The Technology Champion section of the Practice Excellence Awards attracted entries from some well-known and less well-known faces across the profession, ranging from sole practitioners to large firm specialists and several entrants who have written their own software.
With such a variety of characters to choose from, Robert Lambden, managing director of the category sponsor Online50, captured the essence of the Practice Excellence philosophy when the commented, “A champion is someone who fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. We’re on the looking for people who have really taken hold of technology and used it for the benefit of their firms and their clients.”
The following three shortlisted candidates all lived up to that billing, and were unanimously agreed by the other two judges, IT trainer and ExcelZone contributor Simon Hurst and AccountingWEB editor John Stokdyk. For those interested in entering awards like this in the future, it is worth noting that all three submissions were supported by glowing testimonials from their clients.
Sharon Pocock, managing director, Kinder Pockock
Sharon Pocock is the principal of her own firm and relies heavily on technology to look after her clients and liaise with her two part-time staff. Rather than employing tech for tech’s sake, Sharon explains, “My approach to technology is to constantly review what new technologies and innovations are available and then consider how they could benefit my practice or clients’ processes.” She is always on the lookout for solutions to clients’ particular problem that will “create time savings and efficiencies, integrate with existing solutions and be easy to understand and use by all involved (ideally it will also be fun to use)”.
Within the firm, Google Apps allows the team to to synchronise calendars, email, contacts, and work files. They also regularly arrange Google Hangout videochats to talk with each other and clients. As with many of our technology champions, cloud computing plays a big role at Kinder Pocock, where Sharon has implemented Xero Practice Manager to link online accounts to client data, client jobs, timesheets, invoicing, reports, and correspondence.
One of her clients, www.wigglywigglers.co.uk, offered the following testimonial: “If you want an accountant who understands that you need to be able to manage your own accounts online using the very latest technology… who is personable and down to earth – who works to connect you to her other clients when appropriate, you need Sharon and her team.”
The success of her enthusiastic, but grounded approach to technology adoption is convincing: “In the last year our turnover has increased by 40% and our net profit by 61% due to the innovations adopted, and with no additional staff.”
Chris Downing, business intelligence manager, Milsted Langdon
Chris Downing was described in his entry as “a hands-on accountant with a clear-headed attitude to technology who brings a solid, practical perspective to everyday IT issues”. Within the firm and with clients he pioneered inventive approaches to using Excel for delivering up to date management information, and won IT trainer Simon Hurst’s respect for being a keen advocate of grass roots training in the use of software.
Software people talk about “eating your own dogfood”, and as the person responsible for growing Milsted Langdon’s business intelligence department he has not only helped clients monitor and improve their performance in real time, he also created many of the firm’s internal KPI dashboards.
Chris’s “capacity to engage and empathise with users from every level of an organisation and demystify complex IT lingo” has been key to the success of his BI team. The time saved by the tools the has built has been re-invested to extend the budget available for advisory and business coaching for the firm’s clients, according to the firm’s partners.
Dowing’s entry was bolstered by Milsted Langdon client Brady George, who praised his “fantastic” reporting system: “He promised a value for money and bespoke solution combining Sage and Excel. I doubted him. He delivered; for that I am truly grateful. His fresh approach and application in the dark arts of Excel created a radical mindset change in how we view our business. His charts are striking and informative; one such report engaged a new credit control procedure which halved our debt collection period.”
Jessica Pillow, director, Pillow May
Without exemption, all of the prospective Practice Excellence Technology Champions embraced cloud computing - and some had even written their own applications. But Jessica Pillow’s championing extended to choosing and configuring add-on tools to maximise effectiveness within her practice and helping other accountancy firms understand and exploit its advantages too.
Pillow May has added two new services combining cloud accounting software and other add-ons to deliver real time reporting (Get the Picture) and remote working (My Business on my Phone) to her clients.
The ReceiptBank expenses capture add-on “saved us 40 hours of data input time at £35 a hour” for one client, who gained from the savings and referred other business in the firm’s direction.
“If someone had told me I could have saved over £6,000 in accountancy fees and got information I need to run my business quicker I would not have thought it was possible,” the client said. “Pillow May have implemented systems within my business that have meant I have not had to replace a bookkeeper, that chase my outstanding debt for me automatically and predict my cashflow as well as getting management information I understand when I need it. They are an intrinsic member of our extended management team.”
Thanks to her energetic networking - which Jessica uses to research new ideas and applications as well as to position herself as a cloud expert, Pillow May has grown by 51% in the past year, with 95% of its clients using cloud accounting software for their businesses.
Find out who will win by attending the Practice Excellence Conference in London on 6 November. Get your tickets here.
The 2014 Practice Excellence Awards are sponsored by SAP: “We know exactly how important accountants are to helping businesses grow and we want to do all we can to support that. That’s our business too and we’re focussed on developing technology innovations that not only help businesses run like never before, but also improve the lives of people everywhere.”
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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.