Practice technology: How to get ahead and stay ahead
Over the past decade, technology-driven innovations have transformed the tools of accountancy from dusty back office spreadsheets to turbo-charged apps and cloud-based software solutions.
But how do busy practice owners ensure they don’t miss out on new, potentially game-changing developments? How do they know what will integrate with their current practice setup? And how do they know what is (and isn’t) appropriate for their clients?
Sophie Tyler, accounting team manager at Dolan Accountancy, has a rigorous approach to keeping tabs on the fast-moving world of accounting tech.
“We track new technologies and software for our own benefit and for our clients,” says Tyler. “We have meetings about what’s in development and keep an open dialogue internally so we don’t miss any important developments.”
Michaela Rees, founder of boutique firm Sterling Rees Tax & Accountancy, explains that attending events can be a great way of keeping up to date with practice technology innovations.
“We’ve always been early adopters of technology. I remember attending Accountex in 2017 to find out more about Making Tax Digital as well as cloud-based systems generally. I certainly came away with lots of options, like ToDoist [an app for collating to-do lists] and Slack [for collaborating within teams].”
How important is integration?
The relationship between the different elements of a practice and how they integrate is something that PaperRocket’s Sarah Solo keeps a constant eye on.
“We’re happy to improvise the best way ahead with a mix of tools,” she says. “We promote FreeAgent to clients where it’s a good fit – which is true of the majority – but we also have our own methods. As long as our processes run smoothly we’re happy and over time we’ll add further process improvements and integrations that could move the dial a bit.”
Rees however, believes that while the potential for integration should be a factor when it comes to considering whether to adopt a new tool, it shouldn’t be the deciding one.
“What I appreciate most is the value delivered by tools that make life simple for clients. The degree to which they integrate with one another is secondary to how well the core functionality delivers,” she says.
While the Sterling Rees and PaperRocket approaches are similar to ones followed by other practices, every practice is on its own journey.
Peter Edwards, a partner at Warr & Co Chartered Accountants, says the firm’s software tools all offer some level of integration.
“First and foremost we want neat integrations in the background that still keep things simple for us and our clients.”
Solo thinks that for future integrations, change is likely to come from Open Banking, as banks and their apps gain more capability over time. “As those apps become more powerful and more integrated, it’ll probably alter the landscape for software-based accounting. More will become possible,” she explains.
How can tech improve client relationships?
When it comes to practice management and client relationships, Rees believes that cloud-based technology generally holds the key.
“Cloud-based systems allow clients to upload data directly to a shared platform - meaning there’s no need for us to chase them,” she says.
“I can take accounts and analyse the data within them instantly. From that perspective, technology is amazing.”
Edwards adds that using interesting technology and cloud tools can even make clients feel enthusiastic about their accounting.
“We were quite early to promote cloud services. We could see the advantages in keeping clients engaged and on the pulse in relation to their accounting.”
He also explains that because he has practice technology tools in place, managing client relationships is more efficient all round. He comments: “We can do our work sooner and more confidently, with less reliance on the client.”
Solo emphasises the benefit of cloud accounting tools like FreeAgent for both accountants and their clients when it comes to flagging late payers.
“It’s a great feature as it flags which customers to chase more and why,” she says. “We love it and some clients, like graphic designers who generally have lots of clients to keep tabs on, even enjoy it too.”
Keep on top of new technology and developments in the industry by attending events like Accountex as well as keeping tabs on big movements within the industry like MTD and Open Banking
Schedule regular meetings with clients to help them stay up to date
Every practice has different needs when it comes to technology - find out which integrations work for you
When deciding which practice technology integrations to use, it's easy to get distracted by all the options. Be sure to consider your core needs and consider whether the tool you’re considering ticks the right boxes.
Cloud accounting systems can help firms to manage their clients as well as enhance the client-accountant relationship
Practice technology moves at such a pace that firms risk falling behind in an increasingly competitive market if they take their eye off the ball. It pays to keep on top of the latest tech developments and to consider how new tools could potentially add value to practices and, ultimately, to their clients.
Find out more about staying on top of practice technology with more examples from successful firms in our new guide, Accounting for the Future - 5 firms share their strategies.