Can Stream Deck Aid Accounting Productivity Push?by
While the world of online gaming may seem disconnected from accountancy, a recruitment squeeze, pricing issues and a general desire for practice efficiency have inspired a growing band of CPAs to seek productivity gains through tools such as Elgato’s Stream Deck.
A growing number of CPAs are turning to tools from outside the accounting world like Stream Deck as a way of boosting their efficiency. But how does it work in an accountancy context, and what are its limitations?
The Stream Deck was originally designed as a console to allow gamers and other live-streamers such as DJs or product demonstrators to switch camera angles, generate sound effects or initiate countdowns, reducing formally complex processes to the touch of a button.
However, increasingly the tool is being used by accountants to streamline process-heavy tasks such as populating standard invoices, launching financial reports on bookkeeping tools like Xero and initiating and embedding complex formulas in Excel.
As shown in the image below, users are presented with a panel of customizable LCD buttons that activate workflows programmed by the user. Each button has the option of opening up a sub-level of buttons, so the 15-button version of the Stream Deck can potentially offer up to 210 options, opening up a tiny library of application icons for the user.
So how does a tool focused on the gaming arena end up improving efficiency in an accountancy practice setting?
One example comes from UK-based Chartered Accountant Dave Sellick. He has been experimenting with Stream Deck for the past four years after stumbling across it on Amazon during a frustrating late-night session creating a financial model on Excel.
When it comes to launching shortcuts and workflows, Sellick calls the effect Stream Deck has had on his practice workflows ‘transformational.’
By removing the time it takes to navigate to application icons or folder windows, click the mouse, enter credentials, click again and so on, Sellick stated that over time he had shaved off large amounts of time spent regularly on small, repetitive and mindless tasks.
On a more granular level, Sellick uses the example of the Xero ‘Find and Recode’ function. Taking a traditional approach, executing the function takes six mouse clicks, but once a Stream Deck workflow has been written, this is reduced to one button push. Not revolutionary on its own, but when applied across a number of clients on a regular basis the time saved adds up.
You can also program a Stream Deck workflow to enter standard text used on a regular basis such as your name, email or postal address or a boilerplate statement (up to 500 characters) at the touch of a button.
Then there's Logan Graf, founder of The Graf Tax Co based out of Leander, TX. He started using the Stream Deck earlier this year and uses it as part of a drive for marginal gains - the theory expounded by cycling coach Dave Brailsford that making a number of tiny improvements can accumulate to much bigger gains.
Rather than log into each app his practice uses individually, Graf has programed the credentials into the Stream Deck so they open at the touch of a button. “It opens up everything I need for the day without having to click, enter information and log in,” said Graf. “It’s a real quality of life boost.”
Graf is also exploring using the tool to set prompts for clients. “If I’ve finished a tax return press a folder button on Stream Deck, then another to bring up a pre-written email template saying ‘your tax return is ready’ and it’s good to go.”
Dishant Desai, partner at QX Global Group, was put on to the tool by a gaming-savvy nephew and started experimenting with how it could be applied in accountancy. Along with the login functionality described by Graf, Desai uses Stream Deck for interaction on Microsoft Teams and has recently explored other applications.
“We create a lot of standard invoices on a daily basis,” said Desai. “I created a workflow that automatically fills in things like amounts and standard descriptions. Manually, this takes about 30 to 45 seconds - now I can cut this right down and if I do 20 to 25 invoices a day I save about 10 minutes.”
The examples outlined above barely scratch the surface of the potential application of Stream Deck workflows for accountants - other examples include Excel and GSheets shortcuts, timesheet recording, social media posts and practice management reports.
When comparing Stream Deck’s functionality to other, similar, offerings out there, a reasonable starting point to make would be that many of its functions can be added as shortcuts on the desktop or start-up folder.
Seasoned Microsoft users may also point to the fact that Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) programming in Office also takes care of nearly every operation that you can perform with a mouse, keyboard or dialogue box.
Stream Deck limitations
While the promises of time savings sound like music to hard-pressed practitioners’ ears, as with any new tool, particularly one that isn’t specifically designed for the profession, the Stream Deck has its shortcomings for accountants.
While Sellick is one of Stream Deck’s biggest proponents in accountancy, he is also well-placed to point to some of the tool’s weaknesses.
The time-consuming nature of the initial set-up of the tool and the workflows is a given (and likely to be overtaken by the time saved in the medium to long-term), but Sellick points to the fact that the Stream Deck software is not in the cloud, meaning an individual users’ workflow isn’t particularly portable.
Sellick’s multiple deck setup is an extreme example, he also struggles to free up the port space needed to plug in his power-hungry Stream Deck setup. The workflow program can be "buggy" and Sellick labels the interface and overall user experience as "uninspiring."
Graf also points out that he had safety concerns with entering passwords into the tool. “I only use it with applications that have two-factor authentication,” he said. “That way if it were to get hacked, they’d still have to get through the next level of protection.”
There are minimal training resources available for accountants using Stream Deck, and Sellick points to the fact that it is currently difficult to share workflows. On this last point, at least, he hopes to be able to make a difference with a free Stream Deck information-sharing community called Pushflo, which he hopes to launch later this year. You can also view his accountancy workflow setup via a LinkedIn video here.
Much like the marginal gains pointed to by Sellick, Graf and Desai, all of the limitations listed above add up to a relatively simple truth.
While individuals and small practitioners may be able to reap the benefits of cutting out repetitive mouse-clicking and typing, in its current form the Stream Deck is not scaleable at any major level (in fairness to Elgato, this was never its original intention), meaning that large firms or enterprises aren’t able to get the same level of functionality or time-saving at present.