Easily the stand-out technology trend within the accountancy sector during 2019 has been the continued emergence, or traction, of the cloud.
More and more practices have been waking up to the business benefits that working in a cloud-based environment offers — and best of all, it’s not just the largest firms that are embracing cloud technology but small and medium-sized accountants, too.
One of the main reasons accountancy firms have been turning to the cloud in ever greater numbers is the fact it allows staff to work remotely, a growing trend across all sectors of the UK economy.
Today’s workplace is much more structured around work/life balance and the cloud enables staff to access key client data securely from anywhere — their homes, the local Starbucks, on the train and overseas.
The added bonus, of course, is that migration to the cloud enables practices to cut costs through reduced office space.
But flexibility is only one reason why accountants are embracing the cloud. The other, less well known reason, is the ability of companies operating in the cloud to gain unprecedented insights from the vast lakes of data that form there when they migrate across.
In plain English, when data is introduced into a genuine cloud environment — within Microsoft Azure, for example — businesses can do things with it that they have simply never been able to do before. Best of all, because it is in the cloud, the data they are looking at is non-siloed, often for the first time, which enables insights on a whole new level.
The year 2019, with a doubt, was the year more and more accountants started to make use of the self-service analytical and business intelligence (BI) tools that are available within genuine cloud environments.
These tools, often powered by AI, can effortlessly trawl the vast lakes of practices’ data in the cloud, drawing insights and intelligence out of every possible form of content, from standard word documents, spreadsheets and PDFs to jpegs and other media.
Everything becomes accessible in a way it never was before, providing accountants that harness this technology with a powerful competitive advantage. For example, the data being analysed can offer accountants insights into:
- The areas of their practice that are the most profitable
- The most profitable client demographics
- Client activity patterns that they can set out to accommodate and pre-empt
- Emerging trends that they can quickly act on and monetise
- Areas of their business where they could immediately cut costs
- Internal compliance, e.g. regular gender pay gap analyses
Best of all, this intel can be relayed back to management through simple or interactive visuals and requires zero knowledge of code, AI, fuzzy logic and other mind-bogglingly arcane software. It’s ultra-intuitive and can be used by anyone that an accountancy firm chooses to give the relevant permissions to.
What we have also seen in 2019 is more and more accountants begin to understand that access to this kind of BI doesn’t require significant capex and investment. The reality, accountants are increasingly grasping, is that this intel can be accessed for a surprisingly low cost. Better still, they only need to pay for the BI packages that work for them at any particular time.
All in all, if 2019 was the Year of the Cloud, the year accountants started to migrate to the cloud in earnest and dip their toes into the data lake, then 2020 is set to be the year when they go into the lake up to their waists. 2020 will be the year accountants start to understand that the lake can offer business insights that can be truly transformative. 2020 will be the Year of the Lake.