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The next level of tech: Is your practice ready?

There’s no denying technology is becoming increasingly important for all accounting firms, but how do you choose the tools that will bring you the most value?

What should you be looking out for next? Or how do you even get started?

 In this panel discussion for Accountex, Alastair Barlow, founder of accounting services firm Flinder and Dave Sellick, founder of cloud practice Sidgrove, discussed all things tech – hosted by our very own Gavin Fell. And we’ve written up the best bits for a quick and useful read.

 Get invaluable insights from how to gain a competitive edge, to what innovation is around the corner.

What are the principles you live by when it comes to tech?  

Alastair Barlow

“We use a problem-led approach. It’s difficult to stay up to date all the time, and would be a full-time job almost in doing so. There’s so much choice to go after, but you should always think “What problem are we trying to solve?” and “What are we going to fix?”. 

“From this, you can then start thinking, “What is the right tech for us?” “How can we help our customers?”. The most important aspects for me are having an open API and having access to data.”

Dave Sellick:

“I agree, it’s exhausting trying to keep up (with new tech), but, technology as an accountant is exciting, makes life easier, and provides insight. Therefore, you should always be thinking “this is what I want to deliver” and “at this is the price point” – this enables you to then set out what you want to achieve and how you can deliver it effectively.

“It’s also a good idea to gain inspiration from other companies, could you implement what they are doing – but better?” 

If clients don’t go by your technology principles, what do you do?

Alastair Barlow:

“In the early days of your business, you can’t be selective, you have to find clients. However, you can be more selective once you gain a customer base (foundation), you can turn work away that doesn’t have that cultural fit for you and your vision.

“Most of the time, clients usually bring to light new and exciting apps. And it can be hard to keep up, therefore to some degree you should always have clients driving an agenda on technology. Focus on what they want.”

Dave Sellick

“A lot of our decisions are based around trust. There may be resistance around certain topics and solutions etc. so it’s important you have a relationship where your clients view you as an expert, and believe that you know what is best. You should always have your clients’ best interests at heart and they should know that.” 

What has helped you find a competitive edge?

Dave Sellick

“From past experiences within a large multinational, pwc, cloud allows smaller businesses to have the sophistication that large businesses have. 

“Furthermore, APIs that merge with the use of insight and deliver it in as real time as possible have been key.

“Human enhanced by machine – allows for rich, challenging conversation which can be further developed through the information that has been stored.”

What advice would you give to a firm that doesn’t have a lot of resource? Where should they start?

Alastair Barlow

“Network, look beyond the expertise in your own firm, there are plenty of options to go and find it. 

“Having a vision of what you want to create is important and understanding the right tool for the right use/situation. Every client is individual and different, so it is important to be curious as to what you want to achieve before deciding on what tools you want to use. 

“Then think about how you can create the tools (if needed or work partners) to achieve your desired goal.” 

Dave Sellick

“Think about these questions:

What do your clients value?
What place does tech have in your business?
Do you use the tech that is readily available? 

“Or, do you need to go further and develop your own skill set. There are a bunch of places to get useful courses that can help develop your knowledge. Most importantly, what’s relevant to your business? Have a clear vision and manifest that vision into reality.”

How can an older firm make the transition to adopt more technology?

Alastair Barlow

“An older firm will usually have the resource behind it to make a change from the status quo, but how do we change our mindsets? How do we embrace technology? 

“Go and develop something you believe in, and take your time doing it. Experimenting with different tools and tech, to provide a foundation to build upon. 

“You have to understand your client’s pain points, to then understand how you might minimise them? Tech is one of those that enables your clients that freedom.”

What can software providers do to support you and other accountants better?

Alastair Barlow

“Be part of that educational process – help accountants understand when they should use certain technologies. And also, importantly, when they shouldn’t. Some clients may not be the right fit, so it is important to recognise this. Offer bespoke options, tailored to a partner’s varying clients.”

Dave Sellick: 

“Don’t try to sell to every accountant – some elements won’t suit everyone. It’s about features, the roadmap and an honest dialogue with accountants. 

“Getting their input is what’s fundamentally important. Ask your customer base what features are relevant to them? And get feedback on how you could improve your product. You can then build a better product due to your accounting customers actually demanding certain aspects. 

“And how can different vendors communicate better with each other? Work together seamlessly and connect with each other. Work with each other as opposed to against one another.

“Give us an easy API – ease of use is crucial. Problems connecting different platforms together is what creates friction.

“And shout about the ‘why’ of your product. Who advised you to create it? Who in the accountant industry helped you build it? How do you take on board feedback?”

What’s around the corner? 

Alastair Barlow

“Personally, I think accounting technology will take inspiration from other industries and crossover with wider tech, i.e. healthtech. Think about Fitbits – imagine crossing cashflow and revenue alerts over to your fitbit.”

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