Practice management software: User verdicts

Cloud tools for practice automation
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Accounting WEB
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AccountingWEB.co.uk
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When AccountingWEB sat a group of accountants down across a conference table from suppliers of cloud practice management software suppliers, their priorities were very clear: “Make it simple for me… Save me time... Help me manage all the clients I’m taking on.”

The specific areas that were causing the most problems for our practitioners included:

  • Client chasing and data collection
  • Reaching out to new prospects in an organised manner and simplifying the process of bringing them on board as clients. One firm was looking for reminders and prompts on this set of tasks “as we lost a few clients because we didn’t love them enough”.
  • Linking invoices to standardised fee structures, and the ability to raise and manage bills for ad hoc projects that run alongside. Also facilities for tracking and reporting work in progress (WIP)
  • Creating and managing task categories and workflows for better tracking and analysis
  • Pulling all of these features together into a solution that will help firms manage clients through the Making Tax Digital transition.

It became apparent that our six workshop participants wanted a wide variety of functions, and that most of the existing practice management tools didn’t fit their requirements. Sharon Pocock from Kinder Pocock uses the free Xero Practice Manager module, but supplements it with a number of add-on applications. Yet even she relied, like several other workshop participants, on a number of administrative spreadsheets.

This spreadsheet dependence confirms that practice management has been the poor relation of accounting software for many years. In our 2013 software survey, just 10% of respondents used practice management tools, compared to 23% each for tax and accounts production. And while the cloud has swept through the profession for bookkeeping, online tools for specialist tax and practice functions have lagged behind.

That has been changing in recent years with the arrival of suppliers like Logical Office, Glide, Senta and more recently mTrio and Prosper. The accountants taking part in our workshop said they were familiar with what the “old guard” suppliers had to offer, so we showed them what the latest entrants to the market had to offer.

This is what we found:

Glide

Glide started life as a specialist workflow engine and responded to user needs by evolving into a more general cloud practice management tool. Since it was launched in 2013, Glide has built up a base of 170+ user firms.

At the heart of the application is a flexible workflow engine that allows the practice to define the ingredients and milestones for a wide variety of practice processes. Once a workflow has been built, it can be incorporated into the program’s pull-down menus.

Glide’s pricing may sit above the needs of some small practices, but the application has carved out a niche among firms that want comprehensive control over their internal processes.

mTrio

At its heart, mTrio operates as a central practice database and marketing platform that pulls together different apps such as Mailchimp, Dropbox and Google Drive in one place. The program has been built on the Salesforce.com platform.

Current integrations include links to Digita, TaxCalc, Xero and specialist add-ons such as Practice Ignition - with more on the way as customers request them.

Onboarding is a particular strength. Adding someone new to the database automatically sends them a welcome text, creates a client in Xero and opens a client folder for them in Google Drive. “A job that used to take half an hour can be completed with one click,” says the developer.

Prosper

Prosper is driven by a Kanban-style interface that allows users to view which projects need their attention and move on-screen cards to show what’s been done. This scheduling overview can be filtered to see what different teams will be working on in the next week or month.

To foster collaboration, clients can access their own work schedules. This is a novel concept for online practice management, but old-fashioned email tracking is not supported. The client onboarding process pulls all of these ingredients together into one of the strongest sections of the program.

Pricing is based on number of clients rather than users within the practice, so Prosper is better suited to larger firms than sole practitioners.

Senta

Senta hit the streets in 2015 and now boasts more than 130 user firms. It comes with an attractive home page dashboard that points the user to components that include a flexible client view page, a workflow scheduling engine and lightweight, but functional CRM and marketing tools.

Integration is a strong point, allowing Senta to link into cloud bookkeeping tools within the practice and beyond via application programming interfaces (APIs) to Companies House, HMRC and other data sources such as Zapier.

Delivered for a fixed price that starts at £29 per user per month, Senta has struck a nice balance between usability and functionality.

Workshop verdicts

“If you could get a hybrid of them all you’d have an ideal solution,” said AccountingWEB member Glenn Martin after spending five hours reviewing the four cloud-based practice management applications.

At the start of our workshop, the participants were advised that it can be fruitless trying to find the “best” software. Every application comes from a different place and price point, and the art of selection is to find the best fit with the practice’s functional requirements and budget.

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Replies

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23rd Mar 2017 10:46

One of the big advantages of getting in early with a PM provider is that you can help shape and develop the direction of the product.

Not every accountant works the same but if one has work practices that are better than another and a PM product caters for that, then that can be a big win for that practice.

Yes its difficult trying to build product review and implementation into heavy workloads but it will definitely be worth it.

Its the admin time which kills productivity and this is only going to get worse. Getting a modern cloud based PM solution is essential for small, lean and profitably small practices. Its int

Yes there are naysayers, there always will be. Cloud solutions are here to stay, those that don't adopt will get left behind.

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23rd Mar 2017 10:48

Just to confirm one inaccuracy - additional users on Glide cost just £8/£15/£25 depending on the features that you require, not £39 as stated in the article.

We thank Accounting Web for producing this summary, and would be happy to offer an additional free introduction webinar to anyone considering Glide.

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to whatsGLiDEdotCOM
23rd Mar 2017 11:18

My apologies to Glide and any readers who were mislead by the earlier version of the text, which has now been corrected.

It was all down to poor version control on my part. Glide did correct my initial text before publication, but I neglected to transfer it to the text on the server. We'll try to ensure there aren't any other blips in the more detailed follow-up articles which will appear shortly.

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23rd Mar 2017 11:35

Interesting, would like to hear more about the findings.

There wasn't much said on workflow/ deadline managment or MTD transition but presume the panelists looked at this.

Also would like to have heard about Xero PM or Logical Office .

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to yaakovgrant
23rd Mar 2017 16:09

There are more detailed individual product reports to come - just putting the final touches to them now, but in response to previous requests we wanted to get the general summary out into the open asap.

Just to let you know, the workflow capabilities were very prominent in discussions at the workshop. And while the practitioner panellists emphasised the importance of these facilities for managing clients through MTD, the four developers present were all a bit hazy on that.

As PM specialists, I don't think they've woken up to the MTD challenge in the way that old fashioned compliance suite developers like IRIS, Digita and TaxCalc have.

The workshop may have alerted them to that situation.

More to follow...

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23rd Mar 2017 11:50

For me, the plethora of good cloud apps was enough to drag me away from the fully integrated solution from one supplier (Iris), realising that, no matter how good individual components might be (accs, tax, PM etc) the single software suite would never be a close fit, especially as I developed the practice and it stayed where it was.

I see the same considerations above but now with PM alone. It was always the most important part of the Iris suite for me as it has the potential to do so many more things than the single issue accounts or tax return prep bits.

So, as discussed above, these days, it's integration between apps that I think holds the key, allowing us to tailor systems to how we work today, then tweaking them as new features or needs arise.

So I'd chose a core PM app that best suits how I like to work (Kanban, workflow, mind map etc etc) then bolt on other bits via Zapier, eg calendar, gmail, time tracking, crm.

I haven't tried any of the main systems discussed above as (like Iris) I feel I'd be paying a lot of money for features I either didn't need or that didn't suit how I wanted to work, so I have gone for popular Kanban system "Trello" that's designed for any business, is incredibly cheap, but which enables loads of integrations.

PS: Another plug for Onkho, mentioned by Jonathan above, saw it in development, looked good and actually designed around a busy practice.

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23rd Mar 2017 12:37

When dealing with a supplier do you look beyond the glitzy website, wizzy features etc and look at the financial strength of the company you are dealing with?

Heading down a path with a company commits you to a large extent into their ecosystem and all is fine as long as you keep paying.

My question to all these new companies is what happens to our data and information if they run out of capital and go bust ?

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This is a very excellent strategic question.

It does surprise me that when Gauke was Treasury Minister he used FreeAgent as the lead exemplar in his push for MTD. FreeAgent has yet to make a profit, and only stayed solvent through its recent IPO. Xero, similarly, is not profitable. At least Intuit is profitable!

Will the government, having mandated digital record keeping, evade political responsibility if it does not also mandate proper recovery processes in the case of insolvency or major technology failure? I doubt it very much. But unless I've missed the memo, it seems to me that they are taking a big risk on this point.

Disclosure: I am an Intuit, Xero and FreeAgent partner.

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By Glennzy
23rd Mar 2017 16:19

For me, I decided to move away from the traditional suite of products a year or so ago.

I see me developing things with all clients on Xero, or similar (full accounts done within software including tax provisions etc Senta linking it all together with a product like Taxfiler dealing with Stat accounts and Tax returns.

That gives me everything I need for £60 per month which
should be a fairly smooth operation, fully cloud based and at a fraction of what a full Digita, Iris or Sage suite would cost.

With MTD coming and everyone moving to bookkeeping software that linking me to the client was going to be key.

I looked at XPM and although good, it did not do enough for me and the offering from Senta, and Mtrio really stood out as they do so much now, and have committed to add in the bits they don't do currently over a fairly tight time scale. I chose Senta as I felt they were further developed with their product, although I appreciate others will catch up over coming months.

I had allowed March to get it up and running, but as I have been quite busy with new clients signing up I have not progressed as far as I would have liked but it will present massive time savings once in place. It will need a large admin time input to set it up beyond what I initially expected.

I would imagine it would be difficult to do this in a larger firm with many staff, but ultimately It will need to be done as I was starting to struggle managing deadlines in my small practice as it is never mind when MTD comes in.

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24th Mar 2017 13:14

I have been a sole practitioner for the last 5 years and started using Glide after getting fed up of using spreadsheets to monitor my workflow and deadlines.

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24th Mar 2017 16:18

North East Accountant makes a valid point. Because we are built upon Salesforce, which is used by large institutions, banks and governments your data is very secure. However, you can get your data out whenever you like and if in the event of any significant changes that guarantee continues and we would ensure everyone had their data/information

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24th Mar 2017 17:12

Anyone using Jetpack workflow. I've got the free trial and it looks good, but just wondered if anyone is using in properly yet and if so, any comments, good or bad?

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By cbp99
25th Mar 2017 11:40

Anyone using Pracman www.pracman.co.uk/

Not too pretty, but not expensive, and if it does the job...

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By chatman
to cbp99
25th Mar 2017 12:12

cbp99 wrote:

Anyone using Pracman www.pracman.co.uk/

Had a look but you can't import your existing client list and deadlines, so evaluating it would be too time consuming. I asked the vendor about this and I found the response quite arrogant, telling me I should just go ahead,manually import my data and start using it. Emails are signed off from Mr Pracman, instead of using a real name, which I thought was a bit rude.

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30th Mar 2017 16:04

Great article. In our experience, integration is the key. Practice Management software must work alongside a fully featured CRM program. This would include integration with Outlook/Exchange, mobile devices and leading email marketing platforms such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor.

Too many PM systems purport to offer CRM capabilities however they often lack the required depth of functionality.

Also true that software alone is not necessarily the only success factor. Working closely with a software provider that understands the accountancy market and that can help with the practices CRM strategies is equally important.

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to FibreCRM
31st Mar 2017 06:36

[quote=FibreCRM]

Too many PM systems purport to offer CRM capabilities however they often lack the required depth of functionality.

Love what you did there Simon, you are quite right with the difference between CRM and Practice Management.

This is why we built mTrio on one of the Salesforce platforms.

The future is exciting and we are looking forward to some interesting discussions during Accountex as I feel there will be a lot of talk this year around this very hot topic that the community here are discussing.

Big up for John, Ben and the team for highlighting the need for dedicated Practice Management solutions. Thanks guys.

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20th Apr 2017 10:50

Just to add to the discussion. Richard recently wrote about our practice manager (https://www.accountancymanager.co.uk) here:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tech/practice-software/accountancymanage...

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