The challenge of technology adoption is changing

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Firms are open to new technology, and yet there's an unwillingness to adopt. Richard Sergeant considers why this is the case.  

The challenge of introducing new technologies has shifted. As Jonathan Bareham from Raedan accountants recently found after using Curve cards with his clients:

“Eight years ago was about getting people to trust technology, and to have reassurance around security. The challenge now is about how we get them to integrate it into how they do things.”

What became clear after researching how firms deploy tech is how complex this seemingly simple idea really is.

Making room for tech change

For Intuit’s Alex Davis the necessary motivation for change only exists when the benefits are self-evident: “The perception of gain needs to be bigger than the perceived pain. People are comfortable with the tech: it is taking the time and energy to instigate change that is the challenge.”

Taylorcocks’ Jamie Hallit comes up against these objections to technological changes on a daily basis. “99% of the time it's simply because people can't be bothered with the hassle of changing from one thing to another,” he said.

To absorb or adapt: Enhancement vs innovation

To Andy North from AccountingWEB’s US sister site, the challenge is how change comes in different flavours. “There needs to be a differentiation between tech which enhances a job that you do already and that which changes it. The line isn't always clear,” he said.

“For example, a practice management solution makes it easier to keep track of clients. That's an enhancement. Giving 90% of your bookkeeping to a robot is a fundamental change.”

The Curve philosophy, meanwhile, is one of enhancement. “Asking accountants to implement your tool comes at the cost of fitting that tool into their workflow,” Curve’s Matthew Phillips explained.

“If that workflow doesn't already exist, they are restructuring how they do things. For us, the best way to solve this is to reconcile what the firm needs and what the clients already do. So integrating Curve becomes a case of ‘as you were… but better’.”

But innovation must come from the other direction too. To really take advantage of technology, Xero’s Ian Phillips said businesses need to change the way they do things, rather than integrate new tech into existing ways of working. “It takes leadership – and bottle! – for that to happen,” he said. “So lots of businesses who have adopted new technology aren't seeing the full benefit.”  

The culture debate

“Good tech can mean a complete overhaul,” Talorcock’s Andrew Perrett added. “But for that to happen it often requires a change of mindset or a change in culture.”

This is an enormous challenge but one that promises tantalising benefits. David Kine from Haines Watts concurred: “One of the biggest challenges is the profession's attitude to technology. Once that has changed, there will be no stopping the cloud accounting revolution.”

However, Yard’s Collette Easton is optimistic: “Cultural change can be embraced when it’s seen as adding efficiency, positivity, and good change to an organisation.”

But the sheer scale of the task can hinder adoption. Ross Humphreys from 9Spokes said: “Gaining confidence in security is one thing, changing the behavioural patterns across all areas of the business culture is another.

“Resistance comes because of the pace and scale of change. Think of the sheer number of service providers, the terminology used, and how often that picture changes.”

Instead, a subtle shift in mindset can be a more practical solution. Small nudges allow technology to be more readily adopted and integrated sooner. Some niche tech can make all the difference without a massive institutional change.

Similarly, different bits of the business move at different speeds. Why shift the boulder, when it’s easier to move lots of stones?

Lost in solutions

“There are too many good options,” said Hakon Junge, Pleo. “Reflecting on my experience in the fintech space, everyone struggles to find the best of breed solutions which cater to everything they need.”

With too much choice, you can end up choosing nothing at all, something many of us can relate to from spending hours browsing Netflix.

Could vendors make a better case?

So far, the discussion has focused on the motivation of the practice and its clients. But, who wants to buy into a concept if it is difficult to understand? If the benefits of a new technology are unclear, vendors are only solving part of the problem.

Taylorcock’s Hallit agreed: “Before people start integrating technology, they need to be educated as to why it's better than what they're currently doing. It’s the vendors’ responsibility to not only convince accountants that their solutions solve a problem for them, but also for their clients.”

But as AccountingWEB.com’s North concludes a lot of tech vendors seem to be leaving it entirely up to accountants to join the dots.

Conclusion

Despite the difference of perspectives, all agree that the case for adopting new technology comes down to the value it brings. “The challenge now is to explain how changes to workflows add value,” said FreeAgent’s Andrew Garvey.

This would seem as good a measure as any for vendor, practice, and client alike.

About Richard Sergeant

Richard Sergeant

Specialist insight and business development support for accountants and their vendors. Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye.

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15th Feb 2018 10:35

"Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye."

Says it all, doesn't it.

Thanks (1)
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15th Feb 2018 11:02

Sorry Richard, a lot of us still don't trust technology and I'll give you the reason why.
Normally you have a piece of new technology, let's say the computer. So you're changing from a written system to an automated system. How long has that taken to come about? Many years. We are now asked to accept new technology without question on a constantly changing basis which gives you little time to grasp the basics. I add that the cloud is not yet proven. So, Richard, with your valued pragmatic eye contact HMRC and put them right on MTD.

Thanks (4)
15th Feb 2018 11:53

I detested 'computer accounts' as they were simply unsuited to small businesses.

Then IRIS came along and I was an early-adopter as it clearly worked and saved hours.

It depends very much on the tech. A lot of it seems half-baked and disguised under a marketing word-salad, which is invariably counter-productive.

Less word-salad and more meat on the bone.

Thanks (2)
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15th Feb 2018 12:13

Proven technology = pen and paper, proven process = double-entry book-keeping - and proven over a period of circa 600 years.
As I see it there are two drivers at play:
1. The sheer size/complexity/number of enterprises - necessitating huge book-keeping processes that need to be executed in a constrained timeline
2. the progenitor of the timeline constraint = tax cycle.
There is a place for automation to enable these in companies that are of a size - but for other (smaller) companies there is neither need nor benefit within their own context.
BUT HMRC is characterised by 1 above and every contributor is thereby co-opted as part of the overall enterprise and must be shoe-horned into their system one way or another.
On the basis that what most [of the s/ware vendors] mean by 'cloud' is some distributed/remote system for data Storage(-as-a-service) and/or Software(-as-a-service), it is only possible where the marginal cost/performance of comms-links are generally better than UK, as a whole, offers.
The gradual insinuation of HMRC control, ever deeper into companies processes is clearly the thin edge of a wedge that I'm not comfortable with - but, commercially, s/ware providers are on a roll as HMRC is doing the selling for them - selling? I don't think so ... its an enforced purchase.
Overturning 600 years of proven practice/culture should, imho, be something that is done with great care and forethought. What we are seeing is second-rate thinking (-about, not -through), incomplete and second-rate specification by a government organisation whose attachment to reality is, at best, questionable and therefore implementation that is necessarily unstable.

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16th Feb 2018 07:04

Adoption of tech always comes down to two points; does it save me time (improved workflows, benefit the client), does it make me money.
After this decision, then as Andy North states to make it work, you need a "Director of Getting Things Done" in any business.
Simples.

I agree with Jon Jenkins, being asked to adopt the latest fandango, just because it is the latest fandango, is commercial madness.

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22nd Feb 2018 11:14

This article has a good few points, but it is flawed.

The one sentence that hit the nail absolutely on the head was, “Asking accountants to implement your tool comes at the cost of fitting that tool into their workflow."

Hit the nail it does, but hit it hard enough it doesn't.

The correct question is, "Why the workflow is the way it is?"

Here's the answer.

The workflow is the way it is because it is the only way to achieve functional outcomes in spite of - in spite of! -
the best efforts of the software to impede the workflow required to achieve those functional outcomes. The software offered as a solution to part of the workflow typically ends up being the act of sabotage for the rest of the workflow. The only way to bridge the gap is... to print it out from one software and re-type it back into the next software.

Proof? Some of my purchase invoices need to be re-typed seven times to achieve all functional outcomes - from "time-stamping" the arrival of the document, to sharing it with remote authorisors, to controlling the payment batch, to paying it.

I think we need a new law, that no company is permitted to sell any software pertaining to data management or accountancy unless the majority of the board of directors of the vendor has been a qualified accountant for at least 10 years and has also been preparing basic prime books of entry of a limited company (public or private, but excluding sole traders and partnerships) for at least 4 of those 10 years. If we leave software to the IT people, no software will ever meet the blindingly obvious functional requirements of any enterprise more complex than a sole trader.

Large companies have the fat to fund a bloated and inefficient IT department and equally bloated and inefficient accounting departments. A large company thus has no vested interest to change itself: waste is affordable, so let's carry on wasting. So those of us in the Mittelstand are constantly being fleeced by either unaffordable big software that never delivers or apparently-affordable software whose compatibility with any existing workflow is so bad that it ends up being unaffordable because of all the additional hands we need to employ to type-out-type-back-in.

When I read websites of accounting software vendors, I generally find that the vendor hasn't understood that accounting software is a tool to a service provider, therefore the vendor appears to be careless with service strategy, lazy with service design and deny service transition.

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