Cloud Connectivity

July 11th, 2014

There are many well known advantages to working in the Cloud  - not least, the flexibility of anytime,anywhere working.

One of the least discussed aspects, however, is the ability to connect to and import from – or export to – other software applications, whether cloud based or desktop based. This enables automatic transfer of information between packages such as databases, accounts software and other systems.

This is done using the programme’s API (for the technical this stands for Application Programming Interface) – which is basically the language that enables different packages to talk to eachother. e-conomic  has a very flexible API interface which enables communication to a wide variety of different applications.

In a seminar that I gave recently, I explained how my accounting practice used  e-conomicwith virtually all of our clients to prepare monthly management accounts, VAT returns and outsourcing functions. However, when it came to annual statutory accounts production, I looked for a package that I could use which would allow an easy transfer of information from e-conomic.

I chose Caseware which through the API of both packages allows me to work with our clients using all the benefits of the Cloud  - all entries are recorded in e-conomic  including the normal accounts finalisation adjustments such as Directors bonuses, dividends and tax provisions. At the point when the Trial Balance has been finalised, I can then switch to Caseware, which is hosted on Hosted Desktop, and literally at the touch of a button, I can import the Trial Balance (or if required, the entries) into Caseware and complete the statutory accounts in an a time efficient and cost effective manner.

Many users of e-conomic  who are in the fashion industry tend to use an industry specific system such as Zedonk for organising their production schedules, styles and stock call off etc. Sales invoices raised in Zedonk are automatically recorded in e-conomic  thus avoiding duplication and ensuring synchronisation between both systems.
There are many examples of working with the API and maximising the benefits of working in the Cloud.

UK Tax – Double standards?

May 25th, 2014

The recent announcement of the death of Prince Rupert Ludwig Ferdinand zu Loewenstein -Wertheim-Freudenverg would normally be of passing interest. However, apart from a fabulous name and title, Prince Rupert’s main claim to fame was that he was the brains behind the Rolling Stone’s tax strategies which resulted in them not only leaving the UK and becoming non resident but postponing one of their most successful concerts until they were safely non resident and thus considerably reducing their UK tax bill.

In 2004-05 the three remaining founder members of the group paid just 1.6 per cent of a combined income of £81.3 million in tax.

Not much appears to have been said about this – Sir Mick Jagger is revered as one of the most significant pop icons of our time and the ageing rockers are as popular now as ever.

Fast forward to today and Gary Barlow OBE, on the other hand, is reviled in equal measure for participating in a tax planning scheme with the aim of substantially reducing his UK tax bill. In his case, the legitimacy  of the scheme has been rejected by the High Court and Gary Barlow, along with many other personalities, will have to repay substantial amounts of income tax.

There have been howls of condemnation for this and calls from the great unwashed for Barlow to return his OBE – which was awarded for his considerable work for UK charities.

The issue goes further – Amazon, Starbucks and Google, amongst others, have been roundly condemned for their perfectly legitimate tax planning strategies which has minimised their Corporation Tax liabilities. The fact that they employ thousands, and pay a small fortune in Employers National Insurance is rather glossed over.

The question of successful tax planning has, rather worryingly, moved into a moral dimension rather than a purely legal one. The country has been through the worst recession and financial crisis in living memory and, the argument goes, everyone should pay their fair share of tax.

But what is a fair share? It has long been an established principle that no one is obliged to arrange their affairs so that they pay the maximum amount of tax. If there are legitimate ways of reducing a tax liability it has been sensible to adopt them.

Is it still acceptable to pay a large contribution into a pension plan to reduce your current year tax liability. How about a company director taking some of his remuneration as dividends instead of salary to reduce the overall tax bill.

Where do you draw the line between what is normal practice and ok and what is morally unacceptable. Is it just a question of amount – saving tax of £10,000 is alright but £10,000,000 is not.

Morality ,surely, is subjective. If the Government of the day is against all forms of tax avoidance then it should legislate accordingly

But of course, there is a perfectly good reason why they don’t. The afore – mentioned companies and many more like them, contribute far more overall to the UK economy than they save in  Corporation Tax. Why kill the Goose that lays the Golden Egg?

 

Look – no wires

April 25th, 2014

I recall a visit some years ago to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert. As we passed the sound desk with cables snaking out in all directions looking like a reject from an early Dr Who set, my wife commented that it reminded her of our living room – at which point the sound operator – who had obviously overhead her remark – replied “you must have installed Sky TV!”

He was not wrong – we had. And the back of our tv cabinet didn’t look a lot different from the multi-tentacled sound desk. This was 20 or so years ago and with the addition of multi speaker cinema surround sound system, the cables emanating from my tv cabinet would do credit to a major tv outside broadcast set up.

Which in this age of cloud computing, smart technology and remote working is somewhat surprising. It was therefore great to try out the new Sonos Soundbar and supporting wireless speakers.

I had already been using Sonos to stream radio and my Ipad music and was keen to see how the system worked as a TV surround sound setup. The key word in this is “wireless” which apart from a digital connection to the tv set and the power cables, it is.

The rear speakers are connected wirelessly as is the optional sub-woofer. The sound quality is superb and whilst I am in no way claiming to be a hi-fi expert, I would have thought that it would be sufficient for most TV viewers.

Its not cheap- a full set up including sub could cost in excess of £1,500 – bit the build quality, sound and wireless convenience make it a justifiable luxury.

 

Forecast Cloudy for 2014

November 7th, 2013

It has been some time since I updated my blog – due in no small part to pressures of work and other life incidents getting in the way. But I am glad to say that my muse has found me again and encouraged me to return to my keyboard.

During this enforced “sabbatical” from writing about matters Cloud, I have, however, been busy speaking at a number of events – Accountex back in June and more recently at the Iris World forums – more of which later. I have also been watching with fascination how this wonderful world of Cloud has been developing and taking on a life of its own. The developments over the last 6 months alone have been fascinating and begs the question what will 2014 bring.

The Cloud scene generally in the accounting world has transformed almost( and I emphasise almost) beyond recognition. Xero has moved ahead in leaps and bounds and full credit to Gary Turner and his team for establishing Xero as the defacto product for cloud users entering the market place. There is however a nagging doubt as to whether there is a danger in becoming the monopoly product in what is still a new market place at such at an early stage. The problem with having such a large hold on a particular sector is that after a period of time the only way to go is down – Sage is discovering this rather belatedly.

Back in 2011 (is it really 2 years?) there was a great deal of excitement over the news that Wolters Kluwer – the parent company of CCH – had acquired Twinfield. Surely this would vitalise the market place as other desktop providers hurried to secure their place in the cloud scramble by in turn acquiring other Cloud providers. Disappointingly very little actually happened after that. Although there is much talk about CCH and Twinfield product integration, not a lot appears to have happened as yet and I am waiting with interest to see what will transpire.

And then in the last two months there has been a seismic shift in the space. Firstly Iris have made a big play by announcing the launch of a number of cloud versions of their standard desk top offerings. They have launched over the past 12 months or so a number of products under their “open” brand including “Open Tax” which is probably the first mainstream tax product to be put into the cloud. The whole theme of their World Forum conference was their Cloud launch and they are surely setting a new standard for other desk top providers to follow.

And if that wasn’t enough there followed two further announcements – firstly the acquisition by Iris of Kashflow and in a stroke the two top providers of desktop software have each an established Cloud provider in their stable. Unlike CCH, it is obvious that Iris with their Cloud strategy are going to make much of this acquisition and it will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few months.

At virtually the same time – and not receiving quite as much publicity – came the announcement that HgCapital had acquired E-conomic. What make this so interesting is that HgCapital are the parent company of Iris which means that they now have in their stable two of the leading cloud products covering the whole SME spectrum from the micro to the macro. And what this also does is firmly establish the Cloud as a mainstream operating paradigm and takes it finally out of the specialist arena.

What will 2014 bring —- what is certain is that it will be fascinating.

 

The only way is down

July 26th, 2012

My good friend and Cloud Advocates colleague, David Terrar (@DT) has just abandoned his Blackberry after many years and picked up his new Iphone 4S. My first comment to him was “about time” but then I started thinking about the meteoric rise of RIM and the Blackberry and their equally steep decline.

RIM were ground breakers with the launch of the Blackberry at a time when smart phones were not that smart and their use as a business tool – other than as a telephone (why should a phone be used for anything else – but hey!) was not seriously considered. They rapidly became the must have accessory for the up and coming business executive and were responsible for many a marriage break up as users became  - literally – addicted to checking their email when ever and where ever they could. There can’t be many gadgets that coin  a new word in the vocabulary – crackberry!

They were ubiquitous – anyone who was anyone had to be seen using their latest Blackberry phone and even President Obama, on taking office, insisted that he still use his and had to have it specially hacker proofed to enable him to do so. They gained a certain notoriety when it became apparent that they were the phone of choice for many who took part in the riots of last year and that the Blackberry messaging service was used to arrange riots and communicate amongst the youths organising the disturbances.

And then it all came to a rapid and sudden halt – not helped by a major disruption to its service in the 3rd quarter of 2011 which left millions without access to their emails over a 3 – 4 day period. At the same time Apple had introduced their latest operating system - IOS 5 and introduced the next iteration of the Ipad and suddenly there was a new kid on the block as far as business communication and acceptable gadgets were concerned.

RIM couldn’t compete – they made a half hearted attempt to do so with the introduction of their Tablet but next to the Ipad, it soon withered on the vine. The latest news is that RIM have laid off staff and proposed new models have been delayed.

So was their fall inevitable? Does it invariably mean that if something is the first of its type and achieves rapid acceptance it stays number 1 only until a competitor comes along and after that the only way is down? Perhaps the lesson to be learnt is that unless a product constantly reinvents itself and remembers to look at itself from the outside – as a competitor – it will make the same errors as so many have done before  and become complacent and uncompetitive.

Apple’s meteoric growth seems unstoppable and so far they appear to have avoided the pitfalls that have effected so many before them. It was, however, interesting to note  a recent headline that announced record Ipad sales but a decline in the  growth in the sale of iphones. Maybe they are going to become a victim of their own success in that with a new model coming out so regularly, fans are not quite sure when to jump in and commit.

Could Apple face the same decline as RIM – seems unlikely at the moment……until something better comes along!

Technology – ignore it at your peril

June 4th, 2012

At an international conference of  accountants recently I was told the following story:

“A partner in a top twenty firm of accountants had a meeting with a prospective new client. After the usual pleasantries had been exchanged, the partner opened his notepad – removed the top of his fountain pen and sat poised ready to take notes of the meeting. The client looked at him aghast – ‘If this is the way you still take notes’, he said, ‘you are not the accountants for me!’ And with that he got up and left.”

Now the story may be apocryphal, and, if true, the client’s attitude was extreme, even for me who embraces technology in all its forms. But it does make a valid point.

Technology is very much a major part of our lives and as professionals in practice we have to be aware that it is also a major part of the lives of prospective clients. Our willingness to adopt technology shows that as professionals we can keep up to date and make use of new ideas to enhance and improve our processes and add value to the services that we provide our clients.

It says a lot about the way we operate and the way we view business processes as a whole. It recognises the fact that today’s entrepreneurs use Twitter, Facebook and the Cloud as an extension to their right arm and expect their professional advisors to have the same views.

It is for this reason that using the Cloud as a major part of the IT infrastructure makes the statement that a practice is operating in 2012 – not 1812 – and is well placed to deal with the demands of today.

And the growth of technology is inbred from a very early age. Someone told me the other day that their three year old, when looking at a book (yes – a real book!), turns the pages by making a touch and flick motion as if turning the electronic pages on an iPad.

Scary – maybe – but an example as to how technology is inbred in us from the start.

And for those who are still reluctant about change, the following quote from Charles Darwin sort of sums it up:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The Cloud is here – whether you like it or not

March 17th, 2012

For those who are regular followers of my blogs, my passion for all things cloud will be well known. I have been writing for some time about how the Cloud is the way to interact with your clients and that accountants need to get on board or loose out.

I had the opportunity the other other day to speak at an Intellect seminar (thank you to David Terrar for inviting me. The subject matter was introducing Cloud to beginners so to speak and yet in listening to the various presentations as well as making my own I can’t get away from the obvious thought – why wouldn’t any one use it.

The other day my attention was drawn to a blog from Rob Nixon – www.robnixon.com. He has written a piece entitled Cloud – friend or foe and I make no apologies for quoting from it below. The points he makes, make so much sense that it should be a mantra for all things Cloud related.
I quote:


“Cloud accounting – friend or foe?”

………..First of all some facts:

  1. The cloud accounting (or the original term is SaaS – ‘software as a service’) has been around for a long time. The technology has been available for at least 10 years.

  2. Cloud accounting is where your (or your clients) data is stored on the internet (instead of a PC or server) so they can access it easily and efficiently.

  3. As of today there are approximately 3-4% of small / medium sized businesses who use an internet (cloud) based accounting system.

  4. The early adopters (the cool ones) have jumped on it and enjoy the simplicity and innovative approach to it.

  5. Many of the late majority users will be currently concerned about security issues. They are the same ones that were concerned about internet banking security concerns and now they probably use some form of internet banking.

  6. Every single accounting software maker (who started as a CD/Server/Hard drive system) are spending bongo bucks (technical term) to get ‘cloud ready’. In fact I know (from the horse’s mouth) that one prominent supplier is spending in the vicinity of $100M to get ready.

  7. Around the world there are gazillions of dollars being poured into any sort of internet based computing systems. The venture capitalists and financial markets are backing this space.

  8. Cloud accounting systems will not fix every issue you have with your clients ‘cleanliness of data’ – if they input incorrectly then you’ll get a mess like you do now. Muck in – muck out.

  9. It is reported by the software vendors that at the accountants end you will have an efficiency gain of anything from 10% – 40% when your clients are using an internet based accounting systems. That means 10% – 40% less time on the same job.

  10. When a client has their data on the internet it is easier to transport the data from one accounting firm or accounting software supplier to another. Click of a button.

  11. Every week we are hearing of clients who have switched accounting firms because the other firm did not offer an internet based accounting system.

And the final fact:

12. This is going to happen whether you like it or not! “

Now there is nothing new in any of the above but the points made cannot, in my humble opinion, be overstated or reiterated too often. For those who get it, it is just common sense …..for those who don’t, well wake up!

And I finish by making the following stement to those accountants who have not yet got the message:

If you are not using the Cloud to service your clients – you are not servicing your clients.

The Cloud has moved on……catch up!

February 5th, 2012

When I first started writing and commenting on the cloud, the main focus was that here was a groundbreaking technology that, apart from other things, would add value to Accountants and the services they would be able to offer their clients. Those who were early adopters would, figuratively, sieze the high ground and gain the business advantage that would naturally ensue.

I gave numerous examples of how adopting Cloud systems such as E-conomic had helped to win new business and was providing a quantifiable advantage in the way business was done and services delivered. I explained how startups could benefit from Cloud adoption due to the low set up costs and how new international business could be gained and managed. I clarified, hopefully, the mis-conceptions regarding security and how Cloud is, in fact, more secure than most business configurations are currently.

Two years on, how much has changed?

Well, we are certainly past the early adopters stages in the technology adoption lifecycle:

…and are well into the early majority peak. And for those who have not yet got on board, they will continue to lag behind and eventually become part of the late majority or the laggards. Will they miss out on business opportunities….most certainly. Will they be able to catch up … possibly…eventually.
But as with most innovative technologies the goal posts have moved somewhat. I am convinced that in order to stay well ahead of the game, accountants are now going to have to change the way that cloud services are offerred.
Why do I say this? Well it is interesting to see how the the cloud providers have positioned themselves in the market place. Although there are numerous providers, the ones that appear to have gained most traction have, possibly by natural selection, have gained ground in various sections of the business world. Kashflow, for example, is doing well with the sole trader, one man business operation. Xero has got the smaller business sector well covered and E-conomic has established itself in the medium to larger business sector as well as the franchise market.
How are Accountants to adapt to this. Well one of the advantages of Cloud as I have repeatedly stated is that the costs of adoption are low … pay as you go is a very cost efficient concept. So how is this for an idea…
Accountants should set up a separate Cloud team with three or four (or more as required) staff who are dedicated to working with Cloud technologies. They should become expert in a number of the main offerings – not just one – so that when new businesses, who are already Cloud users, come to them , they will be able to service them in a truly encompassing manner.
It is an innovative approach… but to the brave, the rewards.

 

 

Innovation – has it reached a plateau?

January 19th, 2012

An article in last weeks Sunday Times, commenting on the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (definitely on my Bucket List by the way!) raised the question – has true innovation dried up? It raised the point that the game changers from Apple – the ipod, iphone and ipad – are actually quite old in technology terms and if you look at Twitter – well being around for in excess of 5 years makes it truly geriatric.

Since then there has been very little, if anything, which can be truly described as game changing – hence the question. It’s an interesting point – but is it valid?

Of course these sort of questions have been raised before – at the beginning of the 20th century scientists genuinely believed that everything that could be discovered, had been discovered and we know how that turned out. But the pace of change has been so fast in the last ten years or so, is it realistic to assume that that pace can continue?

Probably not but it doesn’t mean that innovation has dried up. Whilst the hardware hasn’t changed that much, the software has certainly continued to provide exciting possibilities. Apple have not changed the look of the their latest iphone, the 4s, but the introduction of IOS5 has exponentially moved the goal posts. iCloud and airplay are game changing technologies and will no doubt provide the basis for much more.

The next big advances are, no doubt, going to be in the way we watch TV. Being restricted to the schedules and timings laid down by the TV companies is rapidly becoming outmoded. TV programmes are going to be viewed when the consumer wants and on the equipment that they want to use. The internet, as with most things, will become the medium of choice for transmitting and viewing and the technology is going to adapt to meet that challenge.

So – has innovation reached a plateau? I don’t think so – its probably just catching it’s breath.

 

Email is dead…long live?

December 16th, 2011
A recent article in the news caught my eye – a major UK company was seriously considering banning email as an internal form of communication. The company concerned was aware that the vast majority of internal (and probably external) emails were pointless and if the time taken to open and read were taken into account, the amount of lost time was considerable.

Actually this  is not a new concept and has been discussed for some time – the success of email as a concept has been its own failing. It is so easy now to send off a quick email without giving it a lot of thought which has been the cause of many an embarrassment. Plus the fact that emails to the whole of an international group advising of cakes in the kitchen of the Bristol office does not exactly add anything to ongoing productivity.

Is there an alternative? Well yes – there are many. But they all revolve around using social media as a mode of internal communication. Possibly easier to manage …. and more importantly, easier to ignore… social media very much has a place in the work environment if used responsibly.

Is it better than email? Possibly in the right circumstances but where any media is used to excess, or more to the point because people get lazy (we have all experienced receiving an email from someone sitting at the next desk!)  it is going to fail through over use.

And of course, he main problem with email is the sheer volume of the stuff. Returning from vacation to an inbox literally overflowing was hundreds or thousands of emails, the majority of which are valueless is not an enticing prospect. In fact I know someone who, when on vacation, says in his out of office message that all incoming emails will be automatically deleted. If it is important resend it when I’m back. A brave, but very practical approach.

As for social media, the latest statistics state that the vast majority of the younger generation ( whoever that may be) use it in preference to email and where they lead I am sure the rest of us will follow.