Three things I’m looking forward to at #PracticeExcellence 2015

I can’t help but love AccountingWEB’s Practice Excellence Programme.

What makes this event different to the other conferences that are held through the year is the more direct dynamic between the speakers, topics and practice attendees. You don’t go to Practice Excellence events to not contribute and rub up against your peers opinions…

This year’s event in London again looks like a cracker.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the team of judges for the Practice Excellence Awards this year. What stands out so far is the challenge firms face to stand out from the competition, while at the same time engaging with real innovation (positioning, services, specialisms, technology). Finding real competitive advantage is as much about clarity and dedication to direction, and engaging the whole firm, as much as it is about implementing ‘new things’.

Even technology in itself (particularly cloud based) is not enough to provide a clear differentiator. During the recent AccountingWEB live Twitter debate  we saw much on this point.

@Hudsonaccountan summed it up well:

“[Tech as a differentiator] not amongst the smart accountants but it is yet another thing which separates the sheep from the goats”

So with this an appetiser what am looking forward to at the conference ? 

Practice Excellence 2015 logo

ONE: Tech is at the start of a new phase – Challenge of collaboration

The flood of product development and marketing cash contributed by Xero in recent years has pretty much sealed its position as a viable standard alternative to Sage and other incumbents. FreeAgent (who sponsor the event) should also be seen in this light – although FreeAgent hold an intriguing position of having built product and service via concentrating on an established and substantial direct to consumer subscriber base, rather than  via accountants route of Xero.

The eco-system of products around these systems now reflect much of what is happening in the wider world – interconnecting services, user lead, with a focus on delivering business outcomes for end users rather than the undivided self interest of software houses.

The collaborative piece here is not just between software providers which allow end users to tailor and streamline services, but also between HMRC, account, bookkeeper, and business.

The Tech: Extracting Value stream looks to really hone in on this – covering some intrinsically difficult areas of business and service transformation, and I suspect cultural barriers.

How this collaboration can be truly capitalised to deliver value for all, is the next phase of market debate.

Two – “Dare to be different”

While not strictly a theme of the event, Daring to be different is something that really stands out across a number of sessions. How to mold propositions into tangible value for clients, and in so doing freeing up potential and the capacity to think bigger, broader, bolder is a clear subtext.

Heather Townsend’s afternoon session around “What clients want in the future” unfortunately clashes with Justin Hawke of Moor Beer Company’s “What craft beer can teach about clients” (or more specifically the role of the adviser in modern high growth small businesses).

The challenge, as repeatedly set out , is that accountants need a way of growing away from compliance to advisory. As a believer that most firms are doing much of this already as a natural part of their important compliance service (even if it’s not recognised as such), I’ve never been quite satisfied that the debate is framed correctly..

What I’m really looking forward to is to see how things have moved forward especially around confidence, practicalities and the commercial reality.

Is “Daring to be different” really where best practice lies moving forward?

Three – what do firms think is viable and desirable?

The conference works because of the confluence of ideas and opinions. What will the firm’s attending make of it all, and how will they respond in the group discussions gives these sessions the edge. Change is not always easy, but we know it is inevitable and constant. Is the future of practice as outlined in theses sessions too aspirational and simplistic? Are they achievable? Are they even desirable? Let’s take the temperature and find out…

Practice Excellence Conference and Awards is being held at 200 Aldersgate, St Paul’s, London on 24th September.

Tickets are available for £99+ VAT from