Evo­lu­tion

Accounting Today - - Technology - From page 22

com­ing soon, that con­nects Quick­books Online, Tsheets by Quick­books and Quick­books Online Pay­roll.” An­other ex­am­ple, cur­rently un­der devel­op­ment, is the in­te­gra­tion of email with Quick­books Online Ac­coun­tant, uti­liz­ing AI and nat­u­ral-lan­guage pro­cess­ing.

Sage’s Mcdon­ald noted, “Re­port­ing and an­a­lyt­ics are a huge fo­cus for many of our cus­tomers. They are al­ways look­ing for ways to stream­line the stan­dard re­port­ing pro­cesses, while also gain­ing the abil­ity to dig deeper into their fi­nan­cial data.”

Multi-en­tity re­port­ing and multi-en­tity ac­count­ing are fea­tures that Ac­count­ingSuite cus­tomers are ask­ing for, ac­cord­ing to co-founder and COO Kurt Kun­sel­man, along with cus­tomiza­tion of the prod­uct and the abil­ity to work off­line.

“Our cur­rently most widely used fea­tures are work­flow au­to­ma­tion for bill pay­ment, alerts, cus­tom­ized financials, per­for­mance anal­y­sis, and dash­boards. The com­mon fea­tures that cus­tomers are ask­ing for are dash­boards for mo­bile de­vices and cus­tom­iz­a­ble text no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Ac­coun­tantsworld is work­ing on im­ple­ment­ing those,” said the com­pany’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing, Div Bhansali.

Acumat­ica’s Le­gresly added, “We’re al­ways re­ceiv­ing cus­tomer feed­back and sug­ges­tions about dash­boards, re­port­ing, and an­a­lyt­ics of ever-in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion. It seems the ap­petite for those fea­tures is in­sa­tiable. Our mo­bile app is very pop­u­lar with cus­tomers and very com­plete, and yet we still get re­quests to im­prove it even fur­ther. Fi­nally, again, in­te­gra­tions and au­to­mated work­flows are in con­stant de­mand.”

“Cus­tomers are look­ing for in­creased user-friendly ap­pli­ca­tion of fea­tures that may al­ready ex­ist within ap­pli­ca­tions and for more seam­less work­streams be­tween their ap­pli­ca­tions,” said Thom­son Reuters’ Wise­man. “What does that look like? Mo­bile apps, online bill pay­ment, bank feeds, easy-to-un­der­stand met­rics ... and no­ti­fi­ca­tions of re­quired ac­tions.”

Tak­ing off ver­ti­cally

Ven­dors also ex­pect to ex­pe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant growth in of­fer­ing ver­ti­cal so­lu­tions in the cloud. “It has al­ways been a fo­cus for Sage In­tacct to not just en­gage with ver­ti­cal mar­kets, but mi­cro-ver­ti­cal mar­kets. By zeroing in on a par­tic­u­lar mi­cro-ver­ti­cal, we are able to con­sis­tently meet the needs of com­pa­nies in that cat­e­gory,” Mac­don­ald com­mented.

Ac­cord­ing to Or­a­cle Net­suite’s Kelly, tar­get­ing ver­ti­cals is and will con­tinue to be a fo­cus for the com­pany: “Net­suite started by fo­cus­ing on in­dus­tries where com­pa­nies were broadly sim­i­lar. As we have moved for­ward, we now pro­vide of­fer­ings for key ver­ti­cals. We are go­ing more in depth within ver­ti­cals, or what we call mi­cro-ver­ti­cals, nar­rower cat­e­gories with more spe­cific needs.”

Not ev­ery ven­dor we sur­veyed be­lieves that ver­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions will ex­pe­ri­ence ex­plo­sive growth. Ac­cord­ing to Xero’s Rich­mond, “I do not be­lieve that this will be a ma­jor area of fo­cus for the ma­jor cloud ac­count­ing plat­form com­pa­nies. That’s be­cause one of the core ben­e­fits of build­ing a plat­form — as op­posed to a spe­cific set of prod­ucts or ser­vices — is that cus­tomers have the abil­ity to in­te­grate the ver­ti­cal-spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tions of their choice. In other words, cloud plat­forms can serve the broad­est pos­si­ble num­ber of cus­tomers by en­sur­ing the core plat­form meets needs across all ver­ti­cals, as op­posed to de­liv­er­ing a tai­lored ex­pe­ri­ence for a spe­cific set of in­dus­tries.”

Can’t we all just work to­gether?

We asked our ven­dors how they saw cloud ac­count­ing de­vel­op­ing in terms of work­ing with other ap­pli­ca­tions.

Thom­son Reuters’ Wise­man told us, “One of the ben­e­fits of the cloud is the prom­ise of in­te­grat­ing pre­vi­ously dis­parate sys­tems. As firms fully em­brace cloud ac­count­ing, they’ll see in­te­gra­tion grow­ing in two ways. First, as they re-eval­u­ate their cur­rent sys­tems, they will look at cloud of­fer­ings with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they can com­bine many of their pre­vi­ously sep­a­rate func­tions within ap­pli­ca­tions that han­dle mul­ti­ple func­tions ... . Sec­ond, APIS will con­tinue to grow, al­low­ing pre­vi­ously sep­a­rated soft­ware to work to­gether more ef­fi­ciently.”

“There are a cou­ple dif­fer­ent ways cloud ac­count­ing can in­te­grate with other apps,” Zoho’s Ganti said. “The ‘Zoho way’ is to de­velop soft­ware wherein all busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions and the ac­count­ing so­lu­tion are part of the same bun­dle. This in­te­gra­tion is out of the box, and busi­nesses can just log in and get started. Zoho also works with all ex­ter­nal ven­dors even though we pro­vide a full suite our­selves. The other way is for the ac­count­ing sys­tem to work within an ecosys­tem. In this case, the user has to pur­chase the in­di­vid­ual ap­pli­ca­tions and set up the in­te­gra­tions.”

“There are two forces at work here,” said Or­a­cle Net­suite’s Kelly. “In the case of true ac­count­ing, like rev­enue recog­ni­tion or fixed as­sets, I ex­pect to see these ca­pa­bil­i­ties be part of the core of cloud-based ac­count­ing sys­tems. Op­er­a­tionally, for ex­am­ple, a mo­bile work­force like plumb­ing or other ser­vices that are per­formed at the cus­tomers’ place of busi­ness, I ex­pect best-of-breed ap­pli­ca­tions to con­tinue to grow. That said, it will be im­por­tant to en­sure cus­tomers are con­nected to key ap­pli­ca­tions in the mar­kets that they serve or are seek­ing to serve.”

Work­ing on the blockchain gang

Asked the di­rec­tion ac­count­ing tech­nol­ogy will take in the next five or so years, one fre­quent an­swer from ven­dors was that it would in­cor­po­rate blockchain. “We’re con­fi­dent blockchain will have a ma­jor im­pact on ac­count­ing in the years ahead, but the re­al­ity is that it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict whether that im­pact will be felt within the next cou­ple of years, or across a longer time frame,” Bhansali said.

Or­a­cle Net­suite’s Kelly also doesn’t see that quick of an in­cor­po­ra­tion. “Blockchain is be­gin­ning to have an im­pact, but I do not see it hap­pen­ing as quickly and per­va­sively as AI,” he said. “Artificial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing will have a big im­pact on ac­count­ing and fi­nance, and cloud ac­count­ing suites must of­fer this func­tion­al­ity. Many book­keep­ing tasks are al­ready be­ing im­pacted by AI, such as ac­counts payable and au­to­mated data en­try and soon pay­roll, tax­a­tion and au­dit­ing will be per­formed by AI.”

Ac­count­ingsuite’s Kun­sel­man views blockchain as in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, but just one area where cloud ac­count­ing will move. “Blockchain ac­count­ing and sup­ply chain will be­come add-ons for many of these cloud ap­pli­ca­tions. The model will be cloud ac­count­ing with ‘sync’ func­tion, a desk­top app, a mo­bile app that looks the same, and the abil­ity to move to pri­vate cloud and on-premise in a smooth process for growth pur­poses. Also, users will be able to back up their ac­count to a dig­i­tal backup hard­ware tool such as a USB drive or whatever the next gen­er­a­tion is out there. Also, to take it up a notch, cloud ac­count­ing will be able to con­nect with 3D print­ers for ad­vanced small busi­nesses. Lastly, we will fi­nally get to the col­lab­o­ra­tive sup­ply chain as the se­cu­rity pro­to­cols for ap­pli­ca­tions are en­hanced.”

Zoho’s Ganti also had a few thoughts on the topic: “Cloud ac­count­ing will move to mid-mar­kets and en­ter­prises. In a few key emerg­ing mar­kets, ‘cloud’ will no longer be a buzz­word. Con­ver­sa­tional in­ter­faces and ma­chine learn­ing are go­ing to change the way we do ac­count­ing. Busi­nesses that have their cloud ac­count­ing uni­fied with other sys­tems will re­al­ize op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies. And ac­count­ing and bank­ing will start con­verg­ing. Cloud ac­count­ing will be a key suc­cess fac­tor in the SME fi­nance busi­ness.”

Xero’s Rich­mond, mean­while, sees cloud ac­count­ing be­com­ing ever more main­stream: “I be­lieve that one of the big trends we will see over the com­ing years is con­sol­i­da­tion across the in­dus­try as cloud ac­count­ing be­comes the de­fault way prac­tices are run. We’ll in­creas­ingly see tra­di­tional firms look­ing to part­ner with, or ac­quire, up­start cloud-based firms. On the one hand, this will be a de­fen­sive move. Tra­di­tional firms will un­der­stand that they are no longer the de­fault des­ti­na­tion for talent be­cause cloud tools pro­vide a much lower barrier to en­try, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for an am­bi­tious ac­coun­tant to start a new prac­tice with lit­tle more than a lap­top. On the other hand, it will be a proac­tive move, as firms see that adopt­ing cloud tools is es­sen­tial to their long-term suc­cess.”

Or­a­cle Net­suite’s Kelly echoed some of these sen­ti­ments: “At some point the word ‘cloud’ will be re­moved from ‘cloud ac­count­ing.’ As more and more or­ga­ni­za­tions holis­ti­cally em­brace the cloud there will no longer be a dis­tinc­tion of on-premise ver­sus cloud — the re­sult will be cloud-only!”

AT

Lead­er­ship is the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of the firms that have great tech­nol­ogy and the sin­gle most im­por­tant dif­fer­en­tia­tor be­tween the lead­ing firms and the rest of the pack. Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion re­quires these skills, and the firms and the clients that don’t have them will strug­gle. Most firms want to stay com­pet­i­tive and en­hance the client ex­pe­ri­ence. Firms also need to sus­tain mar­gins and be fu­ture-ready to make the nec­es­sary in­vest­ments in talent and tech­nol­ogy.

The 10 skills that will po­si­tion you and your firm for the fu­ture while sus­tain­ing the suc­cess of the firm and its clients are listed below (see “Fu­ture crit­i­cal”).

Let’s briefly re­view each and un­der­stand the mean­ing and con­text of the skill as it ap­plies to an ac­count­ing firm. By the way, these skills also ap­ply to your clients and pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vi­sory and con­sult­ing ser­vices.

This is where growth is oc­cur­ring in the pro­fes­sion. be, do, have, ex­pe­ri­ence and cre­ate? What is your per­sonal vi­sion? It is dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to suc­ceed with­out a de­fined vi­sion, strate­gic plan, and an IT strat­egy to sup­port the vi­sion and plan. Vi­sion­ing and plan­ning are not only the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the CEO but also of other firm lead­ers. This re­in­forces the fact that IT needs a seat at the man­age­ment ta­ble in to­day’s en­vi­ron­ment.

Mind­set. Trans­for­ma­tion re­quires skill sets, toolsets and mind­sets. Mind­sets are the most dif­fi­cult for most or­ga­ni­za­tions. The grav­i­ta­tional power of the sta­tus quo is of­ten greater than the op­por­tu­ni­ties re­lated to trans­for­ma­tion. Some of the most es­sen­tial mind­sets are growth, life-long learn­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, value ver­sus effort, in­vest­ment ver­sus over­head, and who ver­sus how. At Boomer Con­sult­ing, we uti­lize a “mind­set score­card” to de­ter­mine where you are to­day, and where you want to be in six months and one year.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Any suc­cess­ful tech­nol­ogy leader will tell you com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of their big­gest chal­lenges for sev­eral rea­sons. Too much com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be as harm­ful as lit­tle or no com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Also, peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate dif­fer­ently. Most IT lead­ers find email is not the so­lu­tion. Ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­quires mul­ti­ple meth­ods, con­sis­ten- cy, and the abil­ity to un­der­stand the vi­sion and the plan.

Sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. Sim­pli­fy­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the ap­proach, and ag­ile busi­ness pro­cesses are all im­por­tant. Use graph­ics to ex­plain more dif­fi­cult con­cepts. To­day, tech­nol­ogy can au­to­mate or re­place pro­cesses that add lit­tle or no value. This has al­ways been the case in ac­count­ing. Some of you re­mem­ber the 13-col­umn work­sheet. Most sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of process starts with the ag­gre­ga­tion of data and work­flow.

Gov­er­nance. Firm lead­ers of­ten dis­miss gov­er­nance, but it is vi­tal to sus­tain suc­cess, com­mu­ni­cate, and re­main fu­ture-ready. Lead­er­ship is para­mount, but struc­tur­ing of the IT task force or com­mit­tee is also crit­i­cal. Gov­er­nance does not have to be overly time-con­sum­ing, but does re­quire re­sources, and in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Con­ver­gence. Ma­jor break­throughs and pro­duc­tiv­ity gains come when mul­ti­ple tech­nolo­gies con­verge. Great ex­am­ples from the past are tax re­turn prepa­ra­tion soft­ware/dig­i­tal print­ers and gen­eral ledger soft­ware/idea. Artificial in­tel­li­gence, ma­chine learn­ing, and net­works and sen­sors are al­ready chang­ing the way firms use ap­pli­ca­tions and in­te­grate data.

Team build­ing. IT lead­ers must be able to build col­lab­o­ra­tive teams with mul­ti­ple skills and unique abil­i­ties. They must also be able to col­lab­o­rate with ex­ter­nal re­sources like ser­vice providers and con­sul­tants. Hav­ing a clear vi­sion and plan en­hances the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­velop a unique-abil­ity team.

Peer re­la­tion­ships. The abil­ity to con­nect with peers in and out­side the pro­fes­sion is cru­cial. Even the best lead­ers can get high on their own sup­ply if they don’t par­tic­i­pate in peer groups and at­tend rel­e­vant con­fer­ences where they are ex­posed to new ca­pa­bil­i­ties and think­ing.

In­no­va­tion. Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about dis­rup­tion and in­no­va­tion. Un­der­stand­ing the in­no­va­tion process and be­ing able to bring to­gether hind­sight, in­sight and fore­sight are ex­tremely im­por­tant in to­day’s move from trans­ac­tional/com­pli­ance work to high-value ad­vi­sory and con­sult­ing ser­vices. IT lead­ers must be able to as­sist in the pack­ag­ing of mul­ti­ple ser­vices.

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the vi­sion­ary and strate­gist at Boomer Con­sult­ing Inc.

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