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Fix That Leak in Your Digital Plumbing

May 26th 2016
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Digital plumbing is one of several tech trends that are not only permeating the accounting industry – and, subsequently, the entire business world – but that are also changing the way we handle data and its interconnectivity.

As we know, technology upends everything from transportation to accounting, and no one has been left unaffected. Whether you’ve appreciated this reality for years or you’re just waking up to it, code is the undercurrent of a future-forward accounting practice.

While we don’t all have to become developers (yet), there’s an increasing demand for people to be “code competent.” As is suggested in a 2015 PwC report, courses that teach basic programming skills using common coding languages like Java and Python could become staples of accounting students’ curriculum.

Automated data collection and processing systems empower companies to use their information more effectively. And because data plays such an important role in how businesses are able to market to and serve their customers, a digital plumbing strategy is a key ingredient to any business’s competitive advantage.

But these systems are complex integrated environments that you run your entire business on, and as Doug Sleeter, founder of The Sleeter Group, noted during one of the presentations at SleeterCon 2015 in regard to the development work of integration, “It’s hard bloody code to write.”

As an accounting advisor concerned with your clients’ digital plumbing, you don’t need to know how to build application program interfaces (APIs) from the ground up, nor must you know your way around a software development kit. However, you should at least understand the language and some of the concepts your developers deal with when building applications. This way, you’ll be able to enter into a macrolevel discourse on working with data to understand how these technology products translate into action within a business’s system.

Fortunately, becoming developer-literate doesn’t require you to study the nitty-gritty rules of programming languages (though I do suggest checking out courses like “Getting Started With Programming” at Codecademy to get a basic understanding.) Most importantly, it’s about answering questions critical to good product design, like “What are we trying to build?” “What problem does that solve for your customer?” and “How will your customer engage with that platform in a way that is easy and impactful?”

Accountants and other nondeveloper professionals will increasingly be held accountable for their roles in data collection and management, especially as tools facilitate improved collaboration. Think about it like this: Business owners have access to countless apps that will help them manage everything from their accounting to their HR needs. But as helpful as these apps are on their own, trying to manage them all individually is unwieldy.

The switching costs can be astronomical, which is what makes an integration platform so valuable. However, it’s nearly impossible to find and use one of these platforms as is. Every company’s workflow is different, after all.

Integration platforms such as Workato, IFTT, Zapier, itDuzzit and others offer a cost-effective solution for integrating all of your apps and processes in a way that makes sense to you. This means accountants don’t have to go into the back end and hard code themselves.

Integration Is the FutureWho Will Take the First Step?

No matter how excellent a standalone service is, it won’t survive the age of integration if it doesn’t adapt to the shifting needs of a growing business. However, this creates a catch-22. Software companies know that integration leads to better customer retention, so of course they want to be proactive in partner integrations.

But most are simply not in the business of integration, yet integration presents both a challenge and an opportunity for tech companies across the board. They may need to build integrations to stay competitive, even though that’s not their core business.

Accountants in particular have a real opportunity to make an impression with digital plumbing. The Pareto Principle tells us that we often spend 80 percent of our time producing data and only 20 percent of our time reviewing it. We’re trying to flip that equation to better serve our clients.

By setting up these systems and perfecting different recipes, you’re at the forefront of a movement to improve your industry. You’re making clients happier and setting new best practice standards in your field.

And that is the moral of this story: Accounting folks need to put on their technologist hats and think about how their roles are a part of the discourse on handling data. When some accountants first hear the term “digital plumbing,” they think it dehumanizes their jobs.

But having a great data management and workflow process simply allows humans to interact more effectively with technology. Implementing a digital plumbing strategy isn’t about removing people-to-people interactions; it’s about solving this last-mile problem.

The original post appeared on the Sleeter Group blog. AccountingWEB and Accountex have partnered to bring you this content as we share a belief in the furtherment of the profession through greater insights.​

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