Interview 1

undefinedMr Paul Tan, one of the founding members of CA Trust PAC, is a firm believer in providing greater client value and is always on the search for ways to do so. As the business is growing, he realised he needed an innovative solution to streamline manual work processes and enhance his staff’s ability to attend to client needs better. He eventually found what he was looking for in cloud computing.

CA Trust PAC is currently using a cloud based practice management software called “iFirm” and has noticed benefits that include better resource allocation and tracking of profitability. What’s more, the implementation of the platform is subsidised by the government through IDA’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Solutions Call-for-Collaboration (CFC) initiative.

To find out more about how Mr Tan used IT to his firm’s advantage and how the firm has benefitted in terms of workflow efficiency, please read on.


1. Hi Paul, how did you find out about Commerce Clearing House’s (CCH) cloud-based practice management software, iFirm, and why did you decide to sign up with the solutions provider?

ISCA has been actively organising seminars promoting the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore’s (IDA) Software-as-a Service (SaaS) Solutions Call-For-Collaboration (CFC) initiative. It was through the seminars that we were made aware of the SaaS CFC, of which, CCH is part of.

The Singapore Government has been promoting ways to improve productivity across different sectors including accountancy. We wanted a practice management software that can help us in areas like keeping track of time spent on engagements and their profitability, assist with constructive responses to clients for overruns and provide a centralised client database. We conducted our own detailed internal assessment and eventually concluded that CCH’s iFirm system best suit our operations.

CCH’s iFirm software is cloud-based. This is important as many of our audit personnel are usually on-the-go and they can access iFirm even when they are out

at the clients’ premises performing field work. With iFirm, we have automated several work processes including job allocation where notification via email is automatically sent to the respective staff in-charge and partner, reports can also be generated to update audit engagements status, manpower utilisation, and capacity planning.

2. Understand that the adoption of the cloud computing solution is subsidised by IDA. What was your experience like in the deployment of the solution and applying for the subsidies? How did ISCA help to facilitate the process?

Generally, the deployment of iFirm was less daunting that I had envisaged. Our staff, who are users of iFirm found the learning curve short.  Also, CCH was helpful in the setting-up stage, and importing existing data into iFirm was generally easy.

Overall, the application process for the subsidies was smooth. We supplied CCH with all the relevant information and CCH did the liaison work with IDA.

3. How has the use of the practice management solution improved your firm’s work processes and productivity levels?

We are still in the early implementation stages of the practice management solution, iFirm, and will probably require one year or a full work year cycle to assess its benefits compared to the days where many (if not all) of our work processes were manually executed.

However, there are already a few visible benefits. Resource allocation is done automatically for recurring jobs. With diligent updating by staff, the progress or status of each engagement is monitored. Automatic email notification is sent to relevant staff where actual compared to budget time costs exceed a specified percentage – allowing managers and supervisors to address problems and issues promptly.  Generally, we now spend less time on tracking the progress of engagements and devoting more time to handling the actual work.

With more efficient and shortened work processes, we estimate that we are reaping the benefits of a full-time staff whom we would have needed to perform those tasks now undertaken by iFirm.

4. What are your top 3 productivity tips you would like to share with fellow accountants who are considering starting their own firms?

There are a few important aspects of an efficient public practice. These are, being able to carry out proper resource allocation, having a centralised client database and possessing the ability to track engagements status. Where the size of the firm exceeds 10 staff for example, investing in a good practice management software is essential. Moreover, a practice management software would free up the time used by technical staff in performing administration tasks and enable them to focus on technical work. This helps staff in achieving greater job satisfaction, translating to better profitability.

5. Would you consider joining and encouraging other SMPs to sign up for other ISCA initiatives to boost their productivity?

Recently, ISCA has been promoting the Enterprise Training Support (ETS) scheme to public accounting firms. We have been given In-Principle Approval for the Training and Curriculum Contextualisation and Alignment Grant and are looking forward to rolling out our training plans and OJT blueprints in a structured manner.

The ETS scheme is jointly developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA)[1]. It aims to help firms develop a robust human resource framework that will help boost the skills and productivity levels of employees as well as retention levels. It has several components including the Training Grant and the Capability Grant which would be helpful for public accounting firms in supporting the provision of regular staff training programmes.

Thank you Paul for sharing your experience!