Cloud vendors have got increasingly better and more sophisticated at providing support around how their technology and service can provide substantiated benefits to both the accountant and their clients.
The end user pitch is more developed too- good examples have been the long term focus of FreeAgent on the contractor and micro-business market, more recently SageOne and increasingly so Xero.
There is a strong degree of harmony between them, which is to be expected, however what was interesting in a recent review of a number of businesses using cloud applications was that some of the benefits to the end user have not been fully recognised. These other benefits however can have a big impact on the relationship that they have with their accountant.
Let’s list out some of the main and commonly understood ones first.
- Access to data
- Ease of use
- Remote/mobile access
- Security/backup for data
- Reduce IT overheads
- Connectivity with other applications
And I’m sure you can add others.
But here are few others that come up:
The SaaS model and the subscription philosophy suits many businesses. It’s perceived as low risk, manageable, and a good way of spreading capital investment (cloud doesn’t always mean cheap).
Control of the relationship
Feedback seems to indicate that some businesses feel they are better equipped to deal with their advisors/accountants and so were more in control – fixed fee arrangements helped to reinforce this view . To what extent accountants think that there was an imbalance in their favour, would be interesting to explore. The common view expressed is that clients already do pretty well out of the relationship.
Confidence to ask more questions
A general engagement with their figures stimulates a desire to know more. Sometimes this is around clarification, and sometimes this is about more in depth matters. The more questions asked, the more knowledge gained, and an increase in the propensity to ask more.
Desire to know more about the potential of the system
“What else can I do with it?” is increasingly common. This is the flip side of recognising connectivity between different applications. Engaging with the software on this level is about knowing more about the functionality (get more use from it), become more demanding of it, and then also understanding the eco-system around it.
…What else can I do with the data?
Tied into the last point are more questions and a curiosity around what can be done with their data. What insights can be obtained (on demand and via consultancy) is the common one focussed on by the add on community, but how this data can augment information from other systems (crm, manufacturing, stock, operations, HR) is an area that will come more and more into focus. The desire to get more useful insight and intelligence out of all of these systems in a cohesive way seems to be the direction of travel.
Turnaround time is expected to be quicker
With live data and enhanced accessibility, there is also a growing expectation around the speed to which accountants can deliver. Turnaround time on reporting, period ends, and questions are expected with minimal delay. This ties in with themes of the tolerance of modern business owners being quite low, and their expectations around timeliness, accuracy and quality being high.
What is the impact on accountants?
- Underlines the importance of compliance based services – making sure it runs on rails.
- Clients will become more and not less demanding. How will this be dealt with?
- Internal systems (practice management and CRM) need to be fit for purpose.
- Insight and intelligence services could become the norm. At one level this is what firms have always provided clients, however getting cute to how this is being delivered will open up the opportunities for more formalised service and consultancy offerings
- Have the expertise in house to know the systems backwards, and the ecosystem around it.
- Put together the packages of applications and services that suit particular client types (even sectors)
What is the impact on vendors?
- Thought needs to be maintained on the impact of software and services right through the value chain
- Looking at connectivity and having a generally ‘open’ philosophy to other vendors will continue to be demanded, and expected over time.
- Some of the sales and marketing messages are getting quite worn out. Greater thought needs to be made on ensuring the value proposition continues to evolve.
- Monitoring your impact on your customers should include hard metrics and demonstrable ROI, however there is much to learn from cultural change and the relationship impact with clients
- Helping accountancy clients with the integration of your products into services will reduce sales friction and increase adoption rates.
The reorganisation of expectations impacts all
Much is being made about the impact on digital and cloud service on the market, and rightly so. What is becoming clearer and clearer though is that this reorganisation of expectations and services runs right through the chain from client to provider. Making this work now will ensure that the issue of relevance to your market place doesn’t leave you at a disadvantage.