Since the shutters came down on this year’s Accountex, Ben Smith started wondering about next year. This piece is the first of three considering the themes that will feature at the 2019 show.
When I went to the first Accountex in 2012 at Kensington Olympia, about 20 exhibitors were there to show their wares. My job is to talk with the brands that supply the accounting profession with products and services, so it makes sense that I’ve been to every one since.
Fast forward to 2018 and Accountex occupies a significant place in the accounting calendar. Tech brands large and small use the event (and our AccountingWEB coverage of it) to launch products and make significant announcements.
This year, various brands showcased their ‘MTD-ready’ products, but the intense focus on the government’s digital tax adventure was eclipsed somewhat by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), given the roll-out of the legislation the day after the event ended.
But what are we going to be talking about in 2019?
MTD will still be the headline act - no surprise there - but GDPR seems a relatively transient theme, and most people should have the ‘right’ solution in place already. My prediction is that it will be business as usual in 12 months’ time.
AI (or machine learning) will be another buzzword, but right now that feels like a slightly abstract method that’s being integrated into products in current use.
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Equally, there are some evergreen topics in the accounting profession that will always be big news: tax and accounting updates, marketing, and the transition to advisory service models, to name just three.
This series of articles is about three other things that accountants might be talking about in 12 months’ time. As the title suggests, this is an exercise in speculation.
This week I’ll be explaining why you should be interested in the great ‘platform vs suite’ debate. Next week I’ll explore why banks want to be friends with accountants, and finally I’ll outline how I think payment execution technology could close the loop on the virtual CFO model.
Platform vs suite debate
Will technology investment be driven primarily by compliance or client experience? Either way, digital transformation will accelerate.
AccountingWEB has explored the fashion for cloud app integration before. On one hand we can see the established ‘suite’ vendors developing workflow and client management features that bridge the gaps between core practice compliance processes and the accounting packages clients use. They’re starting to connect the compliance systems to programs that support the client experience.
On the other hand, the ‘platform’ players (Xero and Intuit QuickBooks in particular) are trying to build inwards from the bookkeeping package. They’re developing data pathways to and from third-party compliance tools.
Does this matter to the accountant? It probably should. Look at the case of Taxfiler. No sooner had Intuit built a smart integration from QBO into Taxfiler than IRIS snapped it up and brought in to their product family.
Here are the questions I think we’ll be asking in 12 months’ time:
- Can the suite providers - IRIS, CCH, Thomson Reuters, BTCSoftware and TaxCalc - resist the surge of innovation from Xero and Intuit? Can they convince their current users that their products deliver value for money? Or will the platformers turn compliance into another ecosystem bolt-on?
- Can accountants be convinced to prioritise digital transformation to the right degree? The suite and platform approaches both depend on firms evolving away from conventional practice business models. Technology vendors are starting to realise that their own growth is not just about their brands and products, but also about their ability to embed their technology into accountants’ daily lives. IRIS has launched a series of collaborative events with Will Farnell, Intuit has been building up its advisory support services in a straight steal from the Xero account management playbook.
- What about emerging ‘best-of-breed’ products? Can they meet the product feature and service demands that come with significant growth? We’ve seen Accountancy Manager come from nowhere to win industry awards. We’ve seen GoProposal and Practice Ignition turn onboarding into a standalone software category. How will accountants view the role of these disruptors?
I don’t think these are the questions firms are asking themselves right now. But what currently seem like academic musings will become pressing issues for research and debate as the reality of MTD sets in. The inefficiencies around filing delays, workflows and yes, the client experience, will force firms to look more closely at the tools they use.
Next week: Banks want to be your friends again…
About Ben Smith
Used to be that guy at AccountingWEB.. now that guy at FreeAgent