Cloud agility eases Aqilla through crisis
Aqilla has charted a “steady” course through the Coivd-19 crisis, according to director Hugh Scantlebury.
“We’re subscription-based, so unlike some vendors, we’re not having to sell new software licences every month. It’s not nirvana, but it does help,” he told AccountingWEB.
As a mid-range cloud accounting software developer, Aqilla is a very agile, distributed organisation, he explained. “We started the business because we were sick of the difficulties of supporting customers on international deployments. AWS [Amazon Web Services, the platform on which Aqilla is built] makes it easy.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic organisations around the world had to shift their operations very quickly to working from home. Any arguments against relying on cloud accounting software have dissipated very quickly since March.
At the outset of the crisis, Aqilla set out to help that trend along by introducing a “Lifeboat” implementation service to get new customers live within five days. “It doesn’t always end up as five days, but is a good place to start and nowhere near 100, which is not uncommon for some systems,” said Scantlebury.
The company has had a constant stream of work during lockdown, implementing new systems and going back for enhancement projects. Quite a few of these have been to help clients put in new workflows to cope with the new arrangements.
“Workflow was built in as a cornerstone of the system from the start and has evolved since then,” said Scantlebury.
“About two years ago, we introduced workflow groups technology to make it more intuitive to drive documents such as expense claims and timesheets up and down the organisation with approvals and rejections and the ability to limit user access to the files that were relevant to them.”
Aqilla serves several different sectors and as the pandemic affected industries in different ways the varied customer mix helped keep the company buoyant in difficult times. Scantlebury offered a quick snapshot of the impacts he has seen:
Hospitality – Aqilla has a big presence in hospitality, particularly among multi-outlet chains. “We expected it to fall off a cliff, but it hasn’t. Most of our hospitality furloughed their staff and bided their time,” said Scantlebury. “We’ve supported customers with furloughing calculations, cash management, forecasting tools and loan applications. Cashflow is bread and butter to us – the tools are already there.”
Healthcare – The developer has been growing its niche among NHS commissioning groups and partnerships over the past two years and moving into “enterprise” installations built around the government cloud infrastructure. This has stood it in good stead during 2020, as primary care organisations needed to scale up very rapidly. Aqilla is now working with a consortium of 80 GPs in the City of London and Hackney and gained approved supplier status for NHS local partnership procurement for 75 London organisations. “In the public sector it’s easier to buy through the framework, but they’re much more risk-averse than private sector organisations. It means learning their language and understanding their risk and responding to them.”
Financial services – “Life hasn’t stopped” due to the virus, said Scantlebury. “People still need to live, have insurance, have a functioning bank and be able to shop. Those businesses have reacted in different ways and we’ve seen odd characteristics of personal expenditure emerge during the crisis.”
Voluntary sector – Like healthcare, the voluntary sector has responded to greatly increased demand as a result of the virus. Among Aqilla’s not-for-profit customers is Fairshare, which provides free meals for vulnerable people. After Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford got publicly involved with a campaign to provide free school meals for schoolchildren, the charity increased its output from roughly 1m meals per week to 4m. “With the pressure and demands that society is going through, we’re very happy to support that,” said Scantlebury.
Roadmap for the future
While coping with what’s happening on the ground, Scantlebury still had time to look up at longer-term horizons for accounting software. “We’ve got some really smart stuff on AI for bank integration and line of business solutions to take the resistance out of processes. Now that API technology and open standards are really coming together, you can take something like an invoice coming in from a supplier and promote that invoice through the workflow to pay the supplier via the API.”
Automation and integration are also extending from the back office to the front office, he added. “We’re also integrating more with CRM systems like Salesforce because people are developing customised business solutions in CRM, but want the invoice to come out of the accounting system. It’s an increasingly common thread.”
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