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An Argument for Techie Accountants

My one piece of advice for the next generation of accountants right now is, enroll in some Computer Science courses. Learn to code. Learn how to manage a small server farm. Learn APIs, SQL, HTML5, JAVA, etc.

Drop that Poli-sci course right now.

Technicalntant’s best friend nowadays. It should be self-evident as to why. Data. Data. Data.

My first accounting gig was in a tax firm. We had an old mainframe crunching numbers and all the programming was in COBOL. In industry, reports would have all been generating output as text files; but who cares, there’s no ‘export to file’ function anyways.


Actually, that’s a good test. If you want to know whether your current software vendor is investing in the future of their product, look at the file output from your reports. If they come out as text files (you open Excel and each line of output is just one cell), this means the reporting architecture is really, really old.

It’s kind of like when you and your friends one-time go for an afternoon horseback ride. Inevitably, one person gets plunked on the beatest, tired old nag you ever seen. Yeah, technically she still rides but she ain’t even long in the tooth. All the teeth, they fell out.

Consider it the carbon dating of your accounting system.

You see, just because there has been consolidation in the ownership of companies in the enterprise software space does not mean the units have consolidated their products. Most units (purchased or raised) continue to operate independently. Revenues are generated from new sales obviously; but equally important, from a big, juicy installed base of maintenance contracts within the business units. You know that. And it’s fine. The amount of new investment in the product however, would be a corporate management decision from head office. Some products are the equivalent of that tired old nag.

Back to the point on technical skills though. Unlike back in the day, technology is no longer just auxiliary to what we do. It’s central and 100% pervasive. A commenter last week summed it up really well when I talked about the accounting tools:

“Three letters for you bitches, S to the Q to the mofo L.”

Getting a bit more techie will help you appreciate the humor in this quote. It’ll also help you recognize the tired old nag before you saddle up and ride.

In practice, normally we’re simply subject to whatever system happens to be installed. You deal with it, right? And that’s fine too. Recognition goes hand in hand with acceptance.

The reports kick out to Excel in text files; you find the delimiters, execute a ‘text-to-columns’ command, split up what you can and do your reporting. In the past, I’ve also had to occasionally create an Excel formula for pulling out text that’s really buried using the LEFT, RIGHT, functions. Then, I write a macro to automate as much as possible. Poor tired old nag.

Technology and data are just like riding a horse. With the correct instruction, you can get the horse to do what you want. But you’ll always be limited by what the horse is physically able to do.

If you don’t know anything about horses, this analogy might not make much sense at all. Which, I would say, just proves my initial point. Learn your technical skills now while you’re still in school. Leave all the fluffy horsebackriding and philosophy courses to the guys who’ll be serving you coffee after graduation.

In my view, technology skills are just as important for accountants as debits and credits. You may or may not like it, but it’s time to see how the dog food is made.

Enjoy.

Old farm adage: “If you’re going to have livestock,… you’re going to have deadstock.”

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

Credentials for Accountants – Your Wheelbarrow Barrel Needs Tech Tools

Over the last couple months, GC has been profiling various accounting-related credentials. CPA, CFP, CMA, CIA, CFE, CVA, CFA… it’s a veritable alphabet soup of designations and employers are more and more likely to ask for a second helping these days. And you might want to pick up an MBA while you’re at it too. Y’know, in your spare time. In Canada, you can go ahead an//www.cga-canada.org/en-ca/Pages/default.aspx”>CGA, CA, and CBV to the mix as well.

Another day, another designation for yet another self-regulating body.

We’ve all heard of “grades inflation.” Well, in my view, we’re currently subject to “credentials inflation” at a rate that would make a Banana Republic cringe. In contrast, Zimbabwe Ben would likely nod in approval.


Beyond credentials though, there’s another critical piece in the employment puzzle that you would be well advised to consider as you venture into the field. Tools.

What are an accountant’s tools?

I’m not talking about the wheel barrel you’ll need to cart all those credentials to your job interview. I’m talking about the business software that more and more employers want pre-installed on their prospective employees.

At the entry level, it tends to be more of a ‘nice to have’ than a ‘must have’. But more and more, your progressive career path is affected by the type of tools you learn early in your career. There’s just no way to separate accounting and finance from the technology that facilitates accounting and finance work.

In the small business space, this is less of an issue. One small business accounting package is much like another. The “canned” reports (built in) will largely suffice, point and click. Just get yourself a healthy functional skill level with MS Excel and you’re ready to go.

Moving up into the enterprise, it’s a different story. The difference between having experience with Quickbooks versus SAP is akin to the difference between a degree from Eastern Michigan University and Princeton.

Think about that when you are venturing out into the job market for the first time. What are your aspirations? Where do you want your career to take you?

It’s difficult to blame employers for this predilection. Enterprise software is complex, subject to cryptic reporting languages, and training is expensive. The expertise is seldom institutionalized within the enterprise instead residing in the head’s of one or two key people. The “gurus.” Sometimes the expertise just walks right out the front door. It’s just way, way easier for everyone when “the new guy” can hit the ground running.

We may see this sad reality change in time.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, is a key person leading the charge for change. He is an out-spoken advocate of the “consumerization” of enterprise software. In Benioff’s view, enterprise software should be as easy to use as Facebook and we’re seeing this manifest with every iteration of the Salesforce.com platform.

Unfortunately, Salesforce is the exception rather than the rule and the incumbent systems are deeply rooted in business. The technology “stack” as it’s called is built up over time and choices of enterprise systems are traditionally big, capex decisions. Change is rarely proactive and technology is normally kept well beyond the end of its useful life.

The complex enterprise systems will continue to be persistent for sometime to come. So be prepared to factor this into your career calculations. When you’re out there looking for work, ask the question of prospective employers. What systems do you use? Then, research that system to figure out its prevalence in the market: Are they using some niche software product built upon an ancient architecture? Is it a proprietary system that you’ll never see again? Is it a “legacy system”? Is it vertical specific?

Don’t underestimate the importance of these questions. No one has the bandwidth to learn all the tools currently offered. Examine your career aspirations carefully within the context of these technology tools because it can be difficult to backpedal. The tools you learn have just as much bearing on your career as the credentials you chose.

And inflation is a fact of life.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

Cautionary Tales: Enterprise Software Edition

A few weeks ago, I was talking about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. Essentially, CRM should help a company (as Dennis Howlett – business software blogger put it), “sell more stuff.”

I don’t have a problem with that result. We can argue all day long abo really “needed” as opposed to “pushed”. That’s a philosophical debate, indeed, it’s a MORALISTIC debate. In Obama’s address to the USA (re: BP oil sands) he prayed for a “hand to guide us.” Was he talking about the hand of god, or the invisible hand? … But I digress.

My point about CRM was much less lofty. CRM systems are simply about attempting to know your customer. How much data can we collate and analyze in order to maximize our value proposition? Or, if you’re a cynic – how can we, as Homer Simpson would say, “cram one more salty treat into America’s already bloated snack hole?”


Sidenote: Back in the heyday of the SUV craze, there was a great interview on 60 Minutes with some analyst/pundit who described the motivation that seemed to underlie the populating of these beasts. He described it as “reptilian.” The term stuck with me and I find it helpful to think about in around any purchasing decision of consequence. A well executed CRM can create a veritable “Jurassic Park” of suckers if that is what one is so inclined to create. Although, it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be evil.

My point this week though is less about CRM per se and more about what happens when an enterprise software implementation goes awry. A different kind of evil. There have been two big stories recently detailing lawsuits being leveled against firms who had been contracted to install an enterprise system and had allegedly failed to deliver on the contract.

In one case, EDS (now owned by Hewlett Packard) just agreed to pay British Sky Broadcasting $460 million for a failed CRM implementation. This was from a project undertaken in the year 2000 and abandoned two years later. The settlement is four times the value of the budgeted project cost.

In a second case, Marin County, CA is suing Deloitte Consulting for an alleged failure in rolling out an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Marin County is seeking $30 million. Their contention is that Deloitte didn’t have the technical skills on the software in question. That’s an important point. This type of technical skill is of the “use it or lose it” variety.

So, is that the answer? When a software implementation goes awry, you sue everyone? Well, sometimes.

You see, buying an enterprise software system isn’t like buying a vehicle. You can’t just hand the wheel over to your reptilian brain and pray for the invisible hand to hook up financing and you’re on your way.

There’s work involved, normally a third party, that is paid to configure the software and integrate it into your organization’s existing infrastructure. In a complex business model, the process of defining and integrating all the business rules, data flows, and connections can be daunting… sometimes, impossible. Failure, unfortunately, is always an option.

These recent examples deal with alleged failures on the part of the third party implementers, but failures can occur anywhere within “hell’s half-acre.”

I’ve seen examples where it was clearly a management failure to provide project leadership that created an implementation failure. The example I am thinking about resulted in the company taking a $2 million dollar charge then having to start over. When I went to see them, it looked like they were heading right back down the same road. Making the same mistakes. Me? I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Some folks point to Saas products as a way to alleviate these nightmare scenarios. If only it was that easy. Wherever a business has an existing IT architecture, there is the possibility of an integration problem (assuming you want integrated systems which I have to believe that you’ll want). There is another company I can think of who, when I met them, had been working for at least 6 months on an integration with a Saas ERP system and their back office. For a number of reasons, it really just didn’t seem like it was going to work. And the red flag for me was that the CFO and the Director of Finance had vastly different views as to how the project was going.

These are just a couple examples I can name from my own experiences and I’m not even in the software implementation game!

The moral of the story is know the statement of work inside out. Understand the terms of the contract. Technical skills are finite. Be very clear on the desired outcomes.

And beware of the reptilian brain.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

The Technology Productivity Bureau Accounts for All Stakeholders

We all know about getting a credit rating. Whether it’s for a personal credit card, a supply chain vendor authorization, or the much maligned oligarchy who rate public companies and entire nations. Based on alion, a score is developed that (attempts) to capture the inherent risk of a credit failure.

How much could firms benefit from getting a Technology Productivity Rating?

What is the risk of a technology failure?

If an objective ratings agency existed that scored a company’s use of technology, how well would other people score your company? Who is the ‘Greece’ of technology?


To rate technology productivity, the rating has to encompass the entire organization and the way in which technology extends to external stakeholders (customers, suppliers, staff, etc). Optimal productivity from technology doesn’t simply mean newest technology. It’s not just about what technology a company uses that matters. It’s about how the technology is used. I met with a colleague in the technology industry recently who went so far as to say there’s still times when a FAX is the optimal technology for a task. It depends on the potential outcomes and workflows.

To date, I think the focus of technology productivity has been too inwardly focused in companies. Companies say, ‘How can this technology benefit us?’ instead of looking at the workflow effects for external stakeholders too. Granted, most organizations are completely overwhelmed simply by this one-sided approach. But if you look closely at some productivity software, part of the “technology” benefit is actually a workflow transfer to external parties. If I had to rate the technology, the score would decline in the event of workflow transfer being masqueraded as technology.

For example, look at productivity tools around supply chain management and recruitment:

Supply Chain Management
As a means to increase productivity, big companies implement supply chain management systems that effectively transfer the burden for account administration to the vendor companies (sometimes they even charge a fee!). For the implementing company, it is great. All the vendor information is keypunched and filed away into the database for free.

The system integrates with the ERP for invoice approvals all the way to point of payment. The internal technology productivity score is high. For the vendor, every new customer could conceivably mean a similar routine resulting is a productivity loss and therefore would rate the technology lower. A vendor with a lot of customers practically needs a Mechanical Turk just for the data entry!

Seeing these scores could be really beneficial when vendors are choosing what customers to prioritize.

Recruitment
Recruitment technology can be burdensome to external stakeholders while being helpful to internal stakeholders in a similar way. The key to recruitment technology is capturing candidate data to enable filtering and search. Some technology in this field is simply transferring the data entry task to the candidate. Each candidate types out their life story field by field, row by row. From the company standpoint, they see the output of the technology. It is good. From the candidate standpoint, they see a time sink.

Taken in isolation, this candidate time commitment is not a big deal. One candidate typing their qualifications one time in response to one job posting is fine. But what happens when the candidate is applying at a dozen jobs? Two dozen? At what point does the opportunity cost of doing a whole bunch of data entry deter the brightest candidates from these particular employers?

The brightest candidates will apply to the companies that DON’T require a massive typing drill first, selecting away from this less productive technology until it’s unavoidable. The overall technology productivity score would take this into account.

For a company purchasing new technology, understanding the opportunity costs both from your perspective and that of external stakeholders and developing a Technology Productivity Rating may not become a formal process. There is no Technology Productivity Bureau, or least, there isn’t anymore. There was… for a short time… an idea before its time… may it rest in peace.

Perhaps it’s enough to look at it from a more macro-level. Ask yourself, is my business technology liberating for stakeholders or, or are they being repressed? Then, act accordingly.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

Customer Relationship Management – Know Your Customer, Know Yourself

The first rule of business is “know your customer.” So, how do you do that?

This is the question that brings you into the field of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I remember working in a tax firm back in the early 2000s and all client correspondence was hardcopy in the file. Our “CRM system” was rows of filing cabinets.

A sales forecast? rked at a company where the sales forecast was an excel spreadsheet that physically gave me vertigo just looking at it. Updating that thing was like a game of Tetris.


A “real” CRM system consolidates all of your company’s customer interactions and sales activities into one database. It enables sales and marketing to detail the entire sales process from Lead to Close. And now it’s the difference between “knowing your customer” and living in the dark ages.

I only started seeing these systems spring up in mid-sized businesses a few years ago. How much are you guys seeing CRM out there now? Does your CRM system integrate with your other business systems? Or is it more of a Contact Manager?

For example, I have seen an instance where the CRM software operated as its own sphere of information. Then, we had the company financial information as its own separate sphere. To connect the sales pipeline info (from the CRM) to the financial results was a manual task.

I’m throwing it out there because my own experience with CRM in the SMB/SME space is limited to using Salesforce.com. I spoke about them briefly when I introduced Saas and Cloud Computing a few weeks ago. I must sound like a Salesforce salesperson but I’m not. I just found that Salesforce 1) put CRM on the radar for the SME I was working for at the time and 2) was inexpensive and easy to deploy.

The other main Saas CRM play is Sugar CRM. Both Salesforce and Sugar CRM have free versions. A very small business could probably operate on the free version for ever. Most mid-sized businesses could use the free version to test the fit of the product’s process flows before committing to rolling it out throughout the business.

In large enterprise, the CRM is probably big enough to just be called “the system”. Let’s say you are working for a bank or an insurance company. “The system” knows things. Next time you are speaking to a call center representative, ask for a summary of your own history. You might be surprised what details are lurking within the system. These can be simply contact histories or can also incorporate decision-making capabilities (i.e. loan or credit card approvals).

Retailers capitalize on this technology through the use of Loyalty Programs.

The real power behind CRM, for those not currently using this type of software, is the ability to clarify the sales pipeline and to consolidate customer interaction. You can detail right from Cold Call to Close and you can get the analytics to visualize the process too.

We’re right on the cusp of even bigger innovations in this field. Just look at some of the things Google is doing right now with respect to data and data visualizations (Google TrendsGoogle public dataGoogle Analytics). Sentiment analysis is appearing to gain traction as well. To blow all that out into the CRM realm means really powerful insight into customer behavior.

The success or failure of the CRM is linked directly to the quality of data in the system. This is where the “know yourself” bit comes into play. Where you can automate, do so. Trusting a salesperson to voluntarily do data entry is like trusting your road-trip navigation to a poet. Not good. Again, great strides continue to be made here. Between the increasing migration of transactions and activities online, and the tools allowing for Salesforce Automation (SFA), the direct maintenance on this type of system can be minimized.

For those of you unfamiliar with CRM technology, maybe you’re working in smaller companies or companies with a legacy of paper-based CRM, Saas solutions like Salesforce and Sugar CRM are worth checking out. It’s a place to start. And it’s free to start.

We would really like to hear from you on this issue as well. What has your experience been with CRM?

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

Cloudsplitting: Recognizing the Tech and Business Cloud Narratives

Cloud Computing can be an intimidating subject area simply due to the sheer number of articles, blogs, conferences, and information on the matter. My goal in this post is to split the discussion based on the perspective of the writer.

While researching this post on “Cloudsplitting”, I became formally acquainted to the concept of an unreliable narrator:

“a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised.”

The nature of the narrator may be immediately clear or it may be revealed later in the story. Sometimes it is revealed at the very end, at which point you find out your narrator has been totally unreliable! This makes yo story… which you should…. the guy was unreliable.


I think it’s a great concept! The first example that jumps to mind would be Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects (Warning: Swears… Gonzalez sized swears).

I stumbled on the concept, the actual term, thanks to Cloudsplitter, the book. It’s a fictional retelling of Harper’s Ferry from the FICTIONALIZED point of view of John Brown’s son.

The author, Russell Banks, creates new context around the real events through his imagining of what Owen Brown’s views might have been. In this case, John Brown comes off as a lot less crazy than he may have come off otherwise.

(It’s also a hill in upstate NY near Bank’s home – ‘Tahawus‘ is the native Algonquin name for Mt. Marcy – the highest peak in the Adirondacks. It translates to ‘Cloudsplitter.’)

Emotional attachment and years of hermit-like isolation warp the perspective of our fictional version of Owen Brown. Unreliable. Quite frankly, I’ve seen the same in business.

I don’t want to fall for the same mistake.

We’re not hermits holed up in a cabin somewhere living on bottled water and beef jerky.

That’s one of the biggest differences between the introduction of Cloud technology and the introduction of previous computing technology. This time around information abounds. Whereas in the past, information about new technology was carried through very limited channels. And even then, it may have traveled indirect routes.

With our proliferation of information, it’s more important than ever to consider the source of the information. After all, the greatest trick the narrator ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist…. or something.

Be it me and my Cloud Computing story or the guy at your office who waves his arms and decries this “parlour trick” technology.

Where is your information coming from?

I’ll point you to a few resources in a minute that, hopefully, will pass the narrator reliability test. First, if I may, I want to take the opportunity to split Cloud Computing into two separate camps.

In one camp, we’ll have Techie Cloud. In the other, we’ll have Business Cloud.

Techie Cloud:
This is the stuff relating to the functioning of a cloud environment. What’s the architecture? Where’s the data? How do I manage it?

It’s the kind of stuff your Systems Administrators and DBAs and IT Managers would want to know. For instance, I want to play around with Amazon Web Services to create a new computing environment. Do I need any special tools to work there?

Yes, there’s a front-end tool called Rightscale that makes creating a computing environment easy.

While interesting from an academic perspective, your average business user will probably get limited value from seeking out tonnes of information about Techie Cloud. Recognize it when you see it.

Business Cloud:
This is the stuff relating to using cloud-based software. The business user who is looking for a “consumerized” web experience. What does it do? Is it easy to learn? What’s the cost? How do I sign up?

It’s the kind of stuff the accountants, marketers, and salespeople would want to know. For instance, I want to find a way to manage my team’s projects. Can I get going with something quickly?

Yes, try Basecamp.

And Business Cloud is separate from the business of cloud which we’ll get into later.

The reason I am going around Cloudsplitting is because the content I’ve been finding lately doesn’t discriminate with respect to audience. You are as likely to jump into an article that’s geared toward IT as you are to find an article for a Business User’s perspective.

Forward the Techie Cloud articles on to your IT departments. There’s a view out there that Cloud is going to make IT deparments obsolete. I disagree. I think Cloud will free up IT from the mundane custodial services of server maintenance becoming a more strategic partner with management. I’ve written before about accountants being the dishwashers of business. We’re the dishwashers and IT are the custodians (or janitors if you want to be unkind about it).

And remember:

Evaluate the reliability of the source. Evaluate for audience.

Techie Cloud

8 Tips for Getting Started in Cloud Computing (by Rackspace)

What Does the Future Hold for IT? (Bloomberg)

Cloudcamp – formed to provide a common ground for the introduction and advancement of cloud computing

Business Cloud

ICPA Trusted Business Solutions (CPA2Biz) – all of these are Saas offerings

Tourist in Techie Land: Reporting from Cloudcamp Vancouver (me)

IBM CTO at Interop: Consumerization of IT is a Driving Force (ZDNet)

Geoff Devereux works in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals. You can see more of his posts for GC here. H/t to Jesse from Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides for the translation and Greg_Smith for the pic.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…or: Cloud Computing and SaaS Briefly Explained

Figuring out how to sum up Cloud Computing and Software as a service (SaaS) in the space of ~800 words would absolutely require the biggest, puffiest, most cumulus metaphor that ever precipitated understanding over the dry, barren plains of ignorance EVER! Something like….

king Business Applications By Storm, or
– Burning off the Fog Around Cloud Computing, or
– Cloud Computing goes from Light Showers to Torrential Downpour, or even
– Quit Jiiiivin’ Me Turkey, You Got to SaaS it! (a Turkey is a bad person)

Why?

Because this thing is growing like a Class 5 Hurricane sucking up warm air over the Gulf of Mexico in mid-September, and you’re in the eye of the storm baby!


Enough! I can’t… I just can’t brew up another hackneyed metaphor!

All joking aside, Cloud Computing and SaaS are now “required reading” if you’re even remotely involved with technology (i.e. you use a computer). I can help you understand this stuff better, but first some disclosure:

I work for a SaaS company. My paycheck depends upon acceptance of this technology.

If you can accept this embedded bias, I’ll try to suppress any overt advocacy while providing a synopsis of this space over the course of the next few weeks. Call it Saas 101.

So, what is it?

We’ll get into this in more detail soon because there’s more to it, but very simply:

Software as a Service – A software application that you access online without having to download anything to your computer.

Cloud Computing – Provides computing power and data storage on an “as needed” basis much the same way as a public utility provides electricity.

Why should you care?

At the very least, you should care because you are already using this stuff for personal web activities (e.g. Facebook – think privacy, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail, etc). And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the next software sourcing project your company undertakes will include Cloud and Saas representation.

This is a bet I’ll win because even the big, established players in the software world like IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft are running to try and get in front of this thing on the business side.

You want to know about this.

Where did it come from?

How did Software as a Service and Cloud Computing as we know it come about?

Well, what’s in a word?

Again, there’s more to it, but without rekindling the internecine nerd-fighting I think tracing the roots of this movement back to Marc Benioff, the founder, Chairman & CEO of Salesforce.com is not unreasonable for our purposes. He was arguably the most vocal advocate for looking at software delivery in a new way back before this stuff HAD a name. Salesforce.com launched as an unknown start-up back in 1999 and is now one of the leading CRM (Customer Relationship Management) products Cloud or otherwise and is traded on NYSE with a market cap of over $10 Billion.

Along with another early entrant, Netsuite, these guys let the genie out of the bottle. Interestingly, both companies have deep, deep roots back into Oracle Corp., Oracle, a company that, according to Oracle, “would change the face of business computing forever.” I don’t dispute the claim though. And I would take it one further saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The Rain Fell in Torrents…

The creation of Salesforce and Netsuite were both extremely capital intensive. In order to host their customers (i.e. users of the software), tens of millions of dollars were required to build the data center infrastructure. You’re not required to buy servers and hardware, so where do you think all your data is residing? In a cloud? We haven’t advanced that far.

But we have advanced.

Today companies building Cloud apps don’t tend to build their own data centers, at least not right off the hop. Another important innovation in Cloud comes from companies like Amazon. Apart from books, Amazon has a whole other line of business providing computer infrastructure on a rental basis. It’s like a power grid for computing.

This changes the business model for companies who build software in the same way these Cloud app companies are changing things for you.

Suddenly, your IT goes from being a Fixed Cost to a Variable Cost.

More next week.

Enjoy!

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISS of BC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.

It’s Time to Bury the Business Technology Medicine Show

Business technology is a continually changing landscape, but one underlying theme seems to remain constant – the general presumption on the part of sellers AND buyers (especially buyers!) is that their new technology will magically cure a business of all its ills. Since ly buyers of this stuff, take note.

I think this fallacy of thinking transcends the saccharine marketing tactics and arm-waving that normally accompanies these offerings. Sure, a slick sales and marketing troupe can juice the numbers, but there’s more to it.

The deeper message is that we, all of us, are predisposed to WANT to believe in a cure-all.


It’s as true for business & technology as it is for weight-loss, depression, ADHD, and erectile dysfunction. We have been falling for the same old Medicine Show forever, only have our own naive human nature to blame.

During the late 1880s and all the way up to WWII, Medicine Shows peddled their dubious Snake Oil offerings all over the USA. Trumpeting cures for everything from arthritis to cancer, these guys were enthusiastically welcomed into communities despite the dim prospects for validating their claims.

That was a long time ago but how less true is it today? How often are we still willing to download the responsibility for our own well-being onto a pill? How often would we rather buy our way out of organizational inefficiencies with the purchase of a new software application than undertake the grind of fixing a broken or outdated business process?

We have made massive technological advances in both medicine and software and continue to create innovations that move us forward, enhancing user experience as we learn from our mistakes. The outcomes resulting from today’s medicinal fixes may be more tangible today due to the advent of regulation and certain minimum standards (when operating under the auspices of the FDA… not always the case!). The outcomes from new software are improving, but the human element is still critical for driving user adoption.

But there are side-effects. Beyond the cash out of pocket, what price will be paid? A well known anti-depressant lists the following as possible side-effects:

I’ll allow for the fact there are tens of thousands of legal hours that go into these disclosure documents to protect against litigation, but holy smokes man! There’s a couple real dealbreakers there in my view.

So how about new business technology? What sort of side-effects may result?

• The need for extensive training
• Upgrades to hardware
• Incompatibility with other business software
• Inability to capture the business processes properly
• Retaining business processes unsuited to the new environment
• Time to implementation
• Cost of consultants and additional IT guys
• Continued risk of obsolescence
• Internal resistance to change

Examining the possible side-effects and unintended consequences is a critical element of ANY software selection process. Software salesmen won’t be able to distill this inevitable contingency. They didn’t concoct this brew, they just sell it. I’ve known software salesmen that can barely crack open an Excel doc without crashing their computer. Only through a reflective process within your own company can you hypothesize on how the introduction of new technology will affect operations.

Further, it is absolutely critical to examine your existing business processes in the context of a new software. The tendency is to try and maintain existing processes even though they may be as obsolete as the outgoing software. For example, a local company was implementing a new system. The works! ERP, Accounting, and CRM. These systems would aaaallll work together.

Oh, but they weren’t going to purchase the Financial Statement Consolidation Module. They would develop a work-around in Excel instead. It was not surprising to me that they had already failed once on an implementation (to the tune of $2 million bucks).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I saw a company bring in a powerful reporting technology and allowed a whole bunch of poorly trained users to run hog wild in there significantly reducing the value of the system. The reports being produced could not be trusted. The fix was to lock everything down and bottleneck the reporting process which just led to more work-arounds as users were unwilling to wait it out.

The software being produced today tends to follow a Best Practice approach. If you choose to proceed outside of that framework, it might be an indication that your company is operating outside of Best Practice.

The truth about business software is that it’s work. Productivity gains resulting from new systems are typically back-end loaded. On the front-end, there’s cost, there’s risk, there’s effort, there’s training, there’s the harsh reality that can only come from looking in the mirror and facing the truth about how work ACTUALLY gets done.

Understanding this means burying the Medicine Show paradigm.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISS of BC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.

Are the Roots of Accounting the Root of Our Problems?

I’m not an accountant, but I play one in social media.

My brother, who is an accountant, is mad for old accounting and economics textbooks. He’s of the opinion that these classics provide a less adulterated view of the subject than a lot of the current stuff. In fact, anything published after the creation of FASB in 1973 is considered suspect. Call it an aversion to “rules inflation.” And while I make fun of him A LOT about it, I have to wonder who is the greater fool. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that newer and more doesn’t always equal better. But I digress.


When I’m on vacation in cottage country, a trip to the lois tradition and this past holiday weekend was no different. This beauty had my brother’s name written all over it!

This book, “An Accounting Primer: The ABC’s of Accounting for the Non-accountant,” was originally published in 1968. Based on my reading of it, I think it’s safe to say Elwin W. Midgett did NOT spend The Summer of Love dropping acid in Golden Gate Park listening to The Dead jam out with an extended version of Born Cross-Eyed; although, and not to disparage Middle Tennessee State University, he was probably relatively well acquainted with the affliction.

For $4 bucks, I had to pick it up.

So, what did accounting look like back in the late 60’s?

Here’s my greatest hits courtesy of my brother, Mr. Elwin W. Midgett, and Middle Tennessee State University. Go Blue Raiders!

Preface
“… the author is always amazed at the total lack of understanding of a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement. Although the author does not believe that this situation is one that calls for immediate action…”

Hear that? I think Fra Luca Pacioli just rolled over in his grave.

Midgett does reference the Italian monk credited (no pun intended) with inventing the double entry system way back in 1494, and rightly focuses on the Accounting Equation as being the foundation of the whole business. That said, you can’t help but laugh when Cash Flow Statements are referred to with terms like, “Where Got and Where Gone”.

There’s more than a few laughs, but there’s also quite a few truths in that ‘News From 1930’ kind of way.

The topic of borrowing comes up a lot. On the second page of Chapter 1, Midgett cautions that a business should not “buy on credit indiscriminately, because many assets decrease in value rapidly.” Now Henry Lehman is rolling in his grave. “Business runs on credit and if all credit were suddenly cut off, the economy of the country would all but grind to a screeching halt.” Okay, now he’s SPINNING in his grave.

It’s either laugh or cry, right? Or in Gonzalez’s case, bust out a string of expletives that’ll take the paint off the walls! Lovely girl.

Of course, even back then Midgett can’t help but betray accounting’s doom with his unfortunate choice of sample company:

Or it’s dork label,

Chapter IV: Debitus And Creditus

In Brief
The Owner, or the Owning thing,
or whatsoever come to thee:
upon the Left hand see thou bring
for there the same must placed be.

But –
they unto whom thou doest owe
upon the Right let them be set;
or whatsoe’er doth from thee go
the place them there do not forget.

Whaaaaaa?

“One should never attempt to memorize the theory of debit and credit…. Memory is too fickle.”

“Fortunately, an account has only two sides.”

I think I could harvest enough out-of-context quotes to write an entire book of my own!

Around p.27 it kind of strikes me that the roots of accounting aren’t about decision making, strategy, or business insight – All the stuff we are being encouraged to consider today. The roots are about one thing and one thing only, tracing transactions.

That’s not all bad, is it? Could it even be…. precious?

Chapter VI: The Worksheet – It’s Wonderful

“It truly is a marvelous device…. The accountant does not necessarily show it to anyone, but he knows its value…”

However,

The worksheet, marvelous as it is, is not magic…. When two columns of accounts are in balance and they are separated into four columns of accounts, keeping debits debits and credits credits, the difference between the new columns will be the same and on opposite sides.

Simple.

This was the paragraph that really made me think we need a “Best Before” date on these types of books. I can deal with the quaintness of referencing handwritten journals, carbon copies, printing calculators and the like, but I draw the line at the old-timey word maze.

Midgett goes on to actually do a pretty decent job of covering off the various sub-ledgers, adjusting entries, payroll, and accruals. Being buried deep within the technology industry for Accounting and Business Intelligence (B.I.), I haven’t actively thought about these Journals for a while. It was okay. Grounding.

You know that feeling, like… coming home?

Anecdote:
‘I’ve been recording them this way for ten months,’ she replies, and adds a little sarcastically, ‘If I have been doing it wrong, why haven’t you told me before now?’

Yes, it was a simpler time. A time when you could fit about everything you need to account for business in 165 pages. A time when the tax code was comprehensible and “The prospective auditor learns that he must be liberal in his thinking and tolerant of the techniques of others”.

Thank you Elwin W. Midgett. And Fare Thee Well.

Elwin W. Midgett {December 31, 1911 – November 22, 1993}

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISSofBC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.

Brightbook Gets a Groovy Review But Questions Remain

GC reader Geoff Devereaux pointed us to something that we were honestly surprised to see, a “glowing review” for the psychedelic-inspired online accounting application, Brightbook.

Accounting Web UK interviewed the two designers, James Henderson and “his colleague Warwick.” If Warwick isn’t a acid-dropping Dead Head name, we don’t know what is.


Anyhoo, the AWUK asks the question that you would expect from an accounting pub, “how will Brightbooks make its money?” To which, Hedernson responds, “this isn’t about the money man, it’s about sharing the love of accounting software for free.”

More or less, that’s what he said. Free software that does what small business owners need it to do. What WE still want to know is WTF is up with the T-Rex in the party hat? What is he celebrating? Or is it something that the partygoers are seeing?? Speaking of the rager, why isn’t the egghead guy partying with the hula-hoop girl or topless chick (or the dudes, whatever his preference)? Has he not dropped yet? All important questions.

Brightbook: Free web accounting software [AccountingWEB UK]

Earlier:
Brightbook Knows That Dead Heads Need Accounting Applications Too