Feedback to the software community from the Practice Excellence Conference 2015

There was so much interesting discussion at the recent Practice Excellence Awards I thought it worth looking at more of the standout points but this time in the form of feedback to the software community.

Some of this is a reworking of a few of the points within the previous 4  takeaways from the 2015 Practice Excellence Conference blog post, however those that are should be taken seriously.

Connectivity and collaboration is high on the agenda

There seemed to be a consensus that the tensions of going single vendor or best of breed were alive and well. With one or two notable exceptions no firm seemed to be truly very happy with their IT set up.

One (relatively new) firm commented that it they had taken over 6 months to review the permutations and they still were not happy with the level of compromise that was required.

The tension here is greater when put next to the increasingly accepted view of online accounting systems having an interesting, robust, and varied ecosystem of add-on partners. The service that was being opened up to clients, was seen as more connected and streamline than the services they themselves were being offered by the market.

With the focus on collaborating and empowering clients to manage more of their own data, and so increase the opportunity to provide valuable insight services, more it was felt could be done by vendors to open up their systems so firms could increase their own operational efficiency.

The messy problem of core data

Fundamental to this was the issue of core data. Disparate data creates issues which are either damned inconvenient, expensive to rectify, or seen as creating additional work to mitigate risk.

Interestingly there was a lively conversation about whether a single vendor actually made this better…with those that seemed to think not, it boiled down to a level of trust that the data was correct in the first place (data transfer and complications around data cleansing when aggregating from separate systems in particular), sometimes made worse by multi-site or remote working.

Practice management systems, in general didn’t end the day with significant good press.

Data is power, insight is exciting, and change is possible

Where does this lead to? Having a more connected infrastructure, and reliable and readable data was overwhelmingly agreed as being able to open genuinely exciting and interesting possibilities for profitable change.

Some of the examples discussed were:

  • Tailoring resources based on client need, rather than service need. In other words if you can see certain clients need more resource than others, you can rebalance where time is spent. Effectively remove over resourcing in some areas, and increase client satisfaction or capacity in others.
  • Develop flexible service packages based on client need, with confidence that it can be delivered, and know when and where to scale.
  • Experiment with pricing strategies
  • Create more cohesive business development approaches

And of course build demonstrable equity attractive to future purchasers.

Accountants care about outcomes

Perhaps a truism, but one that was rammed home. As one delegate put it to me straight “Accountants care about outcomes, but it’s the only thing that clients care about”.

Tied into this, other than points covered above, was a feeling that with cloud in particular the medium is no longer the message. Saves you time as money as a sales pitch died long ago, but I think we can also add “Access whenever, wherever” to the same bin.

A more holistic view of the possibilities, a different term of engagement, and a clearer view of the outcomes for all was asked for.

My view is that vendors who adopt a subscription culture (not just monthly billing) will be equipped to engage and service better in this way.

Software providers – Your future is important

Firms know that compromises on functionality are inevitable at this stage, however outcomes are…as we know…primary. But there is a level of buy in that goes beyond, and is about the ability to articulate and demonstrate empathy with the challenges faced, and be seen to do something about it.

Few delegates had much sense that their vendors were actively engaging with them about future developments, or if they were it was lip service. Also roadmaps seemed to be about technical enhancements rather than business challenges. Having a philosophy and direction and being able to articulate it beyond what are in effect remedial changes or upgrades would go someway to give confidence to customers, it was suggested.

Financial security of vendors was also on the table too. There was a genuine interest in FreeAgent’s recent crowdfunding on Seedrs, with one comment about using a very wide market to generate endorsement and asking individuals to risk their own cash. The longevity and financial stability of Intuit was also mentioned, and counterbalanced with the better product but less secure Xero (as in highly VC backed and on course for an exit to where?).

Brand recognition of vendors I would say is generally high, brand love and loyalty I would suggest needs some work.

To summarise:

  • Connectivity – is being demanded not requested
  • Insight – more visibility  will increase business change (and speed up investment)
  • Articulate the future – Align brand, message, service, pricing, and vision genuinely.

How does this compare to the views of your business?

A wide debate so please do comment.