Practice Management Tech Trends

How Digital Plumbing Helps Your Client’s Business

Written by Mathew Heggem

If you’re ready to incorporate digital plumbing into your accounting firm’s practice, you have to accept that Digital Plumbingchange is not only inevitable for your clients, it’s also inevitable for you. Our industry is evolving rapidly, as tech entrepreneurs find new ways to solve businesses’ many challenges, from crushing data entry to automating compliance.

Mathew Heggem will be presenting the sessions, Digital Plumbing: The Pipeline to “Future Proofing” Your Business, and Training the Next Generation of Accountants, at Accountex 2016.

As accounting professionals advising on digital plumbing, we need to be continuously future-proofing our clients’ businesses.

Recently, our accounting technology and training specialist—a position we created in response to Intuit’s “Firm of the Future” initiative, a recurring theme of Accountex and industry publications—came to me with a client situation. One of our Xero clients was using a Webhook integration between Xero and Salesforce and needed to make a change to the system because its customer wanted to modify the way data was moving through the accounting ecosystem.

I became curious about this conundrum. I recognize that I still don’t have the whole picture of what’s going on here—even with my focus on digital plumbing and tools like Workato and Zapier, which I believe really do help to crack this #ZeroDataEntry code. As I take stock of my own business and the challenges of building, let’s say, custom apps within Method:CRM (to support certain processes in our sales that are very unique), I still struggle with two topics: APIs and the code that serves as the backbone of this whole ecosystem, as well as this interaction with our client (the question of the Webhook).

However, future-proofing your business is about recognizing this and digging into the context to plow forward anyway.

Prioritizing Process Mapping

I’ll back up in order to explain what I mean: The Webhook seems to be the key that opened the door to #ZeroDataEntry for this client. However, a problem surfaced once several data points needed to be changed. Now, we have to rebuild that connection. Enter a new problem: The issue isn’t that the client has done this. Instead, the problem is that the technology has already changed! Of course, that’s the nature of tech—if it doesn’t evolve, it’s dead.

But as Workato’s CEO notes, “We run our businesses on these apps,” and a critical change can cause extensive problems for your customers’ businesses and processes. As Adam Smith noted, you can’t improve a process without knowing what the process is. Subsequently, you can understand that a change in technology can be frustrating when you’ve built processes around how these systems function.

So I return to this question of Webhooks and, in this case, the integration options that are available via Zapier and Salesforce. When I asked my employee to show me around, what I discovered was that this stuff is complicated to handle if you’re not dedicated to digital plumbing for the long haul (and if you don’t understand how to advise clients on, for example, process mapping).

We’ve determined that this issue is so important for our practices that we need to have a dedicated person assigned to it—someone who can stay on top of changes in tech as it continues to evolve and alter our clients’ business operations.

In-House Imperative

I recently returned from speaking on a panel at my alma mater. Goucher College President José Antonio Bowen, in his speech to incoming freshmen and their parents on the future workforce, indicated that the jobs of tomorrow are being created today and our future workforce will have jobs that don’t currently exist. And he’s certainly not the only one heralding this message.

As I reflect on this idea of the transformation of the workforce, I realize that accounting firms need to figure out a way to more fully embrace technology through its countless iterations. I believe it has become imperative to identify someone in your firm who can become dedicated to tech and can acclimate to the world of development as we continue to explore these—for many of us—uncharted territories.

I know we can outsource some of this development work to other countries. I know we can engage technology partners, as in the case of accounting firms without the in-house resources, and build a successful #AccTech platform that way for our clients.

But in this case, I have the same question as I did back when I started building my own firm: Do I hire employees or work with contractors? Very early on, I decided to hire employees so I could build a culture and create a fuller experience for my customers.

The most important thing I’d like to leave you with is this: Follow your curiosity, and let it lead you in the direction you need to go to create an ecosystem of scalable platforms that can help future-proof your clients’ businesses. The key is to avoid becoming too attached to your processes to keep a business agile throughout its lifespan. Naturally, as a business grows, its processes and systems need to be continuously overhauled.

In this light, embracing digital plumbing as an accounting professional is making a commitment to your firm, the future of your workforce, your industry, and, subsequently, your clients and their future success.


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About the author

Mathew Heggem

Dancer-turned-accountant Mathew Heggem is the CEO and co-founder of SUM Innovation, a New York-based accounting management and consulting firm that assesses, designs, implements, and manages accounting solutions for fast-growth startups, international businesses, established and growing businesses, and nonprofits across the U.S. Mathew is also the founder of the #SUMTech Summit and the #AccTech Cooperative meetup group in New York City, which explores the intersection between accounting, technology, and entrepreneurship. In the spirit of entrepreneurial success, Mathew also recently co-founded Neuland Alliance, a transatlantic consortium of specialists dedicated to serving global entrepreneurs in their U.S. expansion. When he’s not in the office or on the road, he’s in the studio as a choreographer for Left Side Labs. But business doesn’t stop in the boardroom, as Mathew’s dance company is currently building ARTSLAB, a six-month Arts Entrepreneurship Incubator Program focused on educating creative entrepreneurs and bridging the gap between business and the arts.

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