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The practice management software challenge

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28th Feb 2017
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Since the end of self assessment season, AccountingWEB has been exploring the options for enhancing practice management and internal processes. This quest continued with a live “shootout” workshop on Monday between some of the new cloud contenders to see how they address the challenges facing practitioners.

Our overview article earlier this month set out some of the reasons for the surge of interest in practice management software.

While HMRC’s plans for Making Tax Digital played a significant part in the 2017 practice software boom, the firms we have talked to raised a few other important considerations:

  • Client chasing and data collection tools
  • Link invoices to standardised fee structures, but with the ability to raise and manage bills for ad hoc projects that run alongside usual work. Also facilities for tracking and reporting work in progress (WIP)
  • Reaching out to new prospects in an organised manner and simplifying the process of bringing them on board as clients. One firm we talked to was looking for reminders and prompts on this set of tasks “as we lost a few clients because we didn’t love them enough”.
  • Create and manage task categories and workflows for better tracking and analysis

Preparing for Making Tax Digital

Many of these basic practice management priorities feed directly into the wider challenged posed by MTD. Getting clients to keep their records up to date and feed data in on a quarterly basis will force firms to ask the same questions that crop up every year with self assessment: are they building the firm around the right clients, will respond to and benefit from it’s the kind of service it offers? Is there a better way to manage data collection from clients who are slow to respond?

Firms that do not wake up to HMRC’s plan to push millions of small businesses into digital record-keeping and quarterly updates, Making Tax Digital could turn into a complete nightmare without appropriate tools to manage the workflow.

But if you can systemise the workflows and crack the client awareness and training workload, MTD could be an opportunity for practices that gear up to take on the extra workload, says Chris Downing, head of business intelligence at Bristol-based Milsted Langdon and 2014 Practice Excellence Technology Champion.

“The challenge [of MTD] is getting clients to deliver information every three months rather than before January. That’s going to require different skill sets on services and clients interaction.

“I’ve got no problems with Sage desktop systems, but how do you get hold of the data to deal with with adjustments, accruals and so on? A lot of accountants will struggle to embrace technology and the new environment. But there will be opportunities for agile firms to grasp.”

Our comparison workshop took place in Bristol on Monday afternoon (27 February), and featured a selection of the new breed of cloud software applications that have entered the market in the past year: Senta, Glide, mTrio and Prosper.

The selection was partly guided by AccountingWEB member Glenn Martin who thinks that MTD will change his workflows and processes to the point that he doesn’t need to rely so much on “old guard” PM systems from the likes of Sage, IRIS or Thomson Reuters Digita. 

“It was good to cram them all in one day,” said Martin. “They’re all pretty new, but were each worth around 7 or 8 out of 10. One of them [mTrio] was more into CRM and Glide was more of a workflow engine. If you could get a hybrid of them all, you’d have an ideal solution.

“But whichever one you go with, it will be significantly better than what I’m using now. I think I’m ready to commit to one and will wait for the bits that come along later.”

Replies (14)

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Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
28th Feb 2017 11:38

Hi John,

Is there going to be a part 2 to this? A little more of the gory details of the shoot out?

Reg

Thanks (1)
Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
28th Feb 2017 16:46

It was a very worthwhile day and very brave of the 4 vendors to go head to head so to speak.

This is my quiet time so wanted something that I could implement now so its running issue free by this time next. What I saw were significantly better than the old style PM suite that loosely pulled together your practice suite.

For me with MTD on the horizon the client side of the communication is going to be key so linking with cloud software will take be more important if I am not to become swamped.

Useful features like text message nudges etc to get info in will save a huge amount of time and do produce good results.

Whilst I am sure there are more product launches to come, i would suggest that you take some time out at Accountex to visit Senta and Mtrio as they have great potential to save time, money and hopefully a few less grey hairs.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Glennzy:
Good looking older guy with the biggest smile.  The 15 Minute Guy
By Ashley Leeds
02nd Mar 2017 09:00

Thanks for your kind words Glenzy, it was a great day and valuable for us as developers to get all your feedback. Thank you for continued championing of PM solutions. We are doing what we can to help make your lives easier. So any other suggestions are most welcome.

Thanks (0)
Neophyte
By Neophyte
28th Feb 2017 20:30

Really interesting and the next thing on my agenda to address as I want to build our practice around a great PM system. We have Digita but its seems very old fashioned compared to some of the newer entrants.

The dilemma is do you do it yourself and set it up using a collection of market leading standard tools etc using Salesforce, Sharepoint, Zendesk, ToDoist, Trello etc. To me the advantage of this would be total flexibility and market leading technology without being tied to one supplier. The disadvantage is the cost of all the separate elements and the time taken and the complexity of knitting this all together (using Zapier etc to automate data transfers and tasks).

The other options are Senta, mTrio, Practice Ignition etc. I've looked in depth at Senta and was initially undewhelmed. However after a fair bit of playing around it slowly grew on me how potentially powerful it could be once fully developed. But at least it offers a 30 day trial, something which MTrio does not currently do. The risk with any of the all in one cloud based solutions is longevity and the ability to switch providers if circumstances dictate (plus the rather steep incremental cost per user).

I'd love to see a properly written up analysis of the pros and cons of each prior to our trip to Accountex!

Thanks (2)
Replying to Neophyte:
Teignmouth
By Paul Scholes
01st Mar 2017 14:52

Hi Neophyte

Having been an Iris user for over 20 years it was a huge culture shock to move my mindset across to best of cloud breed but I (and my bank) are so glad I did.

My practice in now tiny but I'm firmly in your option 1 (with Trello) with the ability to use Zapier being key.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Paul Scholes:
Neophyte
By Neophyte
01st Mar 2017 18:43

That's my preference too. I'll probably look into the real practicalities of this and build a proof of concept in the first chunk of my notice period.

Thanks (0)
By Tim Vane
01st Mar 2017 10:16

"a selection of the new breed of cloud software applications that have entered the market in the past year".

That may be true of some of them (many of which will no doubt disappear as quickly and noiselessly as they appeared), but I'm fairly sure that Glide has been around quite a while. Certainly I saw it at Accountex some time ago (3 or 4 years at least), so it's hardly a new entrant. I'm not sure that the world was ready for cloud PM back then, but it's probably something that is about to have its day.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Tim Vane:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
03rd Mar 2017 09:40

Hi Tim,

Good point, but I would add that Senta has been around for a few years now too, with what sounds like an increasingly established client base.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By morgani
01st Mar 2017 12:25

We always used to use a custom system in Excel. This was fine when it was just me but as we took on staff we needed something that could enable multiple users.
We came accross Glide (www.whatsglide.com) about a year ago. Its great!

It takes a little setting up but the team are great at helping with that. We are now really on top of work and are confident we will not miss a deadline through poor systems (hopefully never for any reason)

Thanks (1)
Good looking older guy with the biggest smile.  The 15 Minute Guy
By Ashley Leeds
02nd Mar 2017 09:09

Thanks for this John.

It was a great day and wonderful to meet with the varied accountants and hear their views.

There are many solutions available for practices to help gain efficiency and manage deadlines, but our quest is to put all of these tools into one easy to use solution that will integrate with other key players in the market such as Google, Digita and Xero.

By striving for this accountants will only need to manage one database and have everything accessible on the cloud through any device.

It is very early days for some of the vendors at your 'shoutout' but even in the short space of time we have added some exciting new features for our customers and are continuing to build out features that are requested.

Watch this space, it is going to be an exciting ride, and because we built our platform on a strong platform we will be here for the long run.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Sheepy306
02nd Mar 2017 12:53

Is there going to be any detail regarding this and a comparison of the main differences? Also, for a meaningful review it would need to include the non-cloud PM products too. Readers can then either see what they're missing out on or remain content with their existing PM software.

There's no point in carrying out a review of Nissan Leaf's (leaves) and BMW i3's, claiming that they're the best cars on the market simply because they're new and electric, whilst ignoring the Ferrari's and Lamborghini's that have been leaders for years.

Thanks (0)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
03rd Mar 2017 17:17

Hi Sheepy & Richard and thanks for your close interest in this project.

I'm sorry that I haven't been back to this page since the morning after the workshop to clarify what's going to happen next.

Based on proceedings and video footage we recorded, we're going to compile individual product overviews. We'll present these in a round-up article discussing some of the market's wider trends - and the requirements flagged up by the accountants who took part.

We'll also be feeding back to the suppliers about their products' strong and weak points. A lot of work to do before the Budget!

Thanks (0)
Woods Squared
By info.woods-squared.co.uk
04th Mar 2017 14:20

As Richard says can we get some details of the actual comparison that was done?

Article otherwise (for the reader) is as useful as a chocolate teapot :-)

Thanks (0)
Paul
By Paul Barnes
10th Mar 2017 14:59

I still think all of these platforms miss the most significant challenge that we face in accounting firms - getting the clients to take action. You can be the best bookkeepers, accountants, outsourced FD's in the world but if you don't get the information you need from your clients, you don't even get started. The winner in this space will be the platform that takes the heavy lifting away from the technical people and a large chunk of which, away from people altogether and utilising technology to send effective reminders to clients that drive action. There is so much waste, inconsistency and delay in the client chasing aspect and that's what's really holding us back.

Thanks (1)