As the IRIS World roadshow reached Glasgow after a big announcement in Birmingham last week, AccountingWEB talked with GearShift’s Kevin Cowan about the role of his forecasting application within the IRIS portfolio.
The Hampden Park conference was a something of a homecoming for Cowan, who founded Level10 in Glasgow in 2011. A management accountant who worked as a business advisor, Cowan told the audience that he was inspired to build a forecasting tool after helping turn around a company that discovered a £500,000 black hole in its accounts.
“They asked me in to do a cashflow projection, but when I looked at their spreadsheets I found this black hole. Usually you can trace something like that to a spreadsheet error - but it wasn’t the case.” Poor sales, credit control and supplier terms had contributed to the shortfall, which could have sunk the company.
Cowan worked with the firm to bring in cash from customers, renegotiate terms with suppliers and get extra funding from the bank. Some redundancies could not be avoided, but the company did survive and remains a client to this day.
“The company used a good accounting firm, but they weren’t up to date on the day to day financial health of the client and had no insight,” he said.
Cowan was an enthusiastic user of WinForecast, but that was not a client-friendly tool, so he ended up leaving them with a spreadsheet cashflow forecasting tool - the same technology that had contributed to its problems.
Cowan resolved to find a better way, and told AccountingWEB that his objective was to create a tool with WinForecast-like capabilities as an add-on for cloud accounting systems. GearShift was the result and gained a following among KashFlow and FreeAgent users.
The ease with which GearShift can generate a forecast from imported data was illustrated with a short demo at IRIS World, where just a few clicks were needed to assign the forecast parameters and build up a forward-looking picture. Selecting a profit projection could allow the user to build a corporation tax forecast, or different scenarios could be developed to do a side-by-side “what if?” comparison. The output could be compiled into a business plan package and printed our, or shown to users on a tablet or PC.
Coincidentally, two other Scottish software developers - Colin Hewitt at Float and Hannah MacIntyre at CrunchBoards - had similar ideas around the same time. As Cowan sees it, however, they each brought a different approach to the market.
“Float is very much a cashflow management tool, while we build the P&Ls and balance sheets that the banks would want. We have also concentrated on producing a complete business plan in just a few minutes - which is something accountants do all the time.
“CrunchBoards is all about the flexible interface, which they’ve expanded into forecasting,” he said.
Float and CrunchBoards both started out in the Xero ecosystem, but remain independent developers who also integrate with QuickBooks Online and other cloud accounting engines.
GearShift can operate as a standalone forecasting tool, and import base data as CSV files from any system, but after last week’s acquisition by IRIS, when it comes to integration Cowan said, “The first port of call is KashFlow.”
Cowan was aware that he was taking a different route to his competitors. As a relatively small player in the forecasting add-on market, he had already accepted a 10% investment from IRIS before agreeing to the full acquisition.
“IRIS has 50% of the customer base for UK accountants. When we came to the next stage of how to scale up, it would have cost a fortune to reach that community.”
In contrast to Xero and QuickBooks, KashFlow is developing a much more cautious add-on strategy it describes as “quality over quantity”. So GearShift, ReceiptBank and a dozen other apps have jumped through its integration hoops.
When it comes to add-ons, “You can have too much choice,” Cowan argued.
“Xero’s strength in this area is a weakness. It’s a very flexible environment, but how many accountants have the time to assess all the options?”
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