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Accounting technology: The best of times, the worst of times

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In many ways, we’re in a golden age of accounting tech, but with the bewildering range of options and breakneck pace of change, accountants could be forgiven for harking back to more straightforward times. AccountingWEB technology editor Tom Herbert reflects on the last six months in accounting tech.

1st Jul 2022
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If a week is a long time in politics, six months covering accounting technology might reasonably be considered an age.

It’s been half a year since my return to AccountingWEB, and such is the pace of change the articles I wrote in January seem tinged with nostalgia, and occasionally regret for what might have been - Help to Grow: Digital, anyone?

The blizzard of news in accounting tech has been as broad as it has been frequent: desktop stalwarts moving to the cloud, cybercrime hitting the accounting sector where it hurts, the rise and fall of crypto, Sage on the comeback trail, pretty much everything to do with Making Tax Digital…

So what does the accounting technology landscape look like? To go ‘the full Dickens’, it seems to be the best of times and the worst of times for accountants.

In many ways, we’re in a golden age of accounting tech. For starters, it’s never been easier to open your own firm. That’s not to say it’s easy - far from it - but with just a laptop, an internet connection, a bit of startup cash and some elbow grease you can get cracking. Systems out there allow you to work from anywhere, anytime, pull in client information at the touch of a button move it around and file it at will.

But at the same time, looking at the bewildering range of options available to accountants, the hype vs the reality, the speed of change in areas like cryptocurrency, and of course the MTD ITSA client handcart careering down the hill towards the profession, you could forgive accountants an envious glance into the simpler times of the past.

And then there’s how technology is positioned in the overall industry. One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced since rejoining AccountingWEB has been how my writing is perceived, processed and reacted to. Articles in my previous roles now seem a bit of a slam-dunk - preaching to the converted, if you will. A quick slapdown to the latest botched IR35 reforms - ahem! A wagging finger at the latest Big Four escapades there - boo! Tax authorities taken your dog away? Woof!

But technology coverage is a different beast. Depending on your role in the profession, you see things quite differently. I’m either a wide-eyed patsy for the software industry or a hard-bitten cynic mowing down the dreams of a dozen Steve Jobs.

From my perspective, it’s my job to report on new companies or products, look at what they do and what problems they purport to solve in the context of the overall market, ask the difficult questions and occasionally offer a bit of commentary. 

But a healthy dose of scepticism is, of course essential. I provide my take, and AccountingWEB’s readers fill in what I’ve missed in the comments. Accountants are, after all, professional cynics. 

The 24-month spend cycle for accountants is very real, with the industry understandably cautious when it comes to change. This approach couldn’t be better illustrated by the recent shuttering of ClearSpend over in the US. It takes to time to research a new system - trialling and implementing it, training your staff and clients, taking to social media to tell everyone how wonderful it is. But if it then happens to vanish, or pivot to a new sector, you’re the one left looking daft in front of your clients. 

A vendor I spoke with recently told me it took one accountant six years of watching to even start a conversation with them. At every in-person event, webinar or posting they’d loiter around the edges, and only made contact once they were totally happy with what they saw. “I wanted to make sure you’d stick around,” was the only explanation they gave. 

Can this pace of tech change continue unabated? Will new arrivals continue to offer themselves up as ritual sacrifices to the AccountingWEB comment gods? How will the longest running soap opera in tax history, otherwise known as MTD, play out? Keep watching this space…

In the meantime, keep the (constructive) comments coming and here’s to another six months on the accounting tech merry go round.

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By Hugo Fair
05th Jul 2022 10:53

Not technologically relevant but ... "Accountants are, after all, professional cynics" - so why have Auditors apparently lost that 'skill'?

[see https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/business/financial-reporting/auditors-to...

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By Hugo Fair
05th Jul 2022 11:59

BTW, I've only just noticed that some of your oeuvre appears under the heading of 'Articles' and others under 'Columnist Posts' ... so what's the differentiator?

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
05th Jul 2022 14:01

It's a good question. The articles are intended to be news, features or analysis, whereas the columns are more opinion-based and, dare I say, a little more whimsical/light-hearted (at least, as whimsical as the profession allows). Inevitably there's a bit of crossover between the two but that's the main difference.

We could probably do more to differentiate articles and columns - something like removing the image and instead having a classy black and white photo of the writer in question at the top? I'll raise it up the Sift flagpole and see what happens :-)

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