Evolve or Die – How technology is transforming your practice
We all heard the following buzzwords – paperless office, Cloud Computing, Business Intelligence and Analytics, Big Data, Machine Learning, GDPR, Blockchain, and maybe others. One tends to get lost in all this jargon and wonder which technologies are just a passing fashion and which will have an impact on our businesses. How can we embrace these technologies to bring our practice in line for the 21st century without disrupting our current set-up?
Accounting and paper documents - the end of an era?
Most traditional accounting firms, still demand that their clients supply paper copies of all invoices and bank information. This is simply the standard, accepted form of the way accounting works. Businesses are asked to deliver all relevant documents manually to enable their accountants to prepare management accounts, calculate tax or social insurance contributions.
On the other hand the modern practice is evolving and is using technology to automate repetitive tasks and facilitating communication both internally and with clients. But above all the modern accountant will be required to help the client analyze the massive amounts of data generated to take informed business decisions. Where should you start?
- The first step is to upgrade your accounting platform to provide cloud access. That involves having access to your client’s accounting systems through an online connection from any device, anytime and anywhere. This will allow your staff to work from remote offices or home having access to all resources and tools as if they were working at the client’s premises. Centered on your accounting platform, your firm should update old processes and practices that were developed during an era where you were locked in to desktop software.
- This will also require updating time-sheets and project management systems so as to ensure that they are integrated. Thus facilitating job tracking and billing. This is essential since if not properly managed then it will cause any form of reorganization to fail.
- The next step is to focus on facilitating communication within the office between staff and partners, as well as with clients. Platforms used are business collaboration platforms which have all the necessary security, risk and compliance certifications. These will facilitate the way documents are stored, accessed and shared. The days when paper documents are carried from the client to the accountant, or scanned and sent by an e-mail, are gone.
- One must not forget communication using social media. This is an area that should be given due consideration as it enables accountants to showcase their competences, achievements and communicate other essential news. Revamp your website, establish a social media presence – be it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or all – and ensure that it is constantly updated.
- On-site visits to clients are becoming less of a norm today, but that does not mean you should not keep in touch with your clients regularly. Schedule monthly check-ins with them via video conferencing software, respond to their emails as promptly as possible and send them a quick text message every now and then.
Accountants providing business intelligence analytics
What use is information if it’s hard to understand, hard to communicate, and hard to share with the people that need it, when they need it the most?
To make smart, informed business decisions, you need rich, up-to-date, and accurate financial information. To complete the picture; understanding, communicating and sharing this information is just as important. And today clients are collecting vast amounts of data, commonly referred to as Big Data. This data is collected from their operational systems and also from publicly available sources online.
In the past accountants would spend hours, manually analysing data very often using spreadsheets, to identify the opportunities that would help clients succeed. Business Intelligence and Business Analytics tools make this process faster and easier. Now you can provide high value services with confidence to all of your clients, knowing the insights are current and accurate.
Helping clients understand who their best customers are, why they are the best customers, what do they buy, or finding out what products or services are in demand and when, is all important information for the client’s business and a great catalyst for business improvement. These are all questions that can be tackled by an accountant with the client. Using Business Intelligence tools this information requires only a few seconds to be generated in the form of interactive dashboards.
The General Data Protection Regulation
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) replaces the Data Protection Directive and is designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, GDPR comes into effect in May 2018.
This regulation will provide a complete shift in the customer data ownership. The main rights for individuals under the GDPR will be:
- Subject Access – Customer has the right to access his data
- Right to Be Forgotten – Customer has the right to inform a business to delete all personal data about himself (as long as there are no legal obligations to retain such data)
- To prevent direct marketing
- Data Portability – Customer can ask for his data to be given to her in a portable format
- To prevent automated decision-making and profiling
- To inquire about security processes business has to store data securely.
So to start preparing and complying with GDPR, it is easy. JUST FIND ALL CUSTOMER DATA.
The solution is again to use technology to automate data discovery by using tools which will provide you with a data inventory about your customer data. This should catalogue both your structured data (data in databases, crm and accounting systems) and also your unstructured data (spreadsheets, documents, pdfs, e-mails) both for data in the cloud and also for data on the premises.
To remain competitive and relevant in today’s world our customers will embrace these new technologies and so must me. As a 21st century practice are you ready?
Then there is the Blockchain technology…but that is another story.