Accountex: A step on the 'practice improvement' road, not its destination

The world in which accounting practices and their clients operate is changing more rapidly than ever.

Therefore you’d expect the latest Accountex show to showcase exciting, new and different technologies – and you’d be right in your thinking. Add-on app providers, looking to support and supplement the major cloud accounting platforms, were a big part of the expo. Two or three years ago, many of them didn’t exist. The platforms are also developing themselves out, particularly around practice management processes.

But even with the buzz of a busy show, I sensed that some things haven’t changed.

From my conversations with attendees and vendors, there’s still seems to be a flaw in the approach many practitioners take to getting the most out of a show like Accountex – an issue that goes back to the days of the previous big tech event Softworld Accounting and Finance in the early Noughties.

Make a map

I think that the accountants fail to adequately map out the strategic direction for their practice, or even begin to appreciate the change management they have in store to future-proof their practice.

They go to Accountex looking for answers to fundamental questions about their practice….and I’m not sure they’ll find what they’re looking for.

Don’t get me wrong – on the whole, the tech available is wide-ranging, good quality and great value. The tech tools are out there to help reshape and ‘improve’ an accounting firm.

And with tech companies offering a cloud-based ‘service’, rather than an off-the-shelf physical product, they are evolving to take a more consultative approach to working with practices. As QuickBooks UK business development manager Alex Davis told me st the show: “We’re a very customer-centric organisation. The value is in the conversation.”

Set a strategy before the software

To illustrate the issue, Quickbook’s new research launched at Accountex found that 47% of practitioners expect support from vendors on the Making Tax Digital journey.

I think that Accountex would be better utilised by attendees if seen as a strategic part of a change programme that includes, at its very start, a serious reflection on where the practice is and where it wants to get to.

And I fully appreciate that, for some, a visit to Accountex may be an early part of the process of understanding what developments there are in the marketplace, and that might set off a spark of inspiration in considering where your practice is heading. My concern with doing that would be putting the cart before the horse – the tech is there to fulfil your needs and those of the clients, rather than the other way around.

It’s physically impossible for the vendors to give every practice rounded and deep advice about practice strategy or planning – and they’re not there for that purpose anyway.

Ultimately, attending Accountex and choosing tech vendors are both points on a timeline rather than its start and end. Begin, instead, by having those important conversations in your practice, with external consultants such as Foulger Underwood, and with practitioner peers.

Kevin Reed is a consultant – content and engagement, for Foulger Underwood on a part-time basis. He is a former editor of Accountancy Age and Financial Director

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