Aug 242015
 
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

The accounting and professional services industries are uniquely positioned as the economy goes digital, while their own sectors are undergoing radical change so too are their clients.

Given the changes facing the accounting industry, the invitation to host last week’s CPA Australia Technology Accounting Forum‘s second day in Sydney was a good opportunity to see how the profession and its clients are dealing with major shifts in their industry.

The accounting profession has been one of the big winners of the Twentieth Century’s shift to a services economy. Last week’s story on how the workforce has been changing illustrates this with a chart showing how the occupation has grown over the past 140 years.

accountants-employed-the-uk

In many respects accountants should be well placed to benefit in a data driven economy given the training and skills they posses. The big challenge for existing practitioners is to shift with the times.

The transition from what’s been lucrative work in the past will be a challenge for some in the profession. Many of the manual tasks accountants previously did are now being automated with direct data links increasingly seeing operations like reconciliations and filing financial returns being done in real time without the need for any human intervention.

In private practice, the shift to cloud computing and direct APIs has stripped out more revenues with useful earners like selling boxed software petering away as services like Xero and Saasu arrived and established players like Intuit, Sage and MYOB moved to online models.

Shifting to the cloud

That shift has already happened with the presenter in one breakout session asking the audience how many practitioners used exclusively desktop software, purely cloud service or a hybrid of the two. Of the twenty in the room, the vast majority were using a combination with three being purely online and one sole operator still stuck with a desktop system.

For accountants the message from all of the sessions was clear; the future is online and businesses based around paper based models are doomed. The question though for them is how will they make the transition to being professional advisers.

Strangely, the big challenge for accountants in private practice may be their clients. A number of panel participants pointed out small business owners are slow to adopt new technologies and this holds both them and their service providers back. Divorcing tardy customers may be one of the more difficult tasks facing professional advisors.

The Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum showed the potential for accountants and professional services providers to be the trusted advisors in an online world, the task now is for practitioners and their clients to learn and understand those tools.

Aug 232015
 
businesses paying bills and invoices

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has a nifty sixteen point guide to evaluating a tech startup’s performance.

This is a handy checklist when looking at the claims of any business – big or small, tech startup or something more conventional.

Pre-booking of contract revenues in particular is one of my favourites and it’s something we’re going to see more of as the subscription economy becomes more widespread.

 

Aug 222015
 
420-402 D75 SE boxshot art

“No-one is making money from cloud software, in the early days everyone made money from software,” bemoaned one of the panellists at last week’s CPA Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum.

A good example of this is the US accounting software giant Intuit putting the 32 year old Quickbooks on to the market.

Intuit was built on the back of Quickbooks but today the product today makes less than 6% of the company’s revenues and under 2% of the profits. Making matters worse is the old code base is clunky, proprietary and expensive to maintain.

Apart from getting a captive – and almost certainly dwindling – client base, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to attract buyers for Quickbooks as a desktop based product in a market shifting to the cloud.

The shifting business model hurts more than Intuit; the accountants, resellers and other service providers who were making a decent income from selling or supporting the box products have seen their margins evaporate.

For users, both Intuit and the services providers moving away from the product risks leaving them and their data stranded, something every business should understand about the risks of proprietary formats.

The shift though by Intuit should be a warning to small businesses that the days of box and inhouse software are numbered and running packages on servers and desktops will soon be for large organisations or niche applications.

Almost every business is going to have to plan its move to the cloud, those who don’t are increasingly going to be left behind in a shifting market.

Aug 212015
 
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore presents the prize to the small businesss award winner

Yesterday I hosted the second day of the CPA Australia Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum that looked at how the accounting profession is being affected by the changing technology landscape.

There’s plenty to write about from the day and how the accounting profession is facing technological change which I’ll write up shortly but one theme from the day was striking – that older small businesses owners are struggling to deal with adopting new tech.

Gavan Ord, the CPA’s policy advisor warns older practitioners are opening themselves to disruption and  the Australian business community is in general is at risk as older proprietors aren’t investing or embracing technology at a rate comparable to their overseas competitors.

Older small business owners

That older skew in small business operators is clear, in 2012 The Australian Bureau of Statistics found 57% of the nation’s proprietors are aged over 45 as opposed to 35% of the general population.

Even more concerning is many of those small business owners expect to retire with a 2009 survey finding 81% were intending to retire within ten years – it would be interesting to see how those ambitions changed as the global financial crisis evolved.

A risk to the broader economy

This blog has flagged the risks of an aging small businesses community previously, but Gavan Ord’s point flags another risk – that older proprietors being reluctant to invest in new technology means a key segment of the Australian economy is unprepared for today’s wave of technological change.

A key message from the CPA forum was that the shift to cloud computing is radically changing the business world as sophisticated data management, analytic and automation tools become easily available. Companies, and nations, that don’t take advantage of modern business tools risk being left behind in the 21st Century.

Aug 142015
 
Tien-Tzuo-CEO-founder-Zuora

“This is a customer driven revolution,” says Zuora co-founder and CEO, Tien Tzuo, of the business shift to a subscription payment model.

While the cloud computing business has been one of the leaders in the shift to the subscription model, the move is happening in industries as diverse as jet engines, agricultural machinery and music.

Zuora is one of the businesses providing the tools to manage customer subscriptions and Tien Tzuo shares with Decoding the New Economy how he sees the subscription economy changing industries.

Tien, who was an early Salesforce employee, describes some of the forces he sees driving this shift and where the opportunities lie for business owners, managers and entrepreneurs.

“We looked at companies like Netflix which at the time it was DVD rental service and Zipcar and saw the same payment challenges we had at Salesforce,” says Tien. “The leap for us was looking at the transformation of companies like Zipcar into a subscription model.”

There are few industries that won’t be affected to the shift to a subscription model, Tien believes, and he sees this radically changing many sectors with Internet of Things providing a huge push towards pay-as-you-go services.

Aug 052015
 
http_website_links

“The days of getting a PhD to get your businesses online are over” declared James Carroll, GoDaddy’s International Executive Vice President last week on a visit to Sydney.

GoDaddy is the world’s biggest internet domain name registration service and Carroll was in Australia to promote the expansion of the company’s local operations.

Australia’s a prime target for the company with nearly half the nation’s two million businesses not having a web presence. “I think there’s an awareness issue about the skill that are needed to get online,” says Carroll.

GoDaddy’s Australia and New Zealand country manager Tara Commerford suggested two reasons why small businesses aren’t going online, “I think it’s lack of awareness and people don’t know how to do it”.

Commerford suggests that simplified online tools are making it easier along with the easy access to other platforms like social media and location online services.

The problem though is these tools are not new, this blog has been discussing how companies need to get online for years and yet the proportion of small businesses getting a web presence has remained fixed around the fifty percent mark.

One of the barriers to getting online is confusion and the new top level domains haven’t helped this by muddying the message about which domains they should be registering under. This is only increasing the fear among small business owners that going online is complex, expensive and risky.

It’s understandable that domain registrars like GoDaddy would push the new domains given the industry’s low margins and need for scale, but that’s not the problem for smaller operators.

The problem for small businesses is getting the basics right with with a mobile friendly website, particularly for hospitality and tourism operators. Having the right domain name is an important first start of an important journey for most businesses.

Jul 302015
 
Windows-10-microsoft-announcement

Last night Microsoft formally launched Windows 10, the company’s latest desktop operating system.

A decade ago a new Microsoft operating system would have had people queuing at computer shops all night but today, in a world of cloud computing, what software runs on a computer has become less important to users.

To entice users onto the new operating system, Microsoft are making the upgrade to Windows 10 free for the next year to those using the earlier versions 8 and 7 and many will have noticed the messages appearing on their computers over the past few weeks.

Windows 10 is a good system, Microsoft has learned from the user unfriendly missteps of Windows 8 and added features that make the system smoother and takes advantage of the desktop computers’ power.

Microsoft have also continued with their philosophy of providing a system that works on all sizes of devices from smartphones to large monitor PCs and Windows 10 adapts to the needs and use patterns of the different screens.

That Windows 10 works on smartphones is less of a pressing matter given Microsoft’s attempts to crack the mobile market have been unsuccessfully and Windows phones languish with a tiny market share.

For business users, the question is whether to take advantage of the upgrade. The short answer is maybe if use cloud based services in your company and wait if you have desktop applications that rely on Windows.

Should you have applications that run on desktops and servers in your office then it’s essential to wait and see if your software runs properly on Windows 10. You’ll need to talk to the program’s supplier and your IT support person. Generally the advice is to wait a few months to iron out any bugs.

If you’re using cloud services then the operating system running on your computer is largely irrelevant as long as you have a modern web browser. Microsoft’s new Edge web browser that’s built into Windows 10 so far appears to be a fast and capable piece of software that’s an improvement on the much maligned Internet Explorer that still lurks on the system for backwards compatibly reasons.

Upgrading though isn’t without its risks, sometimes things go wrong and even the best planned transition doesn’t always work out and generally most cautious IT advisors will take the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

One other potential trap is in hardware. It may be that some printers, cameras and other hardware doesn’t have the right drivers for the new system so while the software upgrade is free, you may end up having to stump up a few hundred dollars for new peripherals.

For businesses users, if things ain’t broke and the existing computers are working well then the upgrade to Windows 10 is adding unnecessary complexity to the office and it’s probably best to hold off the transition until new computers are needed.