If you hadn’t yet noticed, the world is changing. Fast and dramatically. It was only five years ago, on April 3, 2010, that the first iPad was released, and only eight years since the iPhone took the world by storm. Now mobile technology is everywhere. People rely on the ability to talk to Siri or say “Google Now” for an instant answer to every type of question that pops into their head, and this revolution has completely infiltrated the modern economy.

Although business owners have long since been able to access their bank balances online, their needs have changed. Most savvy entrepreneurs understand that there’s a bigger financial picture for their business than just their current bank balances, and they want access to that information anytime and anywhere.

Enter cloud accounting.

Accounting platforms such as Xero and QuickBooks Online have stormed onto the scene and are duking it out for global market share. Both tools give business owners and their accountants anytime and anywhere access and give businesses the ability to create powerful accounting and operational solutions tailored for their own unique needs with the addition of “add-ons” such as Bill.comHubdocZenPayroll, and others.

Accountants everywhere are now shaking off the cobwebs and asking themselves how to adapt to this new world of cloud accounting. There’s no need to be able to enter data faster than the accountant next to you. It’s much more important to know how to manage the flow of data. The world has fundamentally shifted, and to remain competitive, you need to fundamentally shift along with it.

Here are some of the traits you need to be able to effectively compete in the years ahead:

Understand Accounting

I’ve seen many, many accounting files that were prepared by non-accountants, and unfortunately, the end result is usually less than stellar. It’s not enough to know how the technology works.You need to have a fundamental understanding of accounting to be successful. As they say – garbage in, garbage out.

For some, this will be a relief. It’s almost a throwback to before technology came into play. True accounting knowledge shines here because when information comes out of the technology, you need to be able to recognize whether or not the information makes sense. And then you need to be able to interpret the resulting data for the business owners who expect you to help them understand what they’re looking at.

Understand Technology

Don’t be scared of playing with new technology. Learn what an API is and get a basic understanding of how different systems share information. If you’ve ever played around with databases and understand what records and fields are, you’re way ahead of the game. This knowledge will give you a jump into how add-ons share information so you can start creating a custom solution for a small business based on its needs.

Understand Your Clients’ Needs

If you don’t know your clients’ pain points, you’ll never be able to help them fix them. Talk to your clients and find how what problems they’re having. If you follow how documents move within the company from the beginning to the end of each process, you’ll quickly find what systems need to be improved. You can then research the existing cloud solutions to find something that can hopefully solve their problems.

Find the “Best of Breed” Tools

I would start by finding a solid general ledger (we use Xero). Then add on tools one at a time to solve your most pressing issue. For some it may be accounts payable (Bill.com) or payroll (ZenPayroll). Whatever it is, find a solution that integrates with your general ledger, and before you know it, you’ll have your own toolbox for solving all your clients’ problems.

Keep in mind that there are hundreds of available applications out there which can be overwhelming when you’re first starting out. Feel free to play around with as many as you can handle, but there’s enough of a track record in cloud accounting that you should be able to find many of the Best of Breed tools without too much trouble, particularly if you have a network of people with cloud accounting technology experience.

Find an Accounting Technology Community to Help You

If you don’t yet have a network of peers who are savvy with accounting technology, you can easily find one with a quick web search. Facebook and LinkedIn are full of different types of groups you can join for free. Also check out resources such as the Sleeter GroupAccounting Today, or AccountingWeb for a push in the right direction.

No matter whether you’re brand new to cloud accounting or you’ve been comfortably doing it for years, cloud accounting is not a fad, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Take the time to get familiar with cloud accounting, and you may find that you never want to go back to the old way of doing things.

Patti Scharf is a blogger, speaker, and thought leader in the accounting technology industry and is the co-founder and Chief Controller for Catching Clouds LLC. She absolutely loves designing effective accounting systems for ecommerce businesses and is committed to advancing the artistry of accounting through the use of technology.