September 3, 2018
Professional Services

Kask shepherding BlumShapiro into technological age

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
BlumShapiro’s Joseph Kask and Thomas DeVitto.
Matt Pilon

At BlumShapiro, the largest New England-based accounting shop by revenue, advances in technology are adding new capabilities and shifting how the company does business, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Kask said during a recent interview at the firm's West Hartford headquarters.

Kask, who was named CEO in 2016, said he increasingly views his industry's traditional core offerings like accounting, audit and tax services, to be merely the starting point in wooing clients these days. Accounting firms must compete in other ways.

The difference-maker, BlumShapiro is betting, will be leveraging fast-advancing technology that can help deliver core services more quickly and efficiently, and process client data in search of new insights that can help decision-making.

Advisory services, whether tech-fueled or otherwise, are a big focus at the firm, including back-office outsourcing and cybersecurity.

Last year, BlumShapiro named a chief innovation officer, Michael Pelletier, who is probing tech opportunities for the 500-plus employee firm.

Here are a few examples of recent developments, according to Kask:

• BlumShapiro this year deployed artificial intelligence software to more quickly scan and process lengthy leasing documents, which will help clients prepare for new industry standards for documenting equipment and real estate leases.

• The firm developed a program that uses machine learning to analyze historical data and other variables to help manufacturing clients more accurately forecast their parts-inventory needs in real time, so that they don't leave excess capital sitting on a storeroom shelf, but also don't run out.

• Pelletier has also built internal systems that collect employee input and help prioritize tech initiatives, as well as catalog employee skill sets in order to quickly put together multidisciplinary teams as needed, according to Thomas DeVitto, BlumShapiro's chief marketing officer.

BlumShapiro, which booked just under $80 million in revenue last year, according to Accounting Today's annual ranking, is following in the footsteps of the industry's biggest players, which have been investing in AI, process automation and other tech in recent years.

Though Kask couldn't give an exact figure, he said BlumShapiro has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into its innovation effort, with more to come.

"It's never happened before, so quickly, that programs have been developed at such a price point that smaller firms can deploy the same technology," Kask said.

The trend has implications for the accounting workforce pipeline, too. Kask said more big firms are hiring data scientists, programmers and others with technology expertise, which could slow demand for traditional accounting graduates.

"We are starting to manage our firm in that direction," he said.

Are his workers worried that technology could cost them their job one day? Kask says there may be some of that sentiment, but he also doesn't believe robots are going to take over the industry anytime soon. "We have a responsibility to our people to train them and retool them," he said.

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