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.

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How we avoided the apocalypse

There’s a bit of the old tele-evangelist about some coaches to the accounting profession.

The end of the world is nigh ! Repent from your evil ways! Give your money to me and heaven awaits!

Or put another way, “There is no future in traditional accounting models so abandon the timesheet! I can show you how to make a million dollars per partner by working 20 hours a week!”

OK, granted…sometimes people – and accounting firms – actually do need to change. The problem is there’s just so much noise! Amongst the cacophony, where can we find the music?

The only possible fate for a world where accountants still use timesheets.

Last year we were at the point where we knew we had to make some changes to the way we delivered our services – not because we did it badly but because we wanted to do it better. But to implement every accounting practice initiative recommended by the numerous industry experts would take a small army a lifetime to complete.

What was the stuff that we actually needed to do – like, really needed to do – and how could we ever find the time to do it?

So it was that last September there was a voice that broke through, just a little. It took an email about becoming an ‘iPractice’ to finally get my attention. It was from Tim at Focus Growth Strategies (FGS). I’m not sure what it was that stood out about it. Perhaps it was that some of the more techno stuff appealed to my inner geek – running your practice from an iPad and all that. The thought of doing so while sitting on a beach didn’t hurt either.

More than anything though I think it was that it wasn’t trying to scare us into action. Of course it tantalised with promises of a practice without timesheets – what accountant doesn’t long for that world? But it also offered balance. “If you want to hang onto them, that’s OK – we will show you how to have the best of both worlds as well.” No doomsday prophesies.

The clincher though was this: “The iPractice will show you exactly how you do it – Strategy, Implementation and Technology”.

One of the biggest barriers to change was the question of who was going to do it. The learning curve in going from an entrenched system to knowing something else well enough to roll it out across a practice, and deal with all of the migration issues and training, and… well, ‘curve’ is a generous term. Perhaps ‘wall’?

A DIY rollout would no doubt have been poorly executed. Even worse (because after all, we were used to living with a system that didn’t really work properly), the result may have been new applications that did nothing more than replicate the old ones. We needed the outcome to be better than that. What is best practice? Do we really ‘have’ to do the things that we think we have to do? How can we leverage our IT to deliver efficiency and create value for our clients?

But now here was FGS offering to give us the leg-up we needed to get over the wall. These guys weren’t just telling us what we needed to do. They were offering to do it for us! It still took a while for us to finally pluck up the courage but in the end, having little to lose and much to gain, we signed on for a ‘review’ of our systems. It took one meeting for us to realise a review wasn’t necessary. We knew what we had. We needed to spend that time, effort and money on going for it.

Last Tuesday Tim and I met with our accounts manager (Kim) and our product champion (Claire) to road-map the critical things we needed to do to be ready by 1st July. So far that involves:

  1. Having WorkflowMax (WFM) ready for people to enter time; and
  2. Having people familiar with how to do that (i.e. training).

Left to right: Claire, Tim (from FGS) and Kim.

In terms of the work required before 1st July, that means configuring WFM with all of our client database information and setting up our tasks for timesheet entries and billings. We’ll also need our practice Xero file ready go – the Xero ledger we’ll use to operate the practice. We plan to gradually phase out our existing system, which means we can replace our client ledgers with Xero ledgers as work for 30th June 2012 comes in over the next year. That takes the pressure off us having to have everything ready to go by 1st July.

As we were sitting there talking through the various things that needed to be matched between the old and the new systems and what we could expect to be different and so on, it suddenly struck me how simple it was. A lot of work, but not complicated. The reason was that there was someone there to connect the dots for us. FGS know what we need to do to make it work. The terms are familiar. The problems we were expecting have already been anticipated. And best of all, this is still accounting!

It’s not just that one voice is louder than all the others now. The noise has actually quietened. We don’t have to do it all. We’re not abandoning our timesheets yet! The doomsday clock has started ticking backwards. Was there ever really an impending apocalypse at all, or had we simply been drinking too much of the Kool-aid?