Around 2,000 accountants and software developers turned up for Xerocon 2017 at the ExCel in London Docklands on Tuesday for the London leg of Xero’s global roadshow.
The 120ft video screen surpassed last year’s by some distance and the same could be said for Xero’s burgeoning user base, which now exceeds 250,000 according to European managing director Gary Turner.
Cloud accounting developers including Xero and expenses capture developers such as Receipt Bank and AutoEntry have been the most visible beneficiaries of the Making Tax Digital effect. AccountingWEB’s analysis of cloud use among entrants to the 2017 Practice Excellence Awards grew by more than 50% in the past year, which closely mirrors Xero’s 55% UK user growth rate.
In spite of being scaled back to VAT only for 2019, the MTD boom has also stimulated interest in practice management tools during the past year. Xero catered for this trend at the show by announcing Xero HQ, a platform that brings together none preferred apps to meet the needs of its practice customers: datamolino, Receipt Bank and Expensify (data capture and expenses processing apps), Futrli, Spotlight Reporting and Fathom (forecasting and reporting tools), Practice Ignition, SuiteFiles and BOMA.
Xero updates HQ practitioner pack
“We believe these are the best of breed tools that lead the pack to allow you to offer digital [accountancy] services,” Xero CEO Rod Drury told the audience. “They have all been engineered to work really well together.”
While Xero HQ represents a triumph for software co-existence, the expenses app developers were a little less thrilled at the announcement of Xero Expense, a mobile app that can capture images of invoices and squirt the data through to Xero – just like Receipt Bank and Expensify. None of these vendors were particularly enthusiastic about the launch, but neither did they feel overly threatened by it.
After leaping from obscurity to centre stage as part of the Xero HQ suite, BOMA attracted a lot of attention at Xerocon. The digital marketing app comes from a company founded by former Saatchi executive Ian Christie, who is a neighbour of Drury’s in New Zealand.
“He said wanted to show me his new software,” said Drury. “I’m usually really sceptical, but when he showed me BOMA it really blew me away. We were thinking about trying to solve the the same problems.”
BOMA is designed to help accountancy firms market to their practices and after agreeing to bring it into the Xero HQ fold, it was adapted so that it can pull in news and advice from Xero.
“We can inject content into BOMA. We can now be your virtual marketing departments,” said Drury. “We can create playbooks, and content that allows you to go out to market with work we’ve done.”
Another Xero HQ member new to the UK is SuiteFiles, a document management system built on Microsoft Office 365 that integrates with the other applications in Xero's user environment. According to Callum McNeill from SuiteFiles, the benefit for users of Xero HQ is that they can access all the different components from one place rather than having to jump between practice apps.
Xero HQ also has an activity feed that pulls in alerts from the different parts of Xero HQ. So the practitioner can see if a client is late authorising a set of accounts in SuiteFiles. “It's one way to see other things you need to know about - it really makes sense,” said McNeill, adding, “It's been a great way for us to launch into the UK market.”
Putting the tools to good use
Even as the cloud accounting market booms, there’s a downside for Xero as practices that have turned to cloud accounting systems as a solution to the challenges of MTD are less geared up to move into the “trusted advisor” role that Xero advocates.
Many firms are also rushing into digital marketing without having clear objectives or plans in place and apart from expense capture apps, many not equipped to implement apps from the ever-expanding Xero app marketplace, which now features more than 600 software tools.
On Monday, ahead of the main event, Xero invited AccountingWEB to present early findings from the 2017 Practice Excellence Awards entrants to illustrate some of these key growth areas and to share insights about what the best performing firms are doing to keep ahead of the pack. This information will be shared in a separate article, and will be the focus of the Digital stream of Practice Excellence Live on 18 October.
About John Stokdyk
John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and AccountingWEB.com.