Accounting innovation in Australia with Xero

Last year I visited Sydney, this year it was Melbourne and as part of the gig I dropped in on Xero. It was a tremendous couple of hours that provided some jaw dropping moments.

In the above video, I spliced together some highlights from the recording session that provides some context to what is happening in the profession ‘down under.’ Key points to note:

  • Professional businesses that are willing to make transformational change experience some pain in order to develop a new culture of customer service that is cloud centric.
  • Benchmarking against industry norms is happening.
  • Recent growth for one practice was 40 percent in eight months. That mirrors what I saw from talking to The WOW Company where they are talking 50 percent growth. OK – these are only two data points but at opposite ends of the world. A trend in the making?
  • Gen Y/Millenials coming into the profession do not want to be number crunchers. They want to be business analysts and advisors that have direct client contact. Accounting has become social!
  • Professional accounting can be fun. Seriously!
  • Social tools can and do help growth. Although it is not part of this cut, one practitioner who started from zero two plus years ago reckons he gets 80 percent of referrals via Twitter.
  • Being global is a reality. One practitioner talks about servicing the needs of customers based outside Australia but with local needs.

Finally…I was treated to a flat white coffee made by Chris Ridd, managing director Xero Australia. When I asked – ‘So you know how to drive a coffee machine eh?’ The unsurprising answer was: ‘All our staff are given a day’s training as baristas.’ How cool is that?

Bonus points: here is a video I recorded with Chris, talking about the explosive growth Xero Australia has seen in the last year. They’ve gone from 16,000 to 40,000 customers in a year.

How telcos rape the little guy

powwownow_1Imagine my surprise this morning when I found that my Spanish cell phone was blocked. When this happens with Vodafone Spain, it doesn’t matter what number you try to call, you get a recorded message telling you that you’ve reached the limit (of whatever) and need to fix the problem. It has never happened before so I was genuinely puzzled.

I am a BIG consumer of telco services with phones for the UK, US and Spain. At one time I also had a phone for Australia. I confidently expect my monthly telco charges to be in nose bleed territory. It goes with the turf. Even so and with a flawless track record of payment I could not understand what had happened. Three failed calls, each lasting 15 minutes, five aborted attempts to access my online account and I was still no wiser.

When I finally managed to get through I was told I had exceeded my international calling quota. WTF?

I’ve almost exclusively gone over to using Powwownow for those calls since the telcos appear to have crippled VoIP traffic, rendering Skype almost useless. According to the blurbs (see illustration at the top of the page), I should be charged around €4/hour for those calls or €0.067 per minute. But…in the small print they do say this might not be the actual cost. Indeed it is not.

Vodafone Spain, in common with the other cartel phone operators treats 902 (and 901) numbers as ‘special.’ These are charged at a whopping powwownow-3€0.48 per minute (see the illustration to the left) if called from a mobile device. My understanding is the cost falls dramatically if you call from a fixed line but in common with many other people, I don’t have access to a fixed line.  According to Just Landed, these ‘special’ numbers cost €0.36 per minute.

From what I can discover, 901 and 902 numbers are mostly used for ‘customer hotlines.’ At those prices, who would use them?

One interpretation is that I am an idiot for not realising that I’d end up getting shafted by a telco. Some colleagues think this is the new normal. Anyway, lessons learned, even if somewhat painful. What’s going on?

The telcos are under enormous pressure. In countries that have been economically damaged by the recession and rising unemployment, revenues and profit are down dramatically. We’re talking double digits. Rather than take an intelligent view about how to motivate us to use more services, the telcos simply charge as much as they feel they can get away with for a service that is steadily declining in quality.

For example, when I went to upgrade my phone, I found that my unlimited internet access bandwidth has disappeared even though I am happy to pay more for the monthly tariff. A miserly 500MB per month for €45 when I was getting unlimited for €9 per month with the old phone. With data rich services mushrooming around us, this kind of predatory practice is totally unacceptable.

In the UK, I managed to get some good sense out of Carphone Warehouse and am now on a monthly plan that gives me that all important unlimited data plan at £23/month. I am getting what I need and it is hassle free. In the US, I have a great service from Virgin Mobile and at exceptional value for money – $25/month. So why not in Spain?

What is truly worrisome is that some of the highest charges in the world are being foisted upon people who live and/or work in some of the worst performing economies or economies where the poor are indescribably poor.

Make sense to you?

I’ll be at Mobile World Congress later this month. You can be sure I will be bitching and moaning about it there to anyone willing to listen.

Championing the little guy

via AppExchange

via AppExchange

When AccMan was alive as in regularly being updated, I had a thing for the smaller vendors and especially those making a difference albeit in a specific niche area: the wonderful and sometimes arcane area of professional accounting services.

In conversation with a a colleague this morning, he made the astute observation that while we may devote a lot of time to the large enterprise vendors, they too will, at some stage, need to take notice of the smaller players. As the ecosystem of business partners expands over time and across multiple industries, it is unrealistic to assume that the larger brands and supply chain masters can continue to impose expensive integrations when we see the smaller vendors already partnering left and right for a smorgasbord of services that complement their core offerings.

At one time I felt that the aggregated cost of using all these services would blow up many vendors’ growth aspirations. I was wrong in many instances. While it is true that functionality today might well be subsumed into larger offerings, (my oh my, see how Salesforce.com has expanded its portfolio over time,) I see a surprisingly large number of small businesses more than happy to use a collection of applications rather than pining for the one stop shop.

While it would be wonderful to see those same small vendors acting as platform providers in the manner of Force.com, the infrastructure costs alone would quickly bury them. Instead, I sense that we will see more innovation, more providers, more cool stuff that makes life easier, and, ultimately more profitable for everyone.

Recommendations for buyers

  1. Don’t be afraid of the aggregated cost. You buy into services as the functionality makes sense and adds value.
  2. The right integrations can make a big difference to your business. Getting sales information and debtor data on a single screen on your mobile device for instance allows you to improve collections.
  3. Look for integrations that reduce the amount of screen switching. Especially important in mobile applications.
  4. Look for vendors that offer a broad array of partner solutions.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask a vendor if they have firm plans to offer an integration to your favourite service. The golden rule applies: no ask, no get but if enough buyers ask then vendors will provide the integrations you need.
  6. Consider whether a service like Zapier might help where there isn’t a native integration. I’ve used it and while OK, you do need to understand something about what you can – and crucially cannot – do.