To provide assistance to the consulting profession, accountants and businesses alike, in 2016 Accountex launched the Meridian in Technology Awards. Accountex enlisted an esteemed panel of judges who are respected for their thought leadership in accounting technology to review the top solutions on the market. There were four award categories:
- Best User Interface
- Outstanding Partner Program
- Blue Ocean App
- The App You SHOULD be Using (to help bring awareness to newer solutions on the market)
Why the Meridian Awards?
Technology is a wonderful thing. It not only creates convenience in our day-to-day lives but also allows us to grow as individuals and in business. Technology keeps our companies evolving and provides tools to easily interact with our network, perform complex tasks, automate previously tedious workflow—the list goes on and on.
The challenge is that there are so many technology solutions out there (currently over 1.2 million apps just on the Apple App Store—and as many as 60,000 launch each month). How are we supposed to keep up? Have you checked out the Accountex Accounting Technology Ecosystem? It grows every month with new solutions that enter the market for business operations that revolve around or integrate with the accounting function.
The good news is that with the advent of Cloud technology, and a focus by the Millennial generation, the cost of these new solutions is constantly being reduced, making them more accessible to small businesses to utilize. Once only available to enterprise corporations, the playing field is much more level today.
What follows is a breakdown of the different award categories, the types of technology that were chosen, and some insights into who should be using them. These awards are highlighting the best of the best for 2016 in order to provide some clarity in the massive marketplace of apps so that you can focus on what technology your business should consider for 2017.
Best User Interface
In order to ensure high adoption of a solution within an organization, it is crucial that the software have a user-friendly interface. The interface is the primary feature that the end user will either love or hate. The user interface needs to be clean and have a universal workflow. The panel of judges reviewed dozens of software solutions to examine ease of use, beauty, design, responsiveness, and speed. The winner of the Best User Interface Meridian Award for 2016 was Receipt Bank.
Receipt Bank deploys an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology that automates data entry of receipts into a business’ accounting software. The solution is great not only for accounting firms that have high volumes of transactions to reconcile, but also for businesses that deal with receipts from employees and/or owners. Receipt Bank utilizes data extraction modules that when applied to a company’s data file easily recognize key words for searching and filing. The accuracy of the OCR technology is what sets the app apart on top of compressing hours of manual data entry into a matter of minutes through software automation.
Receipt Bank won the Best User Interface Award largely due to their advantageous smart device functionality. They have integrated the app to allow users to work from virtually any mobile phone or tablet by taking a photo of the receipt and sending it through to the application to be processed. Many expense management apps have this functionality but lack the OCR component. Many also lack integration to multiple accounting software suites or with older devices.
I asked Receipt Bank CEO Alexis Prenn about their approach to interface design and you can see from his response that the winning strategy is to be customer-centric:
“Client experience is now the key differentiator in the cloud accounting market. That’s why we focused on building an interface that allows our accounting partners to focus on their clients rather than software.”
When evaluating a solution provider, take a test drive before you invest in the technology. Make sure that the user interface will be easy to use for your staff and clients. If it is not then adoption will be low and it will have been a waste of both time and money.
Outstanding Partner Program
The category for Outstanding Partner Program was chosen specifically for accounting professionals. These professionals are often looked at as a channel partner, as accountants are the #1 trusted advisor for businesses when it comes to solutions that should be implemented. App developers therefore need to create a win-win partner program that not only compensates but also provides tools and resources to the advisors. The Meridian Award panel of judges evaluated not only the comp plan, but also—more importantly—the ease of submitting referrals, the creativeness of spiffs, marketing tools provided, training available, and requirements for participation.
The winner of the 2016 Outstanding Partner Program Meridian Award is Expensify. What makes their channel partner program so great?
- Series of 6 online training courses
- Expensify approved badge
- Co-branded marketing materials
- No costs associated with participation or training
- Discount for the firm on Expensify
- Performance-based tiers of discounts
- Compensation ranges between 15% and 30% based on number of monthly active users
- Dedicated support
- First release access to beta programs
- All partners at Silver level (100 users or more) received an all expense paid trip to ExpensiCon in Hawaii
While partner programs may not be a high priority for your business, if you are a consultant or accountant that regularly recommends technology solutions to clients, finding one that values the relationship and does all it can to foster the success of your business is key.
Blue Ocean App
The Blue Ocean App Award is created to recognize innovation. A product that is like no other and has really stepped outside the standard market boundaries in order to either create a new market demand or answer a problem that had not yet been tackled. Those solution providers creating blue oceans, rather than copying what others do in red oceans.
The judges of the Meridian Awards designated Rivio as the winner of the Blue Ocean App for solving a problem that had not previously been fully realized. In the past, only public companies had access to a dedicated financial statement clearinghouse that lenders and investors could access to authenticate information. Liability was increased for CPA firms as well as banks, as there was no solution that handled the process while alleviating risk. Rivio, a document clearing house, verifies information in a secure document repository and solves a previously unidentified problem for the CPA firm, the lenders, and the private business.
The App You SHOULD Be Using
Large corporations with deep pockets for marketing budgets have an easier path to client acquisition. However, there are a lot of cutting-edge solutions in the marketplace that deserve some attention. The App You SHOULD Be Using Award was created to recognize either new solutions to the market or vendors that wouldn’t necessarily get evaluated due to their size. For this award, the panel of judges selected Businest, a business intelligence solution that integrates a coaching module.
There are hundreds of business intelligence applications and dashboard solutions available. The problem for many small to medium sized business owners is that once they receive the data, they don’t know what to do with it. Understanding what your numbers are telling you and what actions should be taken next are key to future success.
Businest® focused on the cash flow of a business and provided insights so business owners could ask better questions and make more informed decisions. When I asked Founder and CEO Rhondalynn Korolak why she created Businest, she explained:
“Businest was born out of my frustration at having to explain and re-explain dashboards and KPIs to my small business clients each month. I learned a universal truth—you can’t sell fruit to people when what they really crave is chocolate.”
Through empowerment of knowledge, Businest was declared an app that your business SHOULD be using.
Evaluating technology solutions can be a daunting task. And staying abreast of the latest and greatest in new solutions on the market is time consuming. One way to sift through the noise quickly is to get referrals, and another is to look for solutions that are award-winning. It is important to note how the award is designated, however.
The Meridians are all evaluated by a distinguished panel who do the work for you. Whichever method you choose to use to find the apps to deploy in your business for 2017, ensure that you will get high adoption by all users and that you understand the terms of your agreement with the vendor. Due diligence checklists are great tools, and if you get lost, refer back to the Ecosystem.