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