2011: The year of apps and iXBRL

For many accountancy practitioners, April Fool’s day was no joke. It was the day the new mandatory policy for efiling Corporation Tax returns accompanied by accounts in the iXBRL format came into effect.

The requirement has been on the cards for two years, and stimulated considerable fear and doubt among practitioners, a majority of whom used Word and Excel to produce final accounts. There were epic debates on AccountingWEB about both the rights and wrongs of the policy, and how to comply with it.

The protests reached an 11th hour climax in February when the six main professional tax and accountancy bodies joined forces to urge the government to delay compulsory iXBRL online filing. But it proved to be too little, too late and Treasury minister David Gauke quashed their hopes a week later, commenting: “There will never be a perfect time to mandate filing in iXBRL. There will always be implementation challenges , and HMRC’s challenge here is to work through them in collaboration with the representative bodies.”

But with the government imposing a moratorium on new regulation for small business, Companies House announced in July that it will delay mandatory iXBRL efiling until 2014 at the earliest, although a joint mechanism does now exist for those who want to file electronically with both agencies.

While major software houses and their customers struggled to get their systems ready for iXBRL filing, the most predictable irony was that HMRC itself would not be fully prepared for the switch. Year ends after 30 March 2010 could be successfully filed, but after the Corporation Tax rate was reduced to 26% (20% for small companies) on 6 April this year, HMRC’s computer could not accept returns showing the 2011-12 rate until an October upgrade.

It is worth reminding members of the “soft landing” arrangements HMRC has put in place for the transition to filing iXBRL accounts. While filers are expected to make an attempt at tagging their accounts in the correct format, the department made it clear that as long as 16 or so basic “validation items” required to get through the Government Gateway are included, it is unlikely to reject any returns - for the time being, at least. Given its own difficulties, it’s good to see HMRC applying some common sense in this instance - particularly as AccountingWEB members continue to encounter bugs and logic traps in their attempts to file CT600s.

Because of the way the mandatory filing deadline applies (9 months after the period end), the serious challenge of coping with iXBRL started at the end of November for 30 March 2011 year ends and will continue into the new year for later periods. As we have been doing since June 2009, AccountingWEB and its members will keep a close eye on iXBRL developments in 2012.

The rise of tablets and apps

One of 2011’s biggest technology stories was less about the kit than about a person, when Apple founder Steve Jobs finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October.  But what a legacy he left behind.

Apple’s overwhelming dominance of digital media and mobile computing through the ubiquitous iPhone and its companions (iPad, iPods, iTunes, iCloud, iMacs, iEtc) is astonishing, particularly to those of us who remember the company and its computers as lowly “also ran” competitors to the mighty Microsoft. There can be no greater testament to Apple’s transformation than its growing popularity within the accountancy profession, where the iPad 2 was crowned as AccouningWEB’s Gadget of the Year for 2011, repeating the success of its predecessor last year.

The iPad is a desirable object, no doubt about it, but the software side of the industry has seen an equally profound change: we no longer think in terms of application software costing hundreds or even thousands of pounds. We look on the net for what’s available, and either opt for subscription-based tools served up from “The Cloud”, or increasingly visit the iTunes store (or its Android/BlackBerry/Windows equivalents) and look for mobile apps that will do the same for a fraction of the price.

The Cloud was last year’s argument. We’ve gone through the Hype cycle now and even accountants are buying into the flexibility, cost and productivity benefits.

But the success of our Apps directory confirmed that 2011 was the year that mobile computing really took off within the profession as members continued to look for useful tools they could operate on their handheld devices. Apps are so mainstream now that even Sage 50 Accounts has one. Will other accounting, tax and practice software suppliers follow suit in 2012?