The product champion’s perspective

We’ve been using Xero and WorkflowMax for a month now. So it seems a good time to start hearing from some of the team about how things are looking from their point of view.

So this begins a series of sorts. There’s no particular rules, timeline or end-date in sight, save one thing – whenever we do this, we’ll ask our contributor the same set of 6 questions. I guess maybe we should give it a cheesy name of some kind – ‘Pick Up Six ‘or ‘Six and Out’ or something. Then again…

It’s appropriate then that the first person we should hear from is our product champion. Very early on in the journey, FGS suggested that we nominate a product champion – the go-to person who will get to know the applications inside out and help us get everything set up. It was sage advice.

Recently retired facility used to customise a profit and loss statement in our old software.

That person for us was Claire Barber, one of our senior accountants. Claire is a CPA with extensive experience at management level. But even more importantly, she’s the only person in the practice who has even come close to understanding our old report writing system. If you haven’t picked up on this earlier, writing or editing a report in our previous system was a task somewhat akin to cracking the Enigma Code. Ideally you’d need a team of experts working around the clock, 7 days a week to really get a vague handle on it. And even then, like the recipe for Coca-Cola, there’s probably only a handful of people in the world who truly understand it completely. But Claire came as close as any single mortal possibly could to making sense of it, so with those credentials, she was the natural choice.

Claire jumped into it boots and all and has made the entire process a lot easier for us. She liaises regularly with Xero and FGS on all sorts of matters to make sure that the rest of our team have what they need to function. Under her watch we’ve already completed an entire job in Xero, although her focus so far has been mainly internal – things like getting our practice file set up, arranging our bank feeds and charts of accounts, establishing a system for managing our new Xero clients and working out how to generate statutory financial reports. So from her perspective, how’s it going?

  1. What do you love about Xero/WFM so far?   The ease of the software. The help menu and support has been great too.
  2. Is there anything you hate?  I don’t hate anything but one limitation is with fixed assets and not being able to pool.
  3. Can you see it making a difference to the way you work?   Yes it will definitely provide more timely reports for clients with daily feeds and help create efficiencies on jobs.
  4. If you could only make one enhancement request what would it be and why?   I would have suggested being able to import opening balances into a Xero ledger as an enhancement however this has been done via the most recent upgrade so I am very happy about this.
  5. Is there a moment on the journey so far that stands out for you?  There have been only minor hurdles along the way and each time Xero support has been able to help out so the transition is running smoothly which is always good.
  6. Overall, if you had to choose, old system or new system?   New system for sure.

Workflow (not quite to the) Max

For an accounting practice, wasting time is like stopping the production line. So the last thing you want is inefficient systems, right?

OK look…I’m just going to say it. Our users don’t much like WorkflowMax so far. It might end up giving us great information on how the practice is tracking, but the process of getting the data in there – the day-to-day use of WorkflowMax – is cumbersome.

Call us cave-people, but we still believe that time costing for billing our work has its place. I could go into the reasons why, and perhaps I will in a separate post at another time. But for now, suffice it to say that’s how we roll. We’re happy to quote and work for a fixed fee based on a reasonable estimate when required. And we may not bill everything we record. – we often absorb time as client service or value adds. But we want to record all of our time . And besides, often the decision as to whether to bill or write-off doesn’t reside with the person entering the time, so by default all time needs to go to the job at the time of entry until that decision is later made by management. We know there are many others in the industry who agree with us and in fact many of our clients ask for it.

Primitive accountants lived in the constant shadow of danger. But perhaps the greatest threat of all was a timesheet that wouldn’t reconcile.

From our experience to date, using WorkflowMax in this kind of environment leads to wasted time. And that matters. Xero have said they want to give the accounting industry a shake-up. We welcome the rattling of some cages and we reckon Xero has the products to fundamentally shift the way accountants operate. We’re believers! But to really do it well, they’re going to have to have a time recording solution that is flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways. For those practices that operate in the traditional fashion – recording time using timesheets – WorkflowMax still needs a bit of work to make the experience a pleasant one for the user.

So what don’t our users like?

Let me put it very simply – recording lots of little jobs.

A typical manager’s timesheet may have 50 or more lines on it each day. And for every one of those, WorkflowMax requires that there be a job in the system.

Often then, this leaves you with one of two options:

  1. Record lots of small jobs that will clutter your jobs list or, if they are immediately completed, take almost as long to set up as the job itself took to do; or
  2. Put the time against a more generic job, which has the effect of adding a job to your list that may not actually be started. For example, let’s say you have a chat to your client in July about what they need to do to get ready for their 2012 tax work. The discussion touches on other issues and by the time you’re done it works out at around 20 minutes. In all likelihood we won’t bill this time, but we need to record it. You don’t want to create a tiny job in the system, so instead you put it to the “2012 tax returns and financials” job for the client (whatever that may be called). That job is now active. It appears on your job list as being in progress. But the client may not bring in their work until February next year. You now have a job started in your system, cluttering your work list, which actually isn’t started yet and won’t be for some time.

How could this be fixed? We can think of at least three ways.

  1. Introduce the ability to create jobs from your timesheet – perhaps with a popup or a prompt if a job isn’t in the system already. And prompt for a template too, that way you could use standard templates for those little jobs that actually repeat each year and set them up on the fly.
  2. Allow users to change a job’s state from within a timesheet. This would then allow you to set a job to ‘complete’ immediately. It has other benefits too. You may not use this every time, but where you know that the job state is changing with your entry, why not do it all in one action rather than having to go into a separate area to do it?
  3. Have a job state called ‘not started’ that doesn’t show on your job list but does allow you to record time against it. We’re open to suggestions on the state name, but something like that. This would allow a user to put small amounts of time to larger annual jobs that may not actually be started yet without it then appearing on their job list. If there is a concern about this time going missing, you could have a link on a user’s job list job list called ‘Jobs not started’ or ‘Untracked jobs’ which only expands when clicked.

Finally, just one observation about the overall vibe. The whole process of recording time just feels very ‘webby’ and isn’t geared towards rapid data entry. I’ve discussed already how having a table of some sort that allowed for fast entry and editing would improve that no end. Being able to create jobs on the fly would also help.

But even the programming and layout makes frequent use a time-consuming process. I’m no developer, so forgive me if this is way off, but it seems to me that if it were programmed using different tools (e.g. Ajax), this would allow for rapid data entry and editing without having to click and save each individual entry and then wait for the page to render before you can move on. The ‘slow and steady’ approach is compounded further by the fact that there’s actually a bug where if you are too fast it can record an entry twice, which has also been infuriating our users.

Do we have a mutiny on our hands? Not at all. The reality is of course that we’re used to living with a system that we’re not entirely happy with, so we’re no worse off. And actually, up to this point, we love Xero. So if we’re assessing things on balance – replacing what we had with a combination of Xero and WorkflowMax – we still feel like we’re miles ahead.

Further, if the practice management capabilities live up to the promise, even if there were no hope on the data entry side of things, we’re happy to live with a compromise. We’re really excited about the wider possibilities of WorkflowMax. But we have to call it how we see it too.

Taking it to the street, accountant style! WHAT DO WE WANT?! Minor improvements to data-entry efficiency! WHEN DO WE WANT IT?! Sometime in the future, though generally we’re pretty happy so please don’t interpret this as dissent or a vote of no confidence in your overall product offering!

We know that Xero listen and respond to what their users want. So we’re asking Xero to have a look at this and see if they can find a way to make entering time quicker and more efficient.

But we also want to hear from you. So I’m about to get all ‘chain letter’ on you. Send this out to everyone you know! OK, not quite – but hear me out. I know that not everyone is interested in reading our little travel diary and that’s perfectly fine. In this case though we’d love to hear from as many WorkflowMax users in practice as possible – even those that aren’t following us. So we’re sending a shout out to any accounting practices that use WorkflowMax, and we’d love your help. Let us know in the comments – what do you think? How do you use WorkflowMax? And how do you get around the ‘lots of little jobs’ issue? We’re hoping that together we might be able to collaborate on a workaround.

And by the way – we already know about the ‘abandon the timesheet’ solution. We’re looking for an alternative.

Wisdom from the Sherpa

We’ve spent the last couple of months climbing a mountain. It’s time to hear from our guide.

This blog was conceived as a diary of sorts – our journey towards becoming an accounting practice of the future. The emotions and feelings, the new opportunities and limitations, any problems we might encounter and where possible the jubilation of triumphing over them – all of these will hopefully weave together over time to form a tapestry of the sights and sounds as they happen. You can probably tell I’d rather be writing for Lonely Planet! Alas, I am but a humble accountant and this is the best (only) outlet I have.

So far you’ve only seen things from my perspective. But in the coming weeks I hope to share the platform with other team members who are along for the ride.

We asked FGS for a file photo of Tim and this is what we got…maybe the lighting isn’t as good in our offices?

This time around though we’re privileged to transcend the plebeian ramblings of the pilgrims and hear directly from our guide and mentor, Tim Callcott from FGS. I thought it would be great to get some insight from the other side, and see how he thinks we’re travelling.

I’ve previously described Tim as our Sherpa, for the simple reason that changing systems can seem like difficult country, and having a guide who knows the terrain and its unique ‘personality’ makes all the difference. FGS have shown that much like leading someone towards a mountain-top experience, they’re committed to seeing us come through not merely unscathed, but actually enlightened.

It’s important to note though that FGS have no interest in this account – other than to make sure they do the best job they can at what they’re doing. After all, the outcome is being dissected publicly here on a weekly basis! Our own posts come unsolicited and unbiased. But while the ‘straight dope’ is our goal, Tim’s contribution here is entirely his own work.

So without further ado, here’s what Tim had to say – copied and pasted directly from his original.

I guess it is about time I had a crack at getting something on this blog.  John is doing an awesome job (who knew an Accountant could write so well) but from time to time, another perspective is needed.

It is a lot of fun working with the team at Dewings.  When John signed off on the proposal, his words to me were…

“Better buckle up mate.  You’ve never seen a practice quite like ours!”

Well, it turns we have and we haven’t.  The team at FGS have been working with accounting firms across Australia for a long time now.  And there is very little that we come across that surprises us anymore.  Not because we are jaded or cynical.  Not at all.

Instead, we have learned that every firm is unique.  And needs to be treated that way.  Where one firm manages its workflow or creates a marketing piece in a particular way, another does it completely the opposite way.

A one size fits all approach doesn’t work.  It never has and it never will.

Sure, there are core principles that apply to each and every firm – ultimately, they are all offering the same range of services.  And for any accountants reading this who scream “but we are different”, the context of this statement is that you don’t offer dental services or carpet cleaning.  You are accountants and you offer accounting related services.

At FGS, we have a view of what these core principles are and also an opinion on the firm of the future – what it looks like, how it operates and how to get there.  We infuse our advice with this view.  We elaborate when asked for more information.  We never ram it down our clients’ throats.  This makes us a valuable partner for our clients.

Anyway, back to Dewings……

Barely a day goes by that we don’t get a phone call or an email with a well thought out, interesting question from one of the Dewings team.  Sometimes, we must be on speed dial!

We love the fact that the team goes to the Help Menu first.  We really like that they generally have a go at solving the problem themselves first.  And finally, they turn to us.

Because we have worked with so many Accounting firms on their transition to WorkflowMax and Xero, if we don’t immediately know the answer, then we have an incredible database of resources to access.  We are also proud of our relationship with Xero and WorkflowMax – knowing who to turn to for the best answer is a valuable resource!

And so far, we have nailed every question that the Dewings team has asked us.  Sometimes there is a simple answer (like the sub-accounts question from an earlier post) and sometimes, we have to create a work-around because the software simply cannot or won’t do what Dewings want it to.  

That’s OK though because Dewings also want to get our feedback on their operations and a new system and range of software is the perfect opportunity to update procedures and thinking patterns.

Finally, I know John is writing a “warts and all” style of story.  And I have thought and thought about any Dewings warts I could let you in on.  I am afraid there simply aren’t any at this stage.

Although, now that I think about it…….timesheets and the need to record ALL time could be close (nudge nudge, cheeky grin)

Might save that for my next post though.

No sub-accounts? No worries!

We had a little bump in the ride last week. Xero didn’t seem to have sub-accounts. But a sub-account by any other name smells as sweet.

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a nervous flyer.

I’m not someone who refuses to fly – ironically I love to travel – and I don’t get all panicky or anything. I just never feel quite at peace. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Air Crash Investigations.

The worst part is turbulence. Just when I’m feeling about ready to relax and forget about the fact that I’m 35,000 feet in the air, the plane will hit a rough patch. To me turbulence is nature’s way of reminding us that human beings are not meant to fly. It’s just a subtle little nudge that breaks the repose and whispers in your ear “Hey buddy – you’re not supposed to be up here.”

I had a similar nudge last week during a Xero webinar.

We were all gathered in the conference room watching ‘Xero Essentials’ when the presenter began reviewing the Chart of Accounts function in Xero. As she was doing so, almost as an aside she said something along the lines of “..and of course because Xero doesn’t have sub-accounts…”. Cue dramatic music! A quick glance around the room revealed colour rapidly draining from faces. We weren’t sure, but that didn’t seem like something to simply be glanced over. Kinda like a pilot casually throwing in “…and of course because this plane no longer has any fuel…” A little further explanation might be required!

I admit it…I didn’t think to ask whether or not the plane had wings.

It’s not something we thought to ask about as a part of our decision making process. We put it in that group of things that were too obvious to even question. We didn’t ask whether it was double-entry based either, nor if it could handle GST.

It’s nudges like that on this journey that strike at your soul and leave you asking “are we meant to be doing this?”  All these people are counting on us. We’re meant be making their lives easier by giving them systems that help them rather than creating more work. What are we doing here?

I rushed out of that webinar and immediately called Tim at FGS. This may be getting old, but it’s another example of why we need them on this journey with us. They’re like our Sherpa. There are times when the terrain might seem hostile and a little frightening, but they know the territory and when you see it the way they do, you can relax a little and enjoy it.

Tim called me back within the hour. “I have a solution for you!” To be honest, I was reasonably confident he would because they work with accountants. We’re pretty sure sub-accounts form part of the basic building blocks of life for accountants.

Perhaps this is already out there. But a search through the Xero help resources yielded no results, and a Google search for ‘Xero sub-accounts’ (and variations thereof) was likewise inconclusive. A note to Xero: even though you don’t use the term, it might be worth putting an entry called ‘sub-accounts’ in the help section. People (accountants) will be looking for it.

Maybe some Xero veterans will look at this and think ‘I can’t believe they’re posting about this!’ Hopefully one day we’ll think the same thing too. But this is the view of the journey as it’s happening, not a retrospective slideshow where we’ve had the time to collate the best shots. So if you don’t mind indulging me a little, here’s the solution.

Use grouping. It’s still not technically sub-accounts, but for the purposes of our reports, it achieves the same thing.

  1. Let’s say you want to sub-account your Motor Vehicle Expenses. The standard code in the Xero demo company is 449, if you use them. So click Settings then Chart of Accounts.
  2. Create new expense accounts in the same range. Hopefully the process of creating an account is self-explanatory. So in this example, create say 449.01 MV Insurance, 449.02 MV Petrol and so on. Note that account names must be unique, so you probably can’t just have ‘Insurance’ as this will likely exist elsewhere for general insurance items.
  3. Once the accounts have been created, select or create a report where you want to show a summary of those accounts. For example, at the moment, these accounts will all show separately in your detailed Profit and Loss Report.
  4. Once you’ve screened the report, at the bottom of the report click Layout Options and then Edit this layout...

  5. Tick the accounts that you want to ‘group’ together. So in our example, tick all of the Motor Vehicle Expense accounts, including the main ‘header’ account.
  6. Back up at the top of the layout editing screen, click Group Selected Accounts.
  7. A popup appears. The Group Name should be the main account title (or whatever title you want to display on the report). In our example, this is Motor Vehicle Expenses. Select where in your report the group should appear. In this case it is an operating expense. Also, make sure to tick Show summary only.
  8. You can also get it to add future accounts to the group automatically by clicking Define how accounts are grouped and specifying the criteria.
  9. Once you’ve clicked ok, you’re almost done. You then just need to save these adjustments to the layout. On the right hand side of the layout window, either keep the same name or if you want to save a new report, rename it. If you’re basically making this a report that will become the standard, you can also tick Make this the default Profit & Loss for all users.
  10. Then click Save at the bottom, and you basically have sub-accounts that show as a summary in your main reports. Naturally, you can also create other reports that will show you the details of the sub-accounts if you need to.

The thing about the fear of flying is that it’s mostly in your head. Statistically airline travel is probably the safest way there is to get around. It’s just being in an unfamiliar place that makes you lose perspective when you hit those little bumps. Chances are you’re going to be fine. Better than fine even.

Xero to the rescue

We’ve been using WorkflowMax for a week now and it’s all going pretty well. But last week we had a couple of minor ‘adjustment’ difficulties. The team at Xero came to the rescue that same day.

One of the things we love about our Xero/WorkflowMax experience so far is the enthusiasm of the Xero team to help and collaborate. They really seem to take the user experience seriously.

This is especially so in the way they that have responded to our questions. Maybe these issues are covered in the comprehensive help resources somewhere, or perhaps there’s a forum post about them. But we will also capture them here as we experience them.

So I want to go back to my Xero Hour post last week. It was actually more about our first week with WorkflowMax than Xero, but ‘WorkflowMax Hour’ didn’t have the same ring to it. We’re really excited about WFM and the way it can empower us to manage the practice better. But in the interests of being as transparent as possible, I mentioned a couple of things that we were still having a hard time adjusting to.

In what is now becoming pretty standard practice, the Xero guys responded that day with some tips to help us come to terms with those adjustments.

  1. It’s slow.” Response – use multiple tabs. This ‘problem’ mostly derives from the fact that WFM is web-based and that can make it a little slow to navigate around. The suggested solution is to have multiple tabs open in your browser, showing different tasks, or even multiple browser windows on different screens (we have 2 screens on every desktop). This works well, for example, when you need to set up a new job once you’ve already started entering time. What started out as a problem (being browser-based) actually has some benefits. Provided you keep track of what save state everything is in, being web-based allows you have any number of different components of the same application open at the same time. Note: Another suggestion to speed things up is to use Google Chrome as your browser. So far it seems to make a difference.
  2. Entering time should be tabular.” Response – we’ll look at it.  Maybe it’s just us, but our users have said managing time would be so much easier if you could enter and edit timesheet entries in a table, since having to do them individually and waiting for your browser to process and save each line is time consuming. We can see how the current process might be fine for those who only work on two or three jobs in a day. If your managers are like ours, you can multiply that number by 10 some days! Not quite, but you get what I mean. With lots of interruptions and working through issues with junior staff and having to respond to partner requests, etc. your timesheet soon bloats with lots of little entries, and these become cumbersome to manage. There isn’t a ‘solution’ to this since it’s just about style. But Xero’s first response was that they would talk to a developer about having a tabular option. From the way these products are developed and the speed at which updates are released, we have no doubt that they mean it. Whether it actually changes in the end isn’t as important as knowing that at least they’re listening.
  3. Job focus can make managing a day difficult.” Response – use a clearing job.  Again, an accountant’s day often can’t be divided up easily into ‘jobs’. This makes things difficult to manage, especially when you need to put down a little time for a regular client that isn’t really a job – something that’s more an ‘odd-job’. Xero suggested we should set up a generic ongoing job as a clearing account for all staff to temporarily get that time in and then have an admin person later set up the correct job and reallocate the time. We’ll have to try it to be sure but it seems like a workable solution to reduce the admin burden on accountants and allow them to get their time in faster.

You might also remember the little (read: huge) security issue we covered with the WFM login page. As yet no action on that but we’ve been assured by the Xero guys at least that now that WFM has come under their banner they’ll be making sure it’s addressed and fixed. We live in hope!

And ‘hope’ is a great word to finish on. To be honest, we’ve grown accustomed over the years to coexisting with our software vendor in a kind of symbiotic tolerance. Our enhancement requests would be ignored and in return our maintenance would only go up by twice CPI every year! But we weren’t going anywhere. Changing systems can seem as big as changing banks, and they know it. Even if you’re getting the worst deal possible, the thought of everything that needs to be done to switch to something which is not guaranteed to be better is so overwhelming that you reluctantly submit to any injustice just to get it out of your mind.

Our new software vendor seems dreamy. Do you think they feel the same way about us?

Then one day it just gets to the point where you’ll do anything to get away. It’s nice when that decision is actually rewarded. You find yourself wondering what you were so worried about and why it took you so long. It’s too early to say that Xero is everything we hoped for yet, but at the moment all signs point to yes. You’ll never find the perfect application. There are likely as many conceptions of that as there are businesses. But we can now testify that you can find a developer who will listen and engage and help you to get it as close as possible to what you want it to be. It feels great to be finally having a conversation, and that fills us with excitement at what might be possible.

Next time: subaccounts and the fear of flying.

Xero Hour

The clock struck Xero Hour at Dewings this week.

Since we first started this blog I had this post slotted into the plan as a kind of timetable of events for our first day. ‘Xero Hour’ I would wittily call it (genius), and it would detail the frantic state of day one as we wrestled to adopt this new and kinda weird looking stranger into the Dewings family.

Here’s what ended up being my notes from the day:

8:07am – arrived at work.

8:18am – entered results for footy tips (some matters take priority over all others).

8:47am – set up laptop, projector and video camera in conference room for WorkflowMax training.

…and that’s it.

Tim from FGS stepping into the breach and training the team Monday morning. Video available at all good DVD outlets.

I wanted to document the day a lot more thoroughly than that, but it never happened. You might think that the reason for this is that we were so busy putting out fires that there simply wasn’t the time. And certainly the morning was a busy one. But by the afternoon, there really wasn’t that much to report. If I was to add some post-dated entries now, they’d be:

11:15am (ish) – completed WorkflowMax initial training to enable us to enter time.

11:30am (ish) – located list of jobs in progress and set about getting those into the system so that time could be allocated. This was meant to be done prior to 30th June but we overlooked it and only noticed during training that there were no jobs in there yet.

1:22pm (precisely) – sent email to the team advising that all current jobs were in there and that they could start entering time.

Naturally there were a few questions and issues that needed to be resolved during the afternoon. But overall, the afternoon was characterised largely by its normality. So much for my dramatic ‘live from the warzone’ post!

FGS have been a big part of that. They’ve had all of the answers to our questions, and have been incredibly helpful and patient for the most minute of queries. We can’t emphasise enough the value in having someone like FGS to help make Xero work in an accounting practice. Even with our short timeframe, they have made sure that everything that needed to be done happened on time.

So far, we’re really just using WorkflowMax (WFM) with a little Xero by a select few staff. For WFM, the relative calm has largely been because our team members can see how to correlate what they have been doing with what they now need to do. There is some adjustment, of course, but in the end, they’re just recording time in a timesheet.

Actual photo of team response to new systems

We want to affirm that it’s very much a case of ‘so far so good’ with WFM. But we’ve also pledged to give you the straight dope – a warts and all account of our journey. And we know that you know that no system change is ever a worry-free frolic in the meadows. So it would be disingenuous of us not to mention some of the teething problems and adjustments we’ve had to make so far. Like a bride-to-be preparing for her big day, we’ve been a little gushy before the event, swept off our collective feet by the anticipation of all of the possibilities that lie ahead. Now it’s our first week of having to live with each other.

It’s worth noting firstly, for the uninitiated, that WFM is job based. What you’re trying to do with it is manage and monitor jobs in your system.

The complaints at this early stage have been:

  1. It’s slow – It’s web based, and we all know how sometimes your browser can just pause for a little while, as it thinks and processes. So each time you enter a time, you have to wait for it to save, and that can be slow going compared to a locally hosted system when you’re entering a bunch of items.
  2. Entering time should be tabular – This is really an extension of the above. Because each entry must be saved individually, not only can you not enter multiple line items in at once, but reviewing and editing is a little cumbersome too, especially if you’re used to just being able to click on a field and change it. With WFM you must first click on the line item in a list, wait for the page to render, then edit the item, then save again, and so on. Bottom line we think is that it would be great to be able to see all time for the day in a table where any field could be freely edited simply by clicking it, instead of having to go to a separate page for each item first.
  3. Job focus can make managing a day difficult – There is a real upside to tracking jobs in terms of workflow management. But the downside here can be that an accountant’s day is not always so easily divided into ‘jobs’. There are all sorts of interruptions for a manager during the day, often unrelated to jobs they are working on. You can’t quickly record that time. There must be a job in the system. And some of the work we do is better categorised as an ‘odd-job’. That quick phone call from a client where they have a question unrelated to anything that you’re currently working on for them. This can be fiddly to manage. There have been occasions where it has taken as long to set up the job as it has to actually do it! We need to get the balance right.

The obvious solution to this is to move away from the traditional accounting model of recording every second of time. That’s a great goal and one we hope to work towards eventually. I guess the difficulty is that WFM is supposed to be able to handle both the old way and the new, and it does. But if you do use a traditional timesheet model it’s a little more cumbersome. I guess that’s a motivation to change!

There is one final gripe with WorkflowMax, and that is security. Gasp!

We sat in on a Xero Essentials training video on Wednesday just to help the familiarisation process. One of the first things covered by the presenter was security. Very reassuring. It was emphasised during the demo that when logging into Xero, the browser would not prompt you to save your username and password like ‘some other sites’ because of the big security risk this poses.

‘Some other sites’ it seems includes their own product. WorkflowMax does in fact allow you to save your login credentials. As accountants, we’re a little nervous that all our data is out there in the cloud. But we’ve been reassured (and rightly) that when executed correctly, the cloud is more secure than any office. Amen! When executed correctly…

The reason remembering passwords is a security 101 no-no for any site that contains personal identity and financial data is because anyone can come along behind you and log straight in if those details have been remembered. Xero/WFM prides themselves on providing ‘anywhere access’ to your data, which means you can use a tablet or other portable device, or (God forbid) a public computer. So all it takes is for that portable device to get lost, or for someone to accidentally click ‘remember me’ on a public computer, and it’s potentially all over. This is a feature that’s intended for membership of TV show forums and the blogs of 15 year old kids, not for sites that host sensitive identity and financial data. Obviously Xero agrees, since the Xero site does not offer to remember your login credentials, and this was specifically emphasised in the Xero demo.

When I asked WorkflowMax support about this last week, the response was:

“…the ‘remember me’ functionality is a heavily utilised function by our users and therefore they will not consider removing it.”

“We could have had a no smoking policy around the chemicals…but our employees just really like to smoke.”

This seems to suggest in this case that convenience trumps security. I’d love to be able to walk straight into the office every day without unlocking the doors and turning off the alarm. Unfortunately if I can do that, so can anyone else! The price of security is some inconvenience – you have to fiddle with the keys a little and jiggle the lock every day, which can be annoying.

We love the guys at Xero and WorkflowMax (now owned by Xero). They’ve been incredibly helpful and they really do ‘get’ how users work and how this translates into the features of their products. To their credit, WFM have since said they’ll consider it further. But every day that goes by without this being addressed is one that puts sensitive data at needless risk.

By the way – if we’re wrong on any of these things, or we discover a workaround or change in practice that can actually make it work better, we’ll let you know. And hopefully you can do the same for us. At the moment, these are all just first impressions.

And that’s not the note we should end on. For the most part, we can see why we chose to spend the rest of our lives with these guys. Sure, they leave the toilet seat up sometimes or forget to clean up after a shave. But the one percenters shouldn’t overshadow the 99. Right now, we feel like we’ve got a keeper. Once again, the most significant thing to note this week has been the relative sense of calm and normality that has prevailed. Normal is good. We like normal. It’s different, of course. But we can already see that with some minor adjustment to our practices there is a wealth of great management information at our fingertips.