Accounting tech 101: Intro to web application
Technology is fast becoming an absolute and inescapable aspect of accountancy. In part one of Accounting tech 101, Dudley introduces some of the key concepts behind web applications.
Accountants don't need to be tech experts, but a basic understanding of the apps they use can allow them to have better discussions and make better tech-related business decisions.
Accountants are well-positioned to dig deeper into technology. Like techies, they are detail-oriented. Auditing spreadsheet formulas and debugging code are essentially the same.
Accounting tech 101 is now in class. Here is an overview of some of the fundamental concepts to get you started.
Frontend vs backend
Think of the frontend (FE) as the body and the backend (BE) as the mind of the application. The body cannot live without the mind and vice-versa. When you’re using an app, you’ll only see the interface. The front end is responsible for showing you the user interface and getting and communicating the user’s instructions and interacting with the backend.
The backend is all the code running on the servers. It is responsible for talking to other machines, storing data and serving data when requested.
Servers & the cloud
A server is just a computer system that stores information and processes requests. The cloud refers to servers that are accessed over the internet, and the software and databases that run on those servers.
Cloud servers are located around the world and mostly managed by Amazon (AWS), Google (GCP) and Microsoft (Azure) who take care of the physical servers and most security aspects. This allows software providers to focus on building the core of their apps and deliver better products for customers.
Circit’s platform is built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This gives it the ability to scale its server resources with demand when auditors send an increased amount of bank letters during the busy season.
All data stored on Azure is protected by Microsoft’s advanced encryption process and data centers are outfitted with two-tier authentication, proxy card access readers and even biometric scanners, keeping auditor’s and client’s highly sensitive data secure.
Application programming interface (API)
API provides a common language to allow computer applications to talk to each other. There are three types of APIs:
Private APIs are created exclusively for internal company purposes – for example, to allow the frontend and backend to communicate with each other. Take the Circit platform, our frontend is in Vue.js and our backend is in .Net. As an analogy, our frontend speaks Mandarin, but our backend speaks Hindi. To communicate they’ll have to use English, (the common language shared through the API).
Partner APIs are available to strategic business partners but not to the public. Like private APIs, they are only accessible via authentication and authorization. The Open Banking APIs are a type of partner API. Circit is regulated by the Central Bank as an Account Information Service Provider (AISP). This provides Circit with the partner status required to securely connect to the banks’ systems via their Open Banking APIs to provide auditors with their client’s bank transactions.
Public APIs, allow companies to simplify and expand how they connect with the public. Google maps is embedded on many other websites using the Google Maps API.
IP address, URL & DNS:
An IP address is like a phone number. Every server has an IP address and we use that IP address to call a server.
As it’s impossible to remember IP Addresses (AccountingWeb’s IP address is 188.8.131.52), IP addresses are matched to a URL, which is a readable version of the IP address (https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/).
The Domain Name System (DNS) is the phonebook of the internet, matching up all the IP addresses with the URLs.
Database and storage
Database and storage are not the same. Storage is where we keep our code (the actual app), images and videos used, and databases. The database stores organised data and information.
A database is essentially a group of connected spreadsheets. Like the general ledger and the chart of accounts. There are different types of relationships between these tables, for example, the chart of accounts and the general ledger would have a one-to-many relationship. That means that each account code can have multiple transactions in the general ledger.
Authentication and authorisation
Authentication is the process of verifying who a user is. Authorisation is the process of verifying what they have access to. PSD2 (the regulation behind Open Banking) introduced Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) which is a more secure way of verifying who a user is.
SCA requires a user to authenticate themselves using two or more of three elements;
Knowledge (something only the user knows, such as a password),
Possession (something only the user possesses, e.g. their mobile phone), and
Inherence (something the user is, e.g. facial recognition).
This is one of the reasons Open Banking is so secure.
Accountants with bright ideas
I speak to a lot of accountants who are keen to learn to code because they have great app ideas. However, I would advise learning how to use product design tools such as Figma. It allowed me to build Audapio with limited tech experience.
Design is where accountants can leverage their knowledge of their target customers and bring their ideas to life in clickable prototypes
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Dudley is a Chartered Accountant formerly with KPMG and Moore Kingston Smith. He founded Audapio, a solution leveraging Open Banking to improve audit quality and efficiency before joining Circit as VP of business development.