The Cloud is truly international

December 1st, 2011

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?

November 25th, 2011

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 – Beijing

October 22nd, 2011

As the HLB conference in Beijing draws to a close it is time to reflect on the events of the last few days. Apart from Beijing itself – more of which later – the conference itself has been a great success.
 
What has been apparent is the level of genuine interest in Cloud technology in general and online accounting in particular. The E-conomic stand has been busy over the three days and some very useful contacts made. Tejn Nielsen is going to have a busy time when he gets back following up on the enquiries that he has received.
 
What has been particularly gratifying as fars as I am concerned, is the level of interest from the UK – a marked change from conferences earlier in the year.
 
As I have commented previously, I predicted that 2011 would be the year of the cloud and Beijing has confirmed my view.

Reflections on Beijing – part 1

October 20th, 2011

The first thing that struck me on arriving in Beijing was the sheer modernity of everything. Not what one thinks of when it comes to China. The airport is hi-tec and enormous as is the infrastructure that surrounds it.

This is enhanced on the drive into Beijing itself. The number of new skyscrapers is breathtaking as is their design. It really looks like something out of a science fiction film.

Our hotel is situated in the centre of the city on top of a luxury shopping centre selling everything from Bulgari to Rolex and everything in between. Fascinating how China has introduced the luxury of Western Globalisation without the inconvenience of introducing the democracy that would usually go with it.

Now I realise I am not seeing China is a whole but only a relatively small and incredibly wealthy part of it – but it is an eye opener just the same.

This afternoon includes a visit to the forbidden city which will be a whole new experience.

Reflections on a Conference

October 18th, 2011

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.

 

Accountants Club’s – a good thing!

October 7th, 2011
All publicity is good publicity the old adage goes – however I was a little surprised by the response of some commentators – namely Adrian Pearson and Denis Howlett – to the recent announcement by E-conomic of the launch of their accountants’ club.

I must at this point declare my interest in that in my role as a consultant to E-conomic I was involved in the discussions that resulted in the launch of the Club. However in spite of this  the views that I express now are my own.

One of the points raised by Adrian in his blog is as follows….

“Accountants are being used as a free proxy for a traditional reseller channel by the accounting software vendors.  They provide access to their client base and make volume on-boarding of new customers a possibility; saving the vendors a fortune in marketing effort.”

But isn’t this missing the point…by rather a wide mark. Yes there is a benefit to any vendor in getting accountants on board in the hope that they will roll out the application to their client base. After all, it is a numbers game and I don’t think anyone can disagree with that. But in adopting Cloud Computing – it doesn’t matter whether its E-conomic, Twinfield, Kashflow or Xero or the many other offerings now available – accountants should appreciate the immense benefits that their practice can achieve by working with their clients in the Cloud.

To suggest as Adrian does, that accountants are acting as unpaid vendor channels is disingenuous in the extreme. And this is the problem that the industry is experiencing at the moment.Professional practices are failing to appreciate the advantages of the Cloud and are getting stuck in the dark ages as a result. It is their clients that will eventually lead the way in this as today’s generation of entrepreneurs will expect their professional advisors to interact with them using today’s technology. Those that don’t will fall by the wayside.

As for the vendors. what is wrong with giving their professional clients a small incentive to get on board with the Cloud. After all if they get clients using online accounting – which will be to their advantage as well – they can easily recover any of the costs involved in joining the Accountants Club in the first place. To talk about training as being a lost cost to the accountant is simply not correct.

I should at this point add that Adrian has recently joined David Terrar and myself as part of the Cloud Advocates and I have high regard for his input and opinions. I just don’t agree with him in this instance.

I think the following extract from some of E-conomic’s recent marketing material sums up the position quite nicely:

At E-conomic, we are not altruistic. Obviously we’d love you to be using our system, however whether you opt for us or one of our competitors, our avowed aim is seeing the accounting world put itself online, lock stock and barrel.

…and if they can provide a little encouragement along the way, what’s wrong with that?

Social Media for accountants – my take

September 24th, 2011

At the recent Cloud Advocates seminar – Cloud Accounting for the 21st Century – debunking the myths one of the speakers was Mark Lee known to many in the social media sphere as an enthusiastic user of Twitter and consummate blogger. He gave an entertaining and perhaps slightly controversial presenatation on Social Media for Accountants and posed the question – does social media work for professionals? (my words).

The gist of his argument was that whilst many accountants now use social media, did they get any benefit from so doing. Apart from the overriding (and not unimportant) consideration that it is fun. (As Ben and Jerry say in their mission statement -” If it ain’t fun, don’t do it”). I must say that I found his argument somewhat surprising and I am not sure that I entirely agreed with all the points that he made.

As many professionals will agree, networking in its many forms is an essential component of business generation and over the years has become more popular and widespread. I have lately been travelling to a number of meetings of international associations – most recently Kreston International in Budapest – where I have spoken to accountants from all over the world about the Cloud and the benefits therefrom. These meetings are a great opportunity for the international firms to meet and network and the networking is probably more important in the long run than the actual conference sessions.

And in many respects is that not what social media is – another form of networking. Getting your name out to a wider world and expressing views and opinions which might not otherwise be heard. Importantly those who will be reading your comments etc are users of social media themselves and if they are looking for an accountant or professional advisor are possibly more likely to choose one that is social media savvy.

Social media is an excellent medium for getting your name and message heard –  will it generate new business – well. like chicken soup, it won’t hurt.

The Cloud – Debunking the myths

September 24th, 2011

David Terrar and I share a passionate belief in the Cloud and all it represents, together with a frustration as to how it is explained to a broadly sceptical professional world. As a result we joined together to form Cloud Advocates - our mission to explain the Cloud in straightforward, jargon free terminology and show how it will benefit and add value to both business and individuals. Our launch event was a seminar held at the offices of Mimecast in London, entitled Cloud Accounting for the 21st Century – Debunking the Myths.

It was a well attended event and we had great speakers including Denis Howlett, who delivered his presentation via Skype from his home in Spain (the sound of his disembodied voice booming out to a packed room was somehow strangely suitable for Denis!) – the Cloud in action!; John Paterson from Really Simple Systems explaining Cloud based  CRM, Mark Lee who gave an entertaining presentation on the value or otherwise of social media for accountants and Steve Thorns who explained Hosted Desktop.

We also had a number of panel sessions and the best one  was a session that consisted of Philip Woodgate for Goodman Jones, Sean Price – IBox Security Ltd and Paul Smalley of Paper Mountain Solutions. These three are respectively Twinfield, Xero and E-conomic users and they gave an excellent explanation of why they went into the Cloud and chose the solutions that they did. There was good interaction with the audience and I think was an excellent example of how the Cloud can work in practice and the benefits derived therefrom.

Inevitably a later session got embroiled in the perennial issue of Cloud security – wouldn’t it be great if a discussion about the Cloud could avoid that topic. However, it was a good opportunity to clarify the issues concerning Cloud security (there aren’t any!) even though I did upset one member of the audience when I said that most people didn’t really want to know what was under the bonnet – they just wanted to know that it works. He thought my answer unacceptable but the point I was trying to make (perhaps a little too flippantly) was that once there was acceptance that Cloud was probably considerably more secure than most on premise solutions, most users were not really that caught up with this.

In fact Phil Wainewright , another of our panellists, made the excellent and pertinent point that true internet security began at the desk top – passwords other than P4ssw0rd for example or worse, post it notes with logon detail stuck on the monitor!

It was a good day and a sign  of how well received it was, was that everyone stayed for the afternoon session after lunch and also put up with the fact that a whole room of techno geeks hadn’t quite worked out how to get the air conditioning to work!

One point raised by Kevin McCallum of Freeagent - the online providers represented at the seminar probably accounted for something like 250,000 + users world wide -Cloud hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. A lot more needs to be done!

The Cloud …if only

September 21st, 2011

I was struck by a quote from Richard Branson talking about the recent fire that destroyed his house on his Caribbean Island.
Talking about the loss of records that went up in the inferno he says:“……Running a business, we have a meticulous computer backup system so I’d assumed all that was completely safe. But it turns out the backup was also in the house. Everything ……is lost”.

On so many levels, I was astounded when I read this. If a sophisticated business man like Richard Branson can make the fundamental error of having the backup of his data in the same place as the data itself then what hope is there for the rest of us.  And yet I speak to so many people who do just this. Yes they back up the data but no they don’t always take it off premise. And those who do don’t check to see that the backup can be restored …. and it is a principal rule of chance that the time that you really need to restore your data, the backup won’t work.

What is equally surprising about Branson’s quote is that by taking  the most simplest of precautions none of his data would have been lost. Setting up a Cloud offline filing system such as Dropbox or the literally hundreds of other systems that exist, all of his data would have been secure and available the next time he logged on to any computer anywhere in the world.

The problem is that so many so called IT experts still turn their noses up at the concept of the Cloud. Had they got off their high horses and adopted what is the most efficient and secure method of keeping data safe, the loss of Richard’s Branson’s autobiography manuscript would have been one less thing for him to worry about.

 

A version of this article was first published on Freshbusinessthinking.com