From XU Magazine, 
Issue 25

Q&A: Unlocking the Door to Business Success with Live Data

From internal business processes to customer experience, access to actionable and relevant data can be the difference between winning and losing for accountancy firms. However, making the change to ensure real-time data is available and utilised effectively can feel like a big leap for many businesses. We spoke to Will Farnell, founder of accountancy firm Farnell Clarke and Simon Chapman, Head of Solution Engineering at business management software provider Scoro, to find out more about the need for real-time data, the challenges facing accountancy firms in implementing it, and the future-proofing value it brings.
Simon Chapman, Head Of Solution Engineering, Scoro
Simon Chapman has over 20 years experience working at KPMG, Salesforce, SugarCRM, and Acquia with international organisations specialising in CRM, digital transformation, and business process management. He leads the Solution Engineering team at Scoro delivering high-value solutions across many verticals, specialising in creative agencies, education, government, and accountancy.
Will Farnell is the founder and a director of Farnell Clarke Ltd, an innovative and pioneering accounting firm based in East Anglia and London, UK offering a fresh approach to SME accountancy and business advisory services. Farnell Clarke was one of the first firms globally to fully adopt cloud accounting technology back in 2009 and remains one of the most innovative firms in the UK.

XU: What challenges do accountancy firms face in getting access to real-time data?

WF: Most accountancy firms don’t yet have systems and processes designed to deliver real-time data, which is often down to mindset. Accountants’ established working practices are largely backward looking, with records often collected six months after year end meaning the information within them is up to 18 months old and useless for informing business decisions.

Accountancy firms must realise we can now access data to help businesses make decisions with some degree of certainty. They must shift not only their own mindset but that of their clients, encouraging them to provide information in a timely manner to turn it into meaningful insight. They also need the right technology in place to support this.

SC: One challenge accountancy firms face is achieving a single source of truth as most struggle with data held in multiple systems and spreadsheets. As well as using tools that deliver better quality data they must also rationalise systems and integrate tools to bring together multiple data points and look for trends. While it’s important for data to be timely this isn’t the only consideration. Data also needs to be actionable, especially in these challenging times.

XU: How does real-time data reflect the quality of data accountants should have access to?

WF: In reality, genuine real-time financial data is overly ambitious. We can’t present information when money is spent, but we can present it the next day. This is as close as it gets to real time and we call it ‘live’ data. Live data allows accountants and clients to make decisions based on insight rather than gut instinct, and to validate decisions with powerful, factual information. Objectives such as ‘value-add’ and ‘trusted advisor’ are achievable through access to quality, timely data. And, to qualify as quality and timely data that can make a real difference to businesses, the data needs to be less than seven days old.

SC: Timely data can be represented in dashboards that enable businesses to see what they couldn’t previously see and produce reports that allow users to identify patterns of behaviour and take action. This live data enables businesses to synchronise with productivity solutions from the likes of Google and Microsoft. As a result they can integrate with tools they are already familiar with and truly understand what’s happening with their business.

XU: How can companies ensure they have good quality data that powers their dashboards and reports?

WF: Dashboards and reports are a new concept for most accountants. Until recently we didn’t have accurate enough data to inform dashboards for business decision making. Even my firm, which I’d consider forward-thinking in this area, has only developed a single source of truth in the last few years. For those beginning to use data to power dashboards, the role of the individual accountant is key. It’s down to them to ensure bookkeeping data is well managed, and is of sufficient quality to feed these new outputs.

SC: The key to ensuring quality is good data governance, which must be embedded as part of the capture and management process. First, companies should do an audit to understand what data sources they have access to. Next they must determine which pieces of data are mandatory to get the quality required for reporting and dashboards. As part of this they must understand what KPIs they want and what success looks like. Data management is imperative and companies mustn’t go into it aimlessly. Garbage in equals garbage out, and if poor data goes in, with a lack of data governance and understanding of expectations, companies will get very little out.

XU: How can companies ensure they have good quality data that powers their dashboards and reports?

WF: Dashboards and reports are a new concept for most accountants. Until recently we didn’t have accurate enough data to inform dashboards for business decision making. Even my firm, which I’d consider forward-thinking in this area, has only developed a single source of truth in the last few years. For those beginning to use data to power dashboards, the role of the individual accountant is key. It’s down to them to ensure bookkeeping data is well managed, and is of sufficient quality to feed these new outputs.

SC: The key to ensuring quality is good data governance, which must be embedded as part of the capture and management process. First, companies should do an audit to understand what data sources they have access to. Next they must determine which pieces of data are mandatory to get the quality required for reporting and dashboards. As part of this they must understand what KPIs they want and what success looks like. Data management is imperative and companies mustn’t go into it aimlessly. Garbage in equals garbage out, and if poor data goes in, with a lack of data governance and understanding of expectations, companies will get very little out.

XU: What are the commonalities you see in accountants getting wrong with the management of data/collection of data?

WF: Accountants must realise collecting and presenting real-time data relates directly to the client experience, which is fundamental in the age of Amazon and high expectations. There’s a direct correlation between regularly communicating data and delivering better experiences for clients, so it’s important for accountants to shift their mindset and recognise these connections.  

SC: In my experience accountants fall into two types. There are those that record what is needed immediately, without thinking what might be needed in the future, resulting in insufficient data. Then there are those that record too much information and ask too many mandatory questions, discouraging adoption of any solution. A trade-off between what is needed and what is realistic will encourage and foster adoption and produce quality, actionable data.

XU: From the first hello to the final invoice, how do businesses future proof through integrations their ability to see ahead?

WF: Each touchpoint throughout a client’s lifetime is critical. People won’t wait three days for the answer to a question when they can find it elsewhere. From the point of onboarding a client through the entire journey, data and technology are vital to building and maintaining relationships. They allow businesses to make good decisions based on up-to-date, accurate information. If businesses get this right there shouldn’t need to be a final invoice.

SC: They must start with the data they have and decide what they need going forward. They can then examine existing workflows for areas to optimise, for instance where manual data entry can be replaced with automation or integration. Furthermore they can look at client liaison and ensure consistency in how clients are being engaged with. Finally, they can tie this into setting realistic goals that can be measured and managed and represent continuous improvement.

XU: How are businesses doing things differently, by using new tools and new solutions to deal with significant milestones in the calendar year?

WF: The majority of accountancy businesses aren’t yet doing this which creates a huge opportunity for those that are. We’re still in the early adopter phase and most people don’t realise this tech is available. Any small business can now build a technology stack to deliver the same as a traditional ERP via an SaaS subscription. Those that do grasp this opportunity have a huge competitive advantage.

SC: While accountancy firms may not be fully adopting technology solutions they are looking for advice around metrics, tools and best practice to drive businesses forward and deliver growth during challenging times. As well as clear and defined processes, they want data that is pushed through dashboards and reports rather than pulled. Accountants need pushed data to tell them what they don’t know, in as near to real time as possible.  

Why leave it there?

To find out more about Scoro

Straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter for updates as they happen
We hate spam too. We NEVER sell our mailing list.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.