9 min read
It might not have been the hottest accounting topic of 2018 (oh hello, MTD), but last year saw repeated coverage of accounting “app fatigue”.
App fatigue: The feeling of being overwhelmed by the pace at which the accounting app market is growing, because you recognise the risk of not keeping up. Anderson Anderson Brown’s Hilary Dyson (Cloud Accounting Senior Manager) is keenly aware of the risk, saying “More and more of the value accountants would traditionally bring businesses is now coming from software. For us to stay relevant going forward, app advisory is key.”
In recent conversations I’ve had with accountants, bookkeepers, app partners, and cloud integrators, the presence of app fatigue is still being felt. And keeping on top of the ever-growing app market is among the key challenges they’re facing as they enter 2019. It’s not surprising:
And as cheesy as it sounds, first off take a deep breath and relax. You’re not alone. Everyone from one-man-bands to top-tier firms struggle with keeping on top of the accounting app market effectively. We’ve crowdsourced advice from around the industry and collated it into a step-by-step process you can follow. For those who are struggling to get started, or feel their current approach is too chaotic, the below processes are great starts from which you can (and should) tweak over time to best suit you and your firm.
Start with the services you offer your clients. Map out the workflows your firm currently employs to be able to offer these services. Receipt Bank’s Isobel Moulder lists a few questions to help get you going on this in her own post on app fatigue here. Be sure to cover:
Then perform a stocktake on your existing tech stack. Note which software you currently use and at which points throughout the workflows.
Examine the workflows and identify any inefficiencies or redundancies. Assign resource and time costs to these to determine the highest priority areas to address. Be careful not to ignore the impact on your clients - there may be lower priority areas to address for your firm that have disproportionately stronger impacts on your clients.
Jonathan Fox, of expert Xero app advisors Foxability, recommends this as the core source of truth for your app hunting. “Any Xero-integrated app you’ll use will be listed here, and every single one goes through a formal review process and acceptance by the Xero team before being certified and published,” he says.
Armed with the highest priority areas you want to address, you can check out what Xero has on offer to address them either by function or by business type.
Demoing and trialing various apps to decide which is best for your firm and clients can be time consuming. Leverage what people like you have already learned. “A common view I still see being held is that every firm is a competitor to your own,” says Hilary Dyson, “But that’s just not true. Networking with accountants from other firms is one of the best channels for learning you could have.”
Outside of speaking with a network of peers in other firms for advice and recommendations, you can also leverage the learnings of others via:
(*App vendors often do something similar. Float, for example, do round ups of the top apps throughout the year.)
In an interview with Hubdoc, Beau Gaudron of one of Australia’s leading cloud firms Growthwise recommends whittling your shortlist down to 3 competing apps per problem area, to take through to trial. This will allow you to see and feel enough variety in the software solutions available to you, without being bogged down in evaluation.
To turn your shortlist into the final app to proceed with for you and your clients, start by looking at the features page and demo video of each app, to ensure they’re functionally the right fit for your processes.
Depending on your personal preference, either line up a call with someone from the app’s team to get your in-depth questions answered, or dive right in with a free trial and see for yourself.
In the same interview with Beau Gaudron, Hubdoc’s Matt Bunston recommends not only measuring the results from trialling each app, but also tracking the time it took to achieve them. These, alongside:
… should be compared for competing apps you’re considering. Hubdoc even provide a PDF checklist template here to help. Ensure the decision is made not solely by a strategic decision maker, but including the feedback from those on the frontline of your firm who’ll be using the app on a regular basis.
Whether it frustrates you or brings on a sigh of relief, no firm can realistically stay on top of the entire accounting app market. Jonathan Fox says “There are more than 700 apps on Xero’s marketplace now. 700! No one can keep on top of that. Even if you try, your knowledge would be out of date before you even finish.”
The harm from the time cost of learning the ins and outs of those 700+ apps far outweighs the benefit of that breadth of knowledge. Fortunately, there are a few things your firm can do to give it its best fighting chance.
For a number of you reading this, you’ll be the nominated cloud champion at your firm. For smaller firms however, it’s quite possible there isn’t an explicitly named cloud champion. And that driving innovation with cloud apps is something everyone contributes to. While this may be a necessity at extremely small team sizes, there should still be ultimately one responsible party for this. Otherwise things will fall through the cracks.
Many firms approach the problem of keeping on top of the accounting app market from the wrong angle. So says Matt Flanagan of Xero-specialist software consultants BlueHub:
“Before worrying about keeping on top of the app market, firms need to worry about their clients’ business problems. No one wants an app for app’s sake. Firms need to build in a process to regularly discover and discuss these problems with their clients, then look for apps that can solve them.”
Jonathan Fox adds to this with a tip of his own - every time you speak with a client, check Xero HQ in advance to see if they’re using any new apps you weren’t aware of. “That’s a handy prompt to go research that app and that area,” he says.
But that’s not to say you should be wilfully ignorant of the ever-growing, ever-changing accounting app landscape. Beau Gaudron notes that his team at Growthwise undertakes both monthly app research and annual audits of their technology stack.
Schedule these 3 reviews in your calendar to keep up without spending too much time:
When it comes to undertaking monthly or any ad hoc app research, there are three key resource areas at your disposal.
Keeping up with the ever-growing app market can seem an insurmountable objective. But armed with the advice we've crowdsourced into this post, it's not. It will take time to get the process in place and tweak it to best suit your firm. But if you stick to the approach of processising and optimising, you'll keep on top of the app market, rid your firm of app fatigue, and deliver your clients great results.
Want to see inside the app stack of one of the UK's fastest-growing firms? A few months ago we spoke to Steven Kühn, Head of Software Solutions at Baldwins Accountants, to get a peek behind the scenes at theirs. Read the interview here.
From Xero's Xero App advisory - What, Why and How to Get Started webinar. ↩
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