Plumbing is a key component of any well-built establishment. Houses are unlivable without reliable flushing systems, and businesses stagnate when data becomes a tangled, festering mass of numbers. That’s why digital plumbing systems like Workato are so valuable. They keep information flowing across departments and automate essential processes across your entire business — from sales to accounting.
Once you’ve implemented a digital plumbing platform for your clients, you may be tempted to kick back and bask in the benefits of automation. And why shouldn’t you? Rather than being mired in disorganized data, you now have the time to add more value to your clients’ businesses. In turn, you’ll be able to make more money, take on new accounts, build out your marketing plan, and even develop your long-term exit strategy — and help your clients to do the same.
When your clients’ companies run more efficiently, you can afford to focus on your loved ones and your personal well-being. But you can’t get too complacent. Automation does save you considerable time when it comes to data entry and management, but digital plumbing isn’t something you can “set and forget.”
Technology changes constantly — as do the people creating it — and you need to keep pace with those shifts.
You’ve Implemented Your System — What Now?
Fortunately, most of the necessary “maintenance” on a digital plumbing system happens behind the scenes and on the product side, so you don’t need to worry about the day-to-day details of all these tech platforms. But it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the processes anyway. Getting to know the developer lingo helps, as does sharing your insights as a prospective or current end user. With platforms like Xero, you can actually have a hand in product development by submitting feature requests. Most accounting technology platforms are more than open to your feedback.
And if you’re ready to truly become a part of the dialogue that aids in the development of any given platform, consider joining one of the many partner programs available to accountants. For those of you seriously considering a focus on digital plumbing in 2016, I recommend looking into the Workato partnership program.
From my recent interview with Vijay Tella — founder and CEO of Workato and recipient of the Awesome App Award at SleeterCon (Accountex in 2016) — I can tell you that this is a product worth recommending to your clients who are seeking a hyper-customized solution to their integration needs. (Stay tuned for next month’s article, where I’ll dive even deeper into this platform.)
At the very least, participate in your vendors’ community forums, read their newsletters and product road maps, and follow them on social media (e.g., @IntuitDev on Twitter). The better versed you are in these companies and their offerings, the more fruitful your interactions will be.
Ultimately, you should be scheduling periodic, in-depth review sessions (perhaps twice a year) to assess whether your data integrations are working as intended. These should involve your vendors and all relevant team members so you can work out any kinks and thoroughly evaluate the system. This will be a great opportunity to not only make sure systems are running smoothly, but to also tweak a few integrations to improve your processes.
Use the following questions to spark insightful review sessions and learn what’s succeeding (and what’s not):
1. Is the technology working? Occasionally, vendors will stop supporting integrations or make changes to their own platforms (more features mean more end points). And don’t forget that developers can make coding errors, resulting in bugs that need to be fixed.
Issues like these cost you and your clients time and money, so designate someone to monitor the platform regularly. He or she will be able to spot this kind of problem fairly easily: Either the integration will simply stop working or the data will fail to transmit from one system to the next. If your client already had a “cloud advocate” — someone who’s shepherding the way toward embracing new technologies — you can add this function to that person’s list of duties.
Make a point to ask your vendors whether there are any developments or changes in their apps that could affect integration, and keep an open dialogue with your clients throughout the year, too. They interact with the digital plumbing ecosystem every day, so they can alert you to any problems or inefficiencies as they crop up. Their input will help you refine the way you use the digital plumbing tools.
This is also a good time to take stock of your clients’ business processes and whether they’ve evolved since they started using well-integrated systems. You don’t want outdated processes to slow your clients’ growth.
Of course, it’s much easier to manage potential crises as they occur, not just during the review periods. Train clients on the documented procedures so they know what to do when they spot leaky data pipes or backed-up systems. Like any good plumbing system, you need to maintain your data flows if you don’t want a messy obstruction in the “pipeline of progress.”
2. Are you getting the right metrics? The goal of digital plumbing is to obtain information that helps your clients make smarter, faster business decisions. If you’re not getting the metrics that enable them to do that, you need to re-evaluate how you’re using the system.
The “right” metrics vary according to your clients’ goals — do they want a revenue increase or a way to maximize their hours out of the office and on a beach? Whatever the desired outcome, you need to measure that. Remember that all of this automation is a means to an end for your clients. You may need to reconfigure your setup if you’re not achieving those ends.
3. Are you providing real value? The greatest challenge digital plumbing creates for accounting companies is that it exposes you to your clients and holds you to a higher service standard. When you can’t hide behind grueling hours of fixing data entry errors and cleaning up clients’ mistakes, you have to find new ways to add value. They’re no longer relying on you solely for technical support, so you really need to get to know them and their businesses and connect on more personal levels. The relationship is no longer purely transactional.
I know some accounting professionals who resent digital plumbing — and perhaps technology in general — because they think it dehumanizes the way we interact with clients. But I think it brings us closer to them. If you use digital plumbing as a time-saving device, you can spend more time “being human” with the people you serve. This shift requires that accountants develop their interpersonal skills as much as their technical ones in order for their businesses to succeed. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a positive for us and for our clients.
Technology exists to make our lives better and easier, which is why digital plumbing should be at the forefront of every accountant’s efficiency strategy. Improved data flow and automation decrease the risk of human error, giving you more time for your clients, your business, and yourself. Rather than distance you from the people you serve, digital plumbing actually helps you establish richer connections with them. You can distinguish your brand through delivery of services and more personal interactions.
That’s why a well-plumbed business is a successful one — and one worth maintaining. Happy plumbing!