More and more of today’s business leaders have become privy to the value of mining the data produced by their companies. But when that information becomes too overwhelming to handle, they’re left unclogging the mess rather than capitalizing on the data’s profit-driving potential.
That’s where digital plumbing comes into play. By connecting areas of the business that amass crucial information, you can achieve #ZeroDataEntry, boosting your company’s productivity, intelligence, and bottom line.
To some, digital plumbing sounds more like a buzzword than an actionable and advantageous strategy. While the concept might still be in its infancy, those who clean up their accounting now will maximize companywide efficiency, uncover new opportunities, and reap the financial and intrinsic rewards of doing right by their clients.
As an accounting professional, you can become a more dynamic force in your industry through digital plumbing — proactively preparing for the future rather than playing an endless game of data entry catch-up. This also frees up more time to forge personal relationships with clients as opposed to mindlessly crunching numbers all day.
It’s almost like using dial-up versus Wi-Fi. Clearly, the latter is more flexible and liberating. But to leverage digital plumbing as a competitive advantage, you must first find your footing at this intersection of accounting and technology in order to gain an understanding of the value to both you and your clients.
Unlocking the Value of Digital Plumbing
Digital plumbing is more than a fad concept in the world of accounting. It’s a commitment to staying relevant in the future. By jumping headfirst into the expanding waters of accounting technology (what I like to call “AccTech”), you are future-proofing your business today for the businesses of tomorrow. But before taking the plunge, you must recognize its value to the business — and find a way to dip your toe in the water.
Here are a few steps that will help you discover your fiercest competitive advantage:
1) Do your homework. You need to know where to start — and that’s not always easy to figure out. I was introduced to digital plumbing during The Sleeter Group’s Accounting Solutions Conference in 2014. This was at the panel, “An Introduction to Digital Plumbing,” hosted by Brian F. Tankersley, CPA, CITP, who is an instructor for K2 Enterprises.
The concept caught my interest because it’s where technological innovation and the problems that accountants try to solve collide. But that was only the beginning. I’ve since spent the last year unpacking all I learned and cementing it into the foundation of my team.
As part of my process, I chose to take programming classes at General Assembly, a code school in New York, to learn about the way developers think, plan, and execute. This was so I could translate that framework into the work I do as an accounting services provider. Then I wrote about what I’d learned, and I strategized with my team on how we could apply this knowledge to the work we do for our clients.
2) Adopt a developer’s mindset. Most importantly, effective digital plumbers must think like developers. Developers see nearly every problem as solvable — it’s simply a matter of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. You’ll learn what you don’t know later, or you’ll pull in the right resource at the right time. This mentality can serve as a competitive advantage for accounting firms to operate with greater flexibility and adaptability when working in the world of AccTech.
For example, one of our SaaS (software as a service) clients was seeking a way to handle his accounting by integrating his software and the Xero API. He didn’t simply accept the status quo of working with CSV files — instead, he aimed for a more seamless integration of sales data from his platform in Xero, which would save him time and money.
His accounting can now be completed more efficiently because the data doesn’t need to be manually entered. And now that he has Xero integration, he can offer that to his customers, too!
I also recently learned about agile project management versus the traditional waterfall method. This idea of testing ideas, executing project fragments over time, and releasing small updates allows software companies to be more responsive to customer needs. If your firm forays into the world of digital plumbing, you’re also taking a more agile approach and achieving the level of responsiveness you need to effectively grow. The ideas translate seamlessly.
3) Be prepared to tackle adoption challenges. As with any new concept, adoption issues will inevitably arise. As you introduce digital plumbing, you’ll have to help people understand why you’re embracing it. It’s not simply a fad. It’s the way of the future — and your surest shot at staying relevant.
4) Learn the emerging language of business. Business thrives online. That’s why more company leaders have identified the need to examine how their companies exist online and adopted strategies based on optimizing customer interactions through tech, such as web applications. Tapping into a coder’s mindset will help you create a website that meets the standards of future clients.
I also imagine a future where more customers will seek ways to make their general ledger software speak to their website. This is especially true for our SaaS clients, who house their customer data in systems that could be integrated with platforms like Xero via APIs.
Speaking the same language delivers a twofold advantage. It equips you to interact with customers online in a more dynamic way, first by integrating your service experience with through online encounters, and second by adding value through sharing your intelligence around how other aspects of their business coincide with accounting.
5) Ruminate on the business goals. When it comes to digital plumbing, you can’t speak intelligently about the flow of data from one point to another without understanding the various platforms in that ecosystem — what data lives there and where the bottlenecks lie. But you also need to know what the business owner is trying to achieve and the value of that data relative to the decisions he must make.
You will provide the most value by offering insight into how business owners can improve their accounting systems to make more informed decisions faster. To be a successful digital plumber, you must be willing to talk about sales, marketing, customer service, operations, and HR just as much as about finance and accounting. Future-proofing you and your clients’ businesses requires you to see the forest and the trees.
6) Take the long view. Adopting digital plumbing won’t be a competitive advantage for those looking to sell their firm in the short term. However, if exiting is part of your strategy as an accountant, you do still need to consider what your future customer will be looking for. Considering the needs of the accountant of the future will help you take steps now to enhance the salability of your book of business when the time comes to sell.
In the business world, accounting isn’t an industry synonymous with innovation — a misconception that has stifled too many companies from reaching their full potential. But the future is now. Take a role in shaping more proactive and profitable accounting practices, or resign yourself to following the lead of others who will. Your clients, the future workforce, and the well-being of accounting professionals across the world depend on it.