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Cloud app integration poses new challenges for accountants
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App fatigue hampers best of breed evolution

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​It's not easy being an accountant in 2021, especially when you consider all the technology choices you have to make at such a fast pace.

10th Nov 2021
Founder Early Adopters Hub
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With approximately 500 apps in the QuickBooks Online app marketplace and over 1000 apps on the Xero marketplace, accounting tech is starting to pose more problems than solutions for many accountants. Moreover, a lot of practitioners are poorly equipped to handle this new element of their job and simply get overwhelmed. The result is often poor technology choices with little to no thought on a true tech stack. 

For many, it seems once you have made your tech picks, you're expected to have a degree in IT to make the apps work together seamlessly. Getting caught up in the mechanics of app integration is an inevitable side-effect of seeking out the best solutions for any situation and then trying to tie them back into internal processes and the underlying core accounting engine.

But is best-of-breed still the most effective way to approach cloud solutions? We asked a group of industry innovators and early adopters for their thoughts on the dilemmas involved in building a best in class tech stack. We hope their advice will help prepare you for your continuing app quest.

Large firms: Compromise is a must

"My view is that best in practice is coming back,” says John Toon from Beever and Struthers. “We're seeing a resurgence as more and more technology moves to the cloud and APIs become much more accessible. Over the past 18 months, people have been building practices around things like Teams, Slack and Zoom, which maybe wasn't necessarily at the forefront of their minds prior to that.

“The challenge for many practices is to pick up best-of-breed and then connect it. There are compromises you have to make along the way and it takes time. The bigger the practice, the more time it takes.”

Toon still looks to vendors to get these integrations right. But where APIs don’t exist , he believes it's time to bring developers in house to build those deeper integrations. “That's an exciting capability to bring in-house, bringing software expertise that we would never typically have had."

Small firm: Best of breed all the way

For Dave Sellick and his pioneering approach at Sidgrove, best-of-breed is still the way to go. "Within my space, there is probably a disproportionate focus on the best tools right now for everything that we do, and the founders would often drive that. There is credibility that comes from me as an accountant in implementing the best technology that exists.” 

Sellick works with a lot of younger clients, who rely heavily on tech and expect their accounting experience to accommodate that. That is part of the reason that Sellick is always looking to refresh and update his tech stack.

"We don't just create systems now and then leave them in place for a year. We create systems and if a better technology comes along, it might be so transformational that you want to implement it right now. So you're constantly evolving your best of breed system.” he says

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Replies (18)

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By johnjenkins
11th Nov 2021 11:50

This is a great article, not just because it states what I have been saying, it says that there are high techies out there that realise there is a major gap in technology. I fully understand it's a sales pitch, which I'm never fond of.
Yohan I don't think you know the real depth of the problem. For the big boys it's not so bad but for SME's it's becoming a nightmare. The main problem is that there are just as many low techies out there as high techies. In my view the only solution is natural progression. Unfortunately our Government and HMRC think that they can force technology on business. You hit an orange with a hammer and the juice goes everywhere, squeeze it gently and you get all the juice in one place.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Open all hours
11th Nov 2021 13:45

Agree, except that tech. is being forced on the individuals who happen to be in business. I use the tech. I find easy to use and interesting, compulsion especially the heavy hand of the state is a 100% turnoff.

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By North East Accountant
11th Nov 2021 12:59

Pre MTDfVAT I recall a conversation with a client about his book keeper, who was encouraging him to get this that and the other software to make his business more efficient. We knew better than to try and tempt him with fancy software etc.

The client said he thought all that software stuff was a waste of his time and money as there are only three things he needs to focus on.

1) Sell it.
2) Make it, deliver it, install it and service it etc
3) Get paid for 2.

The client retired aged 44, with millions in the bank.....the bookkeeper is still working.

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Replying to North East Accountant:
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By johnjenkins
11th Nov 2021 13:43

I also had a client that built a business up then sold it for millions. It doesn't happen that often though.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By North East Accountant
11th Nov 2021 15:07

He didn't get a penny for the business......as he gave it to staff.

The point he made is that we all like shiny new things, such as exciting software that will do this that and the other, and get distracted.

He focused 100% on the 3 key areas and made a fortune.

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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
11th Nov 2021 15:22

Thanks for all your comments so far. Yohan may be seeking to share insights drawn from conversations with members of his Early Adopter's Hub. But if he is trying to gain some recognition for his network, its title should give you an idea where he and the accountants quoted are coming from.

Early adopters are unlikely to spend too much time wrestling with the bookkeeping software habits of the smallest UK businesses and aren't too fussed about the specific challenges of MTD.

They are more interested in finding the right combination of apps to automate data collection, validation and reporting to the point that the tax returns (or shall we call them updates now?) are just another output. All that data provides the basis for more proactive and valuable accounting services that are taking them into new and exciting sectors such as cryptocurrencies, online cash management, payments and business finance.

Those opportunities may not be to your taste, but some of these models are becoming very successful - as we have seen in our recent Accounting Excellence Awards.

So yes, there are horses for courses. Nobody - especially Yohan - is saying you have to get into Zapier coding to make it in today's profession. But we can learn a lot from the people who are doing this. The problems they solve and issues they uncover can help other less techy accountants who are trying to fix bottlenecks in their practices, or find solutions that will help them keep clients compliant with all the changing tax and reporting regulations. They might even be aspiring to help clients become better informed about how their businesses are performing.

So please bare that in mind as we debate app fatigue and developing appropriate tech stacks for different client groups. And feel free to contribute to these conversations in a constructive way. That way, perhaps low tech and high tech accountants can learn a little bit more about each other.

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
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By johnjenkins
11th Nov 2021 15:57

"That way, perhaps low tech and high tech accountants can learn a little bit more about each other."
John, that is the problem. The high techies are too far away from the low techies and pulling away further. I'm not blaming them just stating what is occurring on the front line. We are in danger of losing people that are the soul of this country. You've only got to look at banks and HMRC to see what happens when the knowledgeable staff go. I'm all for tech moving forward, it achieves brilliant things but day to day tech needs to slow up so that many do not get left behind.

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
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By Winnie Wiggleroom
11th Nov 2021 17:11

John Stokdyk wrote:

Early adopters are unlikely to spend too much time wrestling with the bookkeeping software habits of the smallest UK businesses and aren't too fussed about the specific challenges of MTD.

Hmm, so the article is not relevant to me and 99.9% of my clients then! Not sure what your point is there John?

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
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By North East Accountant
11th Nov 2021 18:37

John Stokdyk wrote:

So yes, there are horses for courses.

So please bare that in mind as we debate app fatigue and developing appropriate tech stacks for different client groups. And feel free to contribute to these conversations in a constructive way. That way, perhaps low tech and high tech accountants can learn a little bit more about each other.

I apologise if you think my comments were not constructive, they were certainly not intended to be.

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
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By Yohan Trougouboff
12th Nov 2021 08:13

Thanks for the comment John Stokdyk, I appreciate that. Relating to some of the comments here, I think it's worth adding what I personally think are the three main approaches you can have to tech in the accounting space:

1. It's another fad- they come and go, no need take a risk changing what you've always done

2. It's an opportunity- it enables you to streamline the compliance work in order to enjoy better margins and improved profitability while working less and talking less with clients and/or growing the client base

3. It's an opportunity- it enables you to streamline the compliance work in order to focus more on value-added services that enable more differentiation in the market

The accountants that I work closely with at the Early Adopters Hub are taking that third approach. They see tech as a means of working more closely with clients, offering more value and generating more revenue from a smaller, high-quality client base. Tech is the enabler, not the end goal.

They are willing to take a risk and experiment in reshaping the business model and approach of what an accounting firm is and can do. Tech is a key driver of that. It doesn't mean they will 100% get it right, only time will tell.

You can take whatever approach you want, I've been working closely with accountants for 5 years now but I'm not an accountant and I'm not going to tell accountants what they should or should not do.

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Replying to Yohan Trougouboff:
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By johnjenkins
12th Nov 2021 09:22

At first I thought, ah Yohan has a different approach, then I read your third point and realised it's all about "value-added services" that enables the client to be ripped off. "High-quality client base" and so the spiel goes on.
I'm really disappointed in your post, Yohan, and I'm also disappointed with myself for falling for the sales pitch. So let's be very clear. High techies aren't interested that there are low techies just what they can charge.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
11th Nov 2021 16:11

I find personally that whilst there might be a better app or something out there to do things I do all day, I just don't care.

What I am looking for is solutions to problems, not slightly better solutions to problems which are already solved.

If you are continually changing processes chasing micro gains in productivity, the act of change is the most unproductive things in the system.

Some of the best systems work because everyone understands the system and can use it well and solve issues when it fails, not because the system cant be improved.

In the old days they called this "if it aint broke, dont fix it"

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
12th Nov 2021 10:02

Any accountant in practice has to be tech savvy thats a given, but just like any job the skill lies in knowing which tools to use, when and when not to use them, and only using the tools you are competent to use.

Mostly I find that adding Apps adds cost and complication, sometimes it is of benefit to the client but quite often it is not, I have always find keeping it simple and working with what you know is usually the best approach.

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Dave Sellick
By David Sellick
12th Nov 2021 12:18

• Thanks for putting this out there Yohan; I'm not surprised that this has caused some polarisation! This captures a situation that hasn't been given the spotlight enough.

• This goes beyond digital vs desktop or the lack of awareness of the right technology. We discussed this on the Accountex panel yesterday & I think it's often a case of...

Those that are excited by the opportunities that new best of breed tech offers & believe the adoption of new tech is crucial to driving infinitely better workflow, culture, insights, client connection etc.

Vs Those that are exhausted by the continuous flooding of the market with new technology & don't believe the gains are material

• If you sit more towards the 'excited by new tech' side then you're more likely to want to adopt best of breed tech and find a way to incorporate it

• It starts with the goals we're trying to achieve for ourselves and our clients and then finding solutions that meet them

• I believe that best of breed offers the greatest opportunity to optimise on this. But it does require constant innovative thinking and creative mindset - something that hasn't historically sat well with accountants

• This isn't a debate between those that care about fundamental issues like compliance, MTD etc. -it is a debate about those that realise we need to push beyond these

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Replying to Dave Sellick:
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By Hugo Fair
12th Nov 2021 14:24

David, to paraphrase your approach, I tried to *believe* that what you said was a reasoned argument - and there was a faint glimmer of sense (in the reference to the Accountex 'findings') that is trying to escape from the rest of the morass of unedifying hyperbole.

"infinitely better workflow, culture, insights, client connection etc"? Aside of the lack of demonstrable, let alone quantified, measurements to back up this vague assertion ... there's the small problem of claiming an infinite improvement! Is it a pre-requirement that these apps can only be used in sci-fi fantasies?

The reality is that improvements only occur when measured against an initial baseline - and, as is often the case in software company 'research' (aka press releases), if you choose particularly poor examples then it's possible to show massive improvements ... sometimes approaching the standard of those not using the apps but already operating efficiently!
[BTW this approach to stats is a favourite tool in HMRC's toolkit as well].

But you've really exposed your lack of independent thinking with your final bullet-point, when you say:
"it is a debate about those that realise we need to push beyond these"
A debate takes place between two people (or groups of them) who espouse a different (usually opposing) viewpoint ... whereas you've unilaterally discarded one of those parties (the one with which you dissent) and said that the only game in town involves those "those that realise we need to push beyond these"!

The history of innovation (particularly with regard to technology) is not unakin to the world of pop stars ... in that all seek to be seen as uniquely ground-breaking, whilst actually mostly just following the latest fads & trends created elsewhere. This makes them followers not innovators.
The true innovators have a success ratio of far worse than 1 in 10,000 (possibly the proverbial one in a million) and deserve their rewards (in terms of reputation not just financial recompense).
Whilst the people who make most of the money are the managers/promoters who take their cut from the fake-innovators' earnings and then discard them as soon as they cease to generate a return.

Back to the software industry. I've seen the same claims recycled every 10 years or so (even as the technology itself changed from valves to transistors, and from punched cards to tape/disks/USBs, and from stand-alone to ethernet/internet etc etc). The lack of innovation in the claims of innovation are frankly staggering!

The truth is that a few people really like shiny new tech toys and the thrill of chasing the next one ... good luck to them. Some of them will be lucky and grab a bit of technology at (unbeknownst to them) an opportune time of change in their client-base, thereby leading to a jump start in their growth ... but most won't.

Similarly a few 'luddites' (although that isn't an appropriate label for everyone failing to be excited at the prospect of being a tech-head) will fall by the wayside ... probably for reasons unconnected with the (lack of) technological prowess.
But most will continue to provide a service that is welcomed by their clients, who lead them in determining what is necessary (as opposed to 'might be interesting') ... taking on board minor additions and tweaks to their technology tool-kit on an evolutionary/adaptive basis.

The key to this latter (and let's face it mainstream) approach is as per your phrase that they "don't believe the gains are material". And why should they in the absence of unbiased research to prove the contrary, especially when they can look after the clients to both parties' satisfaction without gambling on something that doesn't even make them feel good?

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By johnjenkins
12th Nov 2021 14:40

A bit long winded for my liking but spot on.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Hugo Fair
12th Nov 2021 14:56

Yeah, sorry about that ... I think the post-op medication's only just wearing off, so I went for the "stream of consciousness" approach instead of my usually more considered style. Mind you, no-one's ever accused me of unnecessary brevity!

Anyway, glad you enjoyed it (or at least agreed with it).

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By adam.arca
12th Nov 2021 13:15

I've read the article but, seriously, who's got time for all that research / playing around (unless that's the sort of thing which rocks your boat)? Then just to change it 6 months down the line because something better has come along? Blow that for a game of soldiers.

As Ireallyshould has said, people want a solution which is just good enough and which is robust and durable. I know that's what I want, I'm pretty sure that's what most accountants want, and I'm damn sure that's what 99% of clients want.

I've always preferred best of breed for my practice software but if this app mania ever becomes a thing in that market, then I'll move over into integrated in a heartbeat and accept the compromises that come with that. Life is too short for all this app s.h.1.t. and we can't even be sure that good decisions are even on the table to be made: apps are a new thing really and we're still in that evolutionary stage where a million approaches are tried in order to find the half dozen which actually work best.

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