Look – no wires

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.


The only way is down

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

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

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!

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?

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?

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.

The Cloud is truly international

I have been spending the last couple of days in Copenhagen on one of my regular visits to E-conomic’s HQ to get up to date with the latest developments and future plans. Some exciting things on the horizon so watch this space.

I always get a buzz when I visit the offices here – the place is humming with enthusiasm and there is a great team working away on different aspects of the system. Since I last came earlier in the year, they have taken an additional floor which is rapidly filling up with new team members to service the ever increasing demands of a modern software house.

I was particularly struck this time by the international nature of the team. I have been introduced to team members from Denmark (of course), Norway, and Sweden; as well as the US, Spain, France, Germany and Finland. All of these guys and gals are fluent in English, Danish as well as their own language and are on board to provide support to the various countries now using E-conomic.

It makes me, who is just about fluent in English, feel very inadequate. But more importantly it highlights the know no boundaries of much in the Cloud world.

Was 2011 the Year of the Cloud?

Towards the end of last year I stated that 2011 would be the Year of the Cloud and as we hurtle headlong into 2012 (I am convinced the Government have cancelled a few months as part of their cost cutting exercise!), I thought it worthwhile to look back and see if I have changed my view.

Whatever my conclusion, from a Cloud aspect it was certainly an eventful year.

Personally, I have travelled half way round the world attending and speaking at various international conferences about the Cloud and Cloud accounting where the topic has been received with huge interest. I have also been invited to visit numerous accounting firms in the UK where there has been noticeably increasing interest and a genuine desire for further input on the topic of which they have become far more aware.

In the accounting market place, the big news was the acquisition of Twinfield by Wolters Kluwer, the parent company of CCH. The market reacted to this was great excitement – at long last an established on premise player had seen the light and was making a big commitment to the Cloud – and with Iris taking an interest in Freeagent surely others would follow. It remains to be seen – but if nothing else it has certainly increased the level of awareness and interest.

On a wider arena, Apple released its latest operating system – IOS 5 and in so many ways this has crystallised the Cloud as the way of the future. Apple have practised what so many of us have preached –  that computing should no longer be device specific but that the device, whatever it may be, should only be a tool to access information. Therefore, as now enabled by Apple, a photo taken with the Iphone will appear seamlessly on your Ipad and desktop. Music downloaded on your desktop is accessible on your Iphone and Ipad. From a more business orientated approach, reminders set up on one device will appear on all your other IOS5 enabled kit.

As has happened so many times before, Apple have made the concept their own but more importantly have brought it to the forefront of the public’s awareness – there are few people who have not now heard of the Cloud even if they might be unsure as to what it involves.

And what of the accountancy market as a whole. Always slow to react to changes in technology, they are, at long last, making themselves aware that the Cloud is something which they can no longer ignore and whilst still slow on the uptake, many more firms have started on the Cloud journey and are beginning to realise the advantages it brings. But just as they take those first few infantile steps and  the Cloud enthusiasts among us look on as proud parents watching their child walk for the first time a further major attitude shift now presents itself and is bound to trip up a few of the less adventurous.

Adoption of the Cloud and in this instance Cloud accounting is being led by the client – not being pushed by the accountant. Clients and potential clients are going to their accountants having decided to use Xero, Kashflow or E-conomic or one of the many other products now available. If the profession wants the business they are going to have to evolve in a Darwinian survival of the fittest shift to not only accept and adopt the Cloud – but be prepared to work with more than one Cloud offering so that they can accomodate the every growing amount of choice that today’s entrepreneur has available.

So – was 2011 the Year of the Cloud? Most definitely and 2012 will prove it to become the defacto operating system.

Reflections on a Conference

I have just returned from exhibiting with E-conomic at the 2020 annual conference in Birmingham where we spent the day on the E-conomic stand. I can’t believe that its a year since I commented on the last conference – time certainly flies when you are enjoying yourself!

Comparing the two conferences there were some marked differences as far as the Cloud in general and Cloud Accounting in particular are concerned. Firstly it must be said that all credit goes to 2020 for promoting the Cloud the way that they do and directing the delegates to the exhibition stands. The 2020 organisers certainly understand the benefits of the Cloud and how it can add value for their accountancy practices.

What struck me this year was how better informed were the accountancy practices – they didn’t necessarily sign up on the spot but all the visitors to the stand were, in the main, well informed about Cloud Accounting and were seeking information as to the distinguishing features of the various applications. And of course one of the noticeable aspects this year was how much choice there is for anyone seeking to move into the Cloud. As well as E-conomic there were 4 other cloud applications exhibiting at the conference and that doesn’t include the many other providers who weren’t there.

A number of enquiries were received from practices where they were already using a Cloud accounting product but wanted to expand their offerings  - this all good news for the Cloud industry and accountants. The message is beginning to get through. As well as this, the new Accountants Club concept was well received.

In addition to speaking to the delegates, it was very interesting speaking to the other exhibitors. As well as comparing notes it was very helpful speaking to some other of the product providers who might be able to add some very useful features using E-conomic’s API integration – watch this space!

I forecast that 2011 would be the year of the Cloud and as we approach the last quarter of the year I am convinced that I was correct.

I am now off to Beijing to speak on the benefit of the Cloud at the HLB conference – I shall report on this when I get back.