A strong staff of “numbers people” used to be the key ingredient for a successful business. Today, however, accountants and bookkeepers are nothing without a strong technological ecosystem. In fact, as Doug Sleeter recently suggested at the 2015 New York Accounting Show & Conference, technologists are leading our industry — not accountants.
Our increasingly tech-savvy world is driving companies’ success in unprecedented ways. That’s why engaging in the act of digital plumbing is a truly essential modern business function.
Though it may seem like a funny term, “digital plumbing” is actually a perfect descriptor for what I’m talking about. Just as you don’t need to know how to build a wrench to fix a pipe, business leaders don’t need to know how to build software to find the right tools and properly incorporate them into their businesses.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work with intelligent developers to build more complex integrations. But there are other options available for small business owners, and they fall under the category of iPaaS, or Integration Platforms as a Service (think SaaS, only for integration).
The emergence of iPaaS options — like Zapier and itDuzzit — has simplified technological integration to the point that pretty much anyone can do it. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be roadblocks along the way.
Here are some of the challenges you may face, along with my advice for overcoming them:
- Where do I start? Beginning your search for digital tools can be overwhelming, and integration options are abundant. Do you want your Google Drive data to flow to Evernote? Do you want your Bill.com account to connect with Xero?
Start by charting your business process, identifying where the data/admin bottlenecks occur. Once you’ve identified these areas, envision what you’d like to see instead. Then, research the different software choices available. If you want to work backwards a bit, check out each iPaaS option’s list of supported applications. The challenge is finding a system that works with what you’re already doing so you can throw the least amount of change into your operations.
Once you’ve narrowed your options, you have some decisions to make. Are you having trouble making those decisions, or do you want someone else to make them for you? Hiring a professional to help sort everything out is the best option — you have to constantly evaluate your opportunity costs as an entrepreneur. Firms like SUM Innovation can help you conduct accounting technology assessments; you can also check out The Sleeter Group’s Awesome Apps if you’re interested in a vetted list of accounting technology solutions.
- How do I keep up? Keeping up with the right technology is tough. New options pop up every day, and standards are constantly in flux. How do you make sure today’s best decision is the right one for tomorrow?
Unfortunately, that’s the predicament with technology: It’s always changing, hopefully for the better. Your best plan is to give yourself room to fail and experiment with new techniques. Create an “innovation lab” of sorts, adopting a trial-by-error approach.
- Why should I commit? Commitment is a scary concept — especially when it comes to selecting “unproven” tech options to help run your business. Nonetheless, here’s some great news for those cautious about adopting new tech: Technology providers have a vested interest in supporting their customer base. If you commit to a company and it scales its operation, your business will likely scale alongside it.
Our experiences with technology startups have shown that they appreciate their customers to the degree that they’re constantly adapting to meet customers’ needs. Don’t simply look at the platform to assess whether it solves all your problems today; look at the vision behind the technology to determine whether the company has your company’s long-term interests in mind.
- How do I stay safe? Maintaining digital security is an ongoing struggle. Every single company in the world, regardless of its size, runs the risk of suffering a breach. Make sure you evaluate the unique risks posed to your business, and be vigilant in your efforts to use smart, well-tested technology to create ample layers of control.
There’s fear surrounding not knowing exactly what’s happening with your company’s data. This can be especially frightening when you consider the fact that no one is too big to be impacted — and the smaller folks simply don’t have the budgets for the level of security that we presume banks and corporations have.
Evaluate the technology providers’ position on security to the best of your ability. Get a second opinion from an IT security specialist, and fold your attorney and insurance broker into the conversation at some point. Many technology providers include fine print about different circumstances, so be aware of your risks and potential liability. Develop a specific information security plan that works for your company; remember that you can always hire a third-party security company to help. At the end of the day, however, trust these folks: Technology and data are their business, and you can rest assured knowing they’ve done their homework.
And this brings us back to iPaaS solutions. There are clearly some decisions you need to make in order to transition to a world without data entry. But it’s important to remember that there’s no magic bullet for digital plumbing. The business and technological worlds are far too volatile.
Rather than being a day late and a dollar short, stay on top of current trends and remain flexible. Develop relationships with diverse groups of entrepreneurs and technologists, and surround yourself with new ideas and new information daily. This type of environment will nurture your own creativity and innovation and help you understand your options in the ever-evolving accounting ecosystem.
You don’t need to be a software developer to fully embrace and understand technology providers. These companies are collectively changing the way we do business. And with the right mindset, any business leader can be a successful digital plumber.
About the author
Dancer-turned-accountant Mathew Heggem is CEO of SUM Innovation, a company 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 his free time, he likes to take coding courses at General Assembly and is working toward becoming a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.