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New technology editor

Views welcome - what I should focus my efforts on?

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Hello again AccountingWEBbers, Tom Herbert calling. Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve rejoined the site in a new role as dedicated technology editor – it’s a pleasure to be back!

The job has a fairly broad remit, particularly given how tech has evolved over the past two years, but its focus will be on core software/tools used by finance professionals.

The aim of the game is not to act as either a cheerleader for a particular brand or trend, or indeed as a doom-monger or naysayer, but to hopefully provide unbiased news and analysis, cut through the marketing jargon to add a practical take on things and throw in a bit of trend-spotting/beard-stroking as well.

As readers, posters and general accountancy aficionados, I’d like to have you at the heart of this and I’d be delighted to hear your views. If you’d like to see a particular tech trend, hobby horse or gripe given air time, please feel free to post below, message me via the site or email [email protected]

All the best,

Tom

Replies (23)

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By Richard Grant
06th Jan 2022 14:59

Hi Tom, I will probably be shot down in flames here but how about looking into the most user friendly and transparent Crypto Tax calculating software/apps?
More clients are buying and selling it's the accountants who get presented with the mess to sort out at the year end. Most of the ones out there are as clear as mud with a questionable audit trail.

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Replying to Richard Grant:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Jan 2022 15:01

@Richard, good call. That is certainly be useful as its the sort of thing most of us will probably only meet occasionally and the area has been very fast moving.

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Replying to Richard Grant:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
07th Jan 2022 10:56

Thanks Richard, that's really helpful, will definitely look into it. The market (and the whole scene in general) is so blurry atm, so would be good to at least try and get some clarity on what's out there.

Thanks (1)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Jan 2022 15:00

hi Tom

More articles about comparing software us lot actually use. I would find it really useful to read a "Xero vs QB vs Sage" type article suggesting which is best for which type of client, and bringing in other stuff such as Pandle which is quite frankly better at the smaller end than the big names. Yes its been done before, but its still useful.

Ditto I would be interested in sectional articles such as "What the best software for your landlord clients?" "whats best for taxi drivers?" Different clients have different needs and that level of nuance is helpful.

And on a practice software, a run through the main offerings and where they are at and where they are doing. This could be a chat to them as an interview as well as table of features etc. its a lot of leg work to look at this stuff as a small practitioner, but its good to what works best for different situations as it changes.

I would also be interested in "stuff you can actually do with the the challenger banks" as that is fast moving and last time I looked it was "lots more than I realised". This area has been so massively overhyped and puffed I tend to dismiss most of it as hot air, but there is some genuinely interesting stuff happening here too.

I am not very interested in yet another sales pitch for some forecasting software (small businesses dont need them), software for management accounts clients (dont need it) etc. Anything over hyped is a turnoff.

But above all, keep it simple and practical with lots of links to find more.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By RobbieT
06th Jan 2022 15:49

Seconding this. I keep my tech stack simple (Senta, Xero, Digita AP/CT/PT) and only consider a review/replacement every 2-3 years, but good to know what other sole practitioners and small firms are using (and why) or binning.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Caroline
By accountantccole
07th Jan 2022 12:25

Thirding this - something I can refer clients too re pros and cons to save me having to reinvent the wheel

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
10th Jan 2022 11:23

Morning IRSKT. Many thanks for this, much appreciated.

The conversations I've had with friends and contacts in practice before starting this job definitely back up your call for industry-specific breakdowns. It's a big piece of work, but if it's going to be helpful then I'll take a look. Aside from landlords and taxi drivers, any others you can think of? Construction seems like an obvious one. Hospitality?

There are plans afoot to run through practice software, and fairly soon given the demand we're seeing for it from the site traffic figures.

I know what you mean about the challenger bank hype. There's a lot of debate around how useful Open Banking has been and the benefits it's brought. There are a couple of things that are starting to emerge, so will see if I can dig more out.

And yes, I'll try to keep the hype to a minimum. From past experience, it's always tricky writing about tech, particularly new tech, without it sounding a little like a breathless elevator pitch, but I'm sure the good readers at AWeb will keep me honest if I stray into that territory :-)

Thanks again for taking the time to post,

All the best,

Tom

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By Paul Crowley
06th Jan 2022 15:17

All I ask is that Aweb stops telling me how wonderful MTD is and how rubbish I am for considering the true needs of MY client base
Quarterly fictional tax calculations are complete carp for all clients that are landlords
Clients who want software already have it
The others will get nothing they need, but forced to pay someone something to avoid £200 quarterly penalties

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Routemaster image
By tom123
06th Jan 2022 15:18

Welcome back Tom!

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Replying to tom123:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
10th Jan 2022 11:24

Thanks tom123 :-) Good to be back.

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Red Leader
By Red Leader
06th Jan 2022 17:06

Progress reports on bugs/faults in HMRC's systems. Keep up a constant stream highlighting where it is deficient and whether/what HMRC are doing anything about it. You may have more luck than us.

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By Hugo Fair
06th Jan 2022 18:07

Lovely idea, but that's rather more than a full-time job for a medium sized team!

I've set-up such systems in the public sphere in the past (open portal for logging change requests / monthly review boards to respond & prioritise / offline impact analysis in terms of technical effort & user performance / quarterly stakeholder board to approve development & release schedules) ... although that's a simplified overview. But these were always for a single system (such as online submission of specialist reports).

The problem at HMRC lies far deeper ... in the fragmentary systems (of different vintages and architectures) with multiple owners (including both in-house and 3rd-party). Nearly all the major software issues (and aspects that therefore cause us regular frustration) are a result of this fragmentation ... from the design stage (where there's often no effective cross-system analysis) to ongoing maintenance (where 'sticking-plasters' are the only allowed solution because anything else would cross budgetary, or even departmental, boundaries).

Fundamentally what is missing is the will (political in the sense of policy-driven) to shake the whole thing up ... by focussing, like in any decent private sector operation, first on defining the desired outcomes and then designing the simplest and most robust systems to assist in delivery of those objectives.

Without that will, the boat will continue to be 'repaired' until the day that it sinks ... even though it's obvious to most that it'd be better to have a replacement boat in the hands of the designers & builders *before* the water floods in!

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
07th Jan 2022 11:25

That is HMG in a nutshell.

My son when straight from university was the sticking plaster member of a large
company that the work had been outsourced to (large US entity that won lots of UK gov contracts), their role was to try to keep some very antiquated software running for HMG when really it ought to have been put out of its misery and shot.

From what I gather with the stuff he now works on for HMG or the Scottish Government, the issues with new software/connecting bits is that those who decide the spec really do not know what they want or actually need and keep changing their minds, the result is what we see when HMG procures software, lots of fees and contract after contract after contract; however the money is good.

This contrasts sharply with when he has contracted for say a private sector entity , e.g a large German bank when he was in Frankfurt, they knew what they wanted, they managed the goals they produced the brief, they finished.

HMG really need a very well paid in house team re such procurements, catch is unless the staff are out at the coal face they will quickly get very stale re what reasonably is feasible and will work, and that is the rub, HMG needs a trusted team in house to advise individual departments but if they so do , and that is all the team does, they will soon be behind the curve and not fit for purpose.

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Replying to DJKL:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
07th Jan 2022 11:47

quite agree DJKL. I have had a couple of clients work at HMRC as contractors a few years back - but of course were not allowed to stay for more than 12 months. So they spend about the first 9 months trying to understand the system 2 months doing anything vaguely useful and a month sat around waiting for the contract to end.

There is virtually no knowledge inside of HMRC about their own systems and how they work. There is no institutional wisdom from long timers who understand the myriad of systems, and what works and what doesn't. Instead they get glitzy presentations for future tech like MTD which fails to do what it says it will, but the underknowledged senior staff buy into to avoid looking like dinosaurs or out of touch.

Any sane business would sort out their current system issues before even thinking of embarking on further projects That is to say cutting down duplications, system holes, issues and exceptions. Ensuring systems run slickly so they are truly "one touch and fixed" rather than multiple interactions to get things done. Just concentrating on that would hugely reduce admin HMRC's side, which in turn would help them catch up, which in turn would reduce the snowball of inefficiency when things don't get done on time. No business would allow 5-6 contact points to get basic things sorted out, the costs are off the scale. HMRC is not a sane organisation and is fixated on vanity projects over routine compliance.

They need to spend money on good people who understand what is going on, and not software. Lets face is we have a highly digital system right now, it just doesn't work at all efficiently despite lots of promise. For example the import of HMRC data on PAYE etc is brilliant into tax returns- but it doesn't work properly and is only available for a handful of clients for most of the tax season. HMRC excuses about checking data etc are feeble.

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
06th Jan 2022 18:07

Left in January 2020. I take it you got the heads up from Wuhan and got out before this place blew up in the coming months?

Good to have you back!

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Replying to Lone_Wolf:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
10th Jan 2022 11:26

Thanks LW, great to be back :-)

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By philrob
06th Jan 2022 18:08

Welcome Back Tom,

To extend on @ireallyshouldknowthisbut's suggestion - a curated list of gotcha's / 'wish I knew that before I subscribed' for the common cloud platforms would be really helpful (though with Xero seeming to sponsor AWEB from time to time there might be a conflict of interest).

The sort of things I am thinking of:
- Xero not having price list capability - every customer gets charged the same for the same SKU (or has a generic % discount across the Board)
- Exporting pdf reports in Xero (e.g. the invoices report) loses the pence, exporting to xls doesn't (so if you want to send it to a customer you take it into excel and print to pdf)
- All of Xero default multi-month ytd P & L reports are back to front - the leftmost column is December and the rightmost one January (workaround: edit bespoke reports for M1, M2, M3 etc and save them as custom reports for re-use in subsequent years)

I use Sage elsewhere but much prefer Xero despite the bugs/idiocy and lack of common sense in design changes before forcing those changes on users.

Some 'did you know you could do 'this' with xxxx software' articles might also be helpful - like the comment on finding duplicate transactions in Xero in another thread - what is the best way to sort out failed/duplicate bank feeds in the various cloud packages (the package providers could give their recommended approach and you could consolidate/summarise/comment)

Perhaps hosting some 'best practice' threads/discussions which can then (if there are enough comments/participation/info) be consolidated into a logical article. Things like:

** keeping consistency in models/spreadsheets (My preference: black = calculations on this worksheet; dark blue = inputs or hardcoded data (assumptions/historical values etc.); dark green = calculations and references to other sheets in the same workbook; Dark Red = references to separate files or external links. The colours/protection are easily set using styles so it is not that much extra work)

** backup strategies/questions to ask your clients

** password creation/management/guidance (guidance changes - forcing regular changes has been shown to reduce password security) - Tools like 1password are now aimed at businesses and there are benefits in using password managers in work (both our own practices and clients)

** how to design your IT & 'human' systems so that they 'fail safe' for GDPR etc. - e.g. making sure it is impossible for a junior/temp to send client A's draft account's to client B

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Replying to philrob:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
07th Jan 2022 15:57

philrob wrote:

** keeping consistency in models/spreadsheets (My preference: black = calculations on this worksheet; dark blue = inputs or hardcoded data (assumptions/historical values etc.); dark green = calculations and references to other sheets in the same workbook; Dark Red = references to separate files or external links. The colours/protection are easily set using styles so it is not that much extra work)

I've adapted the FAST standard, which is not dissimilar to your colour scheme, philrob). Except my black is for static data, with lilac for calculations on this worksheet.

https://www.fast-standard.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FAST-Standard-0...

But FAST is significantly different to ICAEW's Financial Modelling code:

https://www.icaew.com/-/media/corporate/files/technical/technology/excel...

Feel inclined to produce the Aweb Financial Modelling Standard, Tom, based on an amalgamation of the two?

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Replying to philrob:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
10th Jan 2022 12:47

Thanks philrob, that's hugely appreciated.

The 'wish I knew that before I subscribed' feature sounds like a chunky piece of work but you've got the ball rolling already, and if the AA community is willing to chip in then I'd be happy to draw everything together - it might take a while but I think would be worth it. While it's true we are/have been sponsored by most of the big players in the space that shouldn't stop us from flagging things like the above, provided anything raised is legitimate.

I tried to get a 'did you know you could do this' style feature going during my first spell at AccountingWEB, but I don't think I made it totally clear what I was trying to do, so it didn't really get off the ground. However, I agree it would be a useful piece of work and again, with the community's help (and maybe a few calls to the vendors) i think this is doable in the fullness of time.

The best practice threads sound interesting - quite similar to the old discussion boards we used to have before the great site migration of '16. Will have a think about how they could work on the site and not end up getting buried under the regular tide of tax queries etc.

Thanks again for all your help and have a good day.

All the best,

Tom

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By johnt27
07th Jan 2022 17:03

Please god anything but blockchain! Incidentally, I know a really good podcast that covers the latest tech news, feature comparisons and interviews with industry experts ;)

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Replying to johnt27:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
10th Jan 2022 12:52

Haha, thanks John. I'm a regular listener - keep up the good work ;-)

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By JD
09th Jan 2022 20:10

Identify tech that is in support of our profession, rather than trying to turn us into a digital service with a never ending list of subscriptions.

Look for desktop as well as cloud solutions, treat excel with respect rather than spouting nonsense of its error rate compared with AI, and most of all focus on those sources of tech that respect our relationship with the client, rather than stepping in between us and the client.

Lastly and more positively practical processes and work flows, and what others might do to develop efficiency. Tech needs to support real workflows not the other way around

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Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
13th Jan 2022 09:33

How about taking on the cloud providers and actually trying to do send an invoice / file your tax return / reconcile a bank account while in the back of a van going round the North Circular at 60mph. The resulting video will (a) give us a laugh, and (b) show the whole world what nonsense they are claiming.

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