Jim Dunham, President and General Manager of IRIS Software Group, has spent his career working at the intersection of accounting, payroll, and technology. His past employers include NASA, Siebel Systems, and Wolters Kluwer.
According to Jim, many tech initiatives seem to start in Europe, get established, and then slowly move to the US. Jim has also seen tech advancement in the Middle East—specifically Dubai.
IRIS has been at the forefront of the changing payroll requirements brought on by the pandemic.
Jim Dunham has weathered many changes in his storied career.
Though he started out working on communication systems for the US military, he eventually moved to working on a payroll system for NASA. From there, Jim rode the many computing changes of the ’90s and 2000s, always playing at the intersection of accounting functions and technology.
“When you talk to people in computer science today, they don't even know what you're talking about. The generational divide is so apparent. Now you can do those functions [from the early days] with a button,” Jim reflects.
Today, Jim is the President and General Manager of IRIS’ US division, a role he began in February 2022.
“I'm responsible for any revenue that we generate here in the Americas. So that's looking after a half dozen different entities that we've acquired since 2019 in the areas of practice management, document management, and payroll. We're looking to continue to expand around payroll,” Jim says of his role.
On episode 48 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, Jim and Karbon CEO, Stuart McLeod, have a lively discussion of the changing tides of their careers, the CPA market, and IRIS’ many acquisitions. The two also enjoy some healthy ribbing about their past and present competition.
Jim describes COVID as one of the few events in his life where, positive or negative, every industry felt an impact. When the pandemic began in March 2020, he was working at Wolters Kluwer, a leading global information technology and software firm for professionals, on its TeamMate audit product.
“It impacted the way we worked. We immediately had to figure out how we were going to route all the calls to people that were now at home that didn't have phone setups to be able to support our customers,” Jim recalls.
Beyond its impact on work lifestyle, Jim and Stuart also talk about how COVID transformed the accounting industry as a whole. Those still hanging on to the traditional mindset of an on-site server for accounting were forced to make an abrupt shift.
“People that had actually started to move to the cloud were far better off already. And people who didn't had a cultural, organizational, and process shift. It was much more disruptive for the businesses that had let technology languish,” Jim explains.
“That might be a lesson moving forward. Maybe you don't want to be on the bleeding edge of change, but being a fast follower is not a bad thing.”
Stuart shares that he feels tech adoption is more advanced in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, citing the UK’s Making Tax Digital program as an example. COVID forced many US companies to catch up. In Jim’s global work, he’s found that it depends on the sector or industry as to whether tech adoption is faster.
“We always look at compliance-related issues as coming first in Europe, like the privacy issues and the GDPR. There's an acceptance of them in Europe, and then it becomes the trend in the United States.And I think part of it is the way people live and the population density in cities. But also it's how the governments think about solving that problem,” Jim says on the podcast.
That’s not to say other areas of the world outside Europe aren’t ahead of the curve.
“During COVID, one of our areas that was less hit with a tech gap was the Middle East. We saw expansion in Dubai and Saudi Arabia,” Jim tells Stuart.
Jim also notes that he’s seen a disparity within the US between the East Coast and West Coast as far as tech adoption. Silicon Valley often operates as its own world, while the rest of the country lags behind in technological advances.
“Having lived on the East Coast, and then living in Silicon Valley, I saw that high-tech organizations and firms run at a completely different pace. It's a completely different mindset,” Jim muses.
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In recent years, IRIS has focused on acquiring companies that contribute something new to its portfolio. Those acquisitions led to the release of IRIS Elements in the UK in 2021, a singular platform to house IRIS’ services. Though not yet available in the US, Jim is working on its rollout. But his greater focus is engaging the CPA community.
“There's a bigger play to really focus on that engagement layer. We’re tapping into the CPA community and figuring out the best way to serve them. We're inquisitive,” Jim says.
A major initiative has been understanding the changing landscape of payroll services. Since the pandemic’s push to remote work, workers have become more geographically transient—which creates certain legal conundrums. Once an employee crosses state lines, many things change.
“The hourly compliance requirement for both hourly and salaried employees is really interesting right now. And because of that, there's some additional regulation that's coming down the pike. There's enforcement of: what type of payroll provider are you, and do you have the money transmitter licenses to operate in these different environments? Because of that, you're finding a lot of independent payroll providers that are just saying, ‘I'm not doing it. It’s too hard’,” Jim says, noting that IRIS has worked hard to stay ahead of the changing requirements.
Throughout their conversation, Stuart and Jim address the times in their careers when they’ve been adversaries.
They worked at competing software firms Oracle and Siebel in the 2000s. Now they head competitors IRIS and Karbon. But at the end of it all, the two acknowledge that competition is what makes for a thriving market.
“I wish all competitors well because a vibrant market is good for everyone,” Jim says.
With an eye on the shifting industry of cloud accounting, both companies are likely to keep the market flourishing.