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App profileration is slowing down practice innovation
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How App Fatigue Can Hold Back Practice Innovation

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Will app fatigue drive accountants back to integrated systems? Early Adopters Hub Founder Yohan Trougouboff seeks advice from early adopters on how this phenomenon is affecting application choices.

Jan 18th 2022
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One of the biggest challenges facing accountants in 2022 is the sheer number of the technology decisions they are required to make at an ever-increasing pace.

With around 1,000 apps in the QuickBooks Online app store and even more on the Xero marketplace, keeping up with the latest accounting software is causing problems for practitioners who don’t have the skills to cope with this kind of work.  The biggest downside users face in the accounting app ecosystems is the risk that data will get stuck in silos that prevent effective data flows. “Integration” is often more of a marketing slogan than a sign of true, two-way data exchanges. 

For many, it seems once you have made your tech picks, you're expected to have a computer science degree to make the apps work together seamlessly. Getting caught up in the mechanics of app integration is an inevitable side-effect of seeking out the best solutions for any situation and connecting them into internal processes and the underlying core accounting engine.

If the best-of-breed approach is causing more issues than it solves, does this open the door to more integrated solutions, either from the big cloud accounting platforms or more specialist all-in-one enterprise software providers like Sage Intacct or Microsoft Dynamics? 

We asked a group of industry innovators and early adopters for their thoughts on the dilemmas involved in building a best in class tech stack. We hope their advice will help prepare you for your continuing app quest.

App Fatigue

Accountant-app developer Paul Murray of Murray Business Solutions in Adelaide, South Australia, describes the situation Down Under: "In Australia we're feeling app fatigue, where there's just so much stuff out there and no one has the mental capacity to go and evaluate,” he said.

In many cases, he admits that some of the stuff accountants have tested has failed to pass muster. “I don't mean necessarily the software's crap, it's more around the integration piece, [which is] not where it needs to be.”

Integration issues and the associated app fatigue tends to be more acute for fast-growing and larger firms, according to John Toon from Beever and Struthers in the UK. “The bigger the practice, the more time it takes,” he said. 

“Although [many of these apps] have an API they don't necessarily build integrations into other suites because they don't really know where to go. So we have to build some of those integrations. That in itself is pretty challenging, so that's an exciting capability to bring in-house, bringing that skill of software expertise that we would never typically have had.”

The practicalities of remote working during the pandemic really ramped up demands on in-house technologists, who had to build new control and co-ordination processes around tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom.

Consistent User Dxperience

Rachel Fisch, CPB, Chief Global Development Officer at Arizona-based High Rock Accounting, offered a perspective from a fast-growing practice. High Rock has grown its team from 35 to 70 in a short amount of time. When you bring on a new employee, she explained, “You need to teach them eight different tools from end to end - only on the practice side." 

High Rock standardised on Microsoft Dynamics as its core system to streamline processes and reduce app fragmentation. Everything the practice needs is built around Dynamics, with in-house integrations to a few best in class apps. 

“It's kind of the balance between wanting a single feel platform from engagement to accounts preparation as well as along the way plugging in some of the best-in-class tools,” explained Fisch.

High Rock puts a lot of emphasis on what the experience feels like for clients and staff, she added. “Our aim is to have a consolidated experience. but it's still using the right tools behind the scenes to deliver that.” 

Don’t Run Before You Can Walk

Graeme Tennick, who was hailed as the UK’s Digital Accountant of the Year in 2020, remains concerned that the growing dominance of the accounting platforms is putting a brake on best-in-class innovations. “You've got to be a little bit careful,” he advised. 

“We need to slow it down a little bit because I think we're missing too many opportunities to have better discussions with clients on the information we’ve had for years. We need to take a breath, take a step back and then build out the data from there.”

Tennick has been using a new app called Hindsight to surface the most relevant data focus the client’s attention on where they can make the most impact. 

What’s the Solution?

Many of the early adopter accountants who contributed to this analysis think the big platform developers need to pay more attention to their accountant partners. Intuit and Xero have been leading too much of the progress within the industry when accountants are better positioned to dictate what technology solutions the profession is going to need to face the future.

The consensus is that the platforms are currently too focused on internal politics as disrupters become incumbents and too far removed from the user to bring meaningful change.

In Australia, Paul Murray is lobbying the big platform developers like Xero and QuickBooks to devote more effort to developing better data exchange standards for their interfaces, and even data aggregation centers to pool information that customers can plug into. But that's not likely to happen any time soon, he admitted.

But accounting's global innovators are happy to take a risk and experiment with different approaches to that challenge - whether going for an integrated platform approach like High Rock Accounting, or opting for the best-in-class path that other pioneers are exploring. Who will come out the winner is yet to be seen. But what is guaranteed is a considerable competitive advantage for those who get it right. 

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