 with support from independent market research firm Savanta, and is sponsored by Confirmation, part of Thompson Reuters.

Research webinar

Hear the results of tech research ICAEW conducted with representatives of mid-tier practice firms. The launch webinar explores key trends, benefits and challenges that members are facing in their digital transformation journey.

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