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The pandemic helped to accelerate digital transformation, and that has included companies’ accounting systems. Haines Watts’ cloud accountancy expert Riaz Kala explains how cloud accounting can help businesses to ‘level up’ their processes and get better value from their accountants at the same time.

The days of hand-written ledgers and shoeboxes stuffed full of receipts are long gone for most companies – but you’d be surprised how many still prefer to deal with their accounts in an analogue way. Perhaps because it is closer to the way they were trained, or perhaps it feels more tangible to them.

But the digital age is upon us. Haines Watts has been advocating the switch to digital-first accountancy for many years, and one of the impacts of the pandemic has been to accelerate that digital transformation. Companies from every sector have been clamouring to find ways to reach and sell to new audiences, and technology has been at the forefront of that.

The same goes for accounting. With a reduction in face-to-face contact, it becomes harder to hand over paperwork and files in person, so more businesses have embraced digital solutions to help streamline and speed up the process.

It’s music to our ears: we still cherish our direct client contact but switching to digital platforms means we can do so much more with the time we do have available for clients.


Migrating to the cloud

My role at Haines Watts is overseeing our cloud strategy and integrating our use of tech at every level of the business. Even prior to the pandemic, we had worked with most of our businesses to migrate them to platforms such as Xero, which meant we were well placed to deal with the challenges of remote working that the lockdowns presented.

However, we constantly review our use of tech and the way our clients use the cloud, and we are in the process now of migrating our remaining non-cloud clients onto the cloud from Excel or paper-based systems.

Even once we’ve got clients onto the cloud, that reviewing process never stops: part of our change management strategy is monitoring developments and making sure that knowledge is passed on around the business. We have training plans in place to make sure that we are always on top of the latest updates, such as Xero HQ and the new generation of features that brings.


Levelling up your accounting

At the heart of everything, though, lies our strategy for improving the flow of information to Haines Watts: when we talk about our use of the cloud, we are typically looking at three key things: Firstly, bank Feeds, ie are they using a platform such as Xero/Sage? Then comes invoice automation, and finally monthly reconciliation: how often we do speak to clients, and how often are they reconciling their information and learning from it.

Based on those stages, we have three ‘levels’ that we apply to businesses to describe their progress along the digital transformation route.

Level 1

Migration onto a cloud platform such as Xero, Sage or Quickbooks.

Level 2

Using AI, machine learning and robotic process automation to automate processes with bank feeds and rules, invoice collection and processing and payment facilitation. As processing time decreases more regular maintenance of bookkeeping software is essential for accurate and real time information.

Level 3

Integrating apps to improve processes and cashflow and management forecasting, and industry-specific apps to help improve business operations.

A company operating at Level 3 will have fantastic integration, smooth processes and will be in a position to benefit from the insights that the available data can provide.

In addition, we are now offering clients digital health-checks and finance function reviews, and doing app research that can include more bespoke apps that could be implemented outside our standard app stack, such as electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) and stock systems.


Benefits: beyond time saving

Without complications, a ‘standard’ migration onto a digital platform can take around a day, plus the time taken to tidy up the information, but that can vary greatly from client to client depending on the complexity of their business. Once the set-up is completed, the time taken to doing so is quickly recovered.

The time-saving alone is a compelling reason to embrace cloud accountancy, but the benefits go way beyond getting rid of the physical paper trail and saving time.

That extensive stack of digital apps can offer huge strategic and analytical benefits if they are integrated in the right way.

One of Haines Watts’ core values is that we offer true insight to our clients, working with them to do far more than simply crunch the numbers. Moving to digital buys us the time to nurture that relationship and to offer far more added-value to clients.

We work with our clients as trusted advisors, peers, sounding boards and even friends, and the intel we now have access to on a ‘level 3’ client allows us to offer incredible insights to those clients.


Choosing apps? Stay focused!

Xero alone has an ecosystem that supports over 1,000 apps, so it can be pretty overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. We recommend being focused and very selective, so we work loosely with our clients to make sure they are only integrating the apps that really complement their business.

We are creating an app stack – outlined below – that forms the core of our cloud accountancy toolkit and we tend to recommend using these as a starting point. They cover what we feel are the key areas of a finance function with each app having a primary use but also other uses.

We decided to limit ourselves to one app per finance function area, choosing apps that can be used in different areas as to avoid ‘app overwhelm’ with clients. However, when scoping our clients’ app requirements it is important to understand how other apps, with similar purposes, assist with their chosen processes as they may be a better match than those within our app stack.

Again, though, the most important message here is that the apps are being used properly and that the data they give you is being interpreted correctly.



Cloud technology in banking: Why adoption is on the rise




Alpesh Tailor, Executive Director at digital transformation specialist GFT


The banking sector has never shied away from innovation, whether it is new products to improve customer savings habits or new ways of interacting with people and business, but embracing new technologies such as cloud has, until recently, been relatively slow. However, leading global financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have accelerated their adoption of cloud, which can provide insights for efficient technology transformation across the sector.

We conducted research to measure 21 medium-size and large banks’ sentiment and operations regarding cloud technology. Examining the relationship between cloud technology and banking professionals, our research provides an insight into the overall finance sector’s perception of cloud technology and how its application can improve banking procedures and efficiency.


Scale-up abilities

A significant trend showed that the way people use their finances and banking systems has changed, particularly when it comes to payments and transfers. Our research revealed that 86% of bankers have adopted cloud services to harness its virtually unlimited scalability, citing a definitive change in transaction behaviour as the main reason for moving to the cloud.

In the world of retail banking, buy-now-pay-later, open banking, and contactless payment systems have revolutionised the way people use their bank, making financial management easier and more efficient. However, despite these evolutions, high street banks are playing catch-up to the challenger banks who possess fewer legacy processes and, therefore, an easier migration to new technologies, such as the full utilisation of cloud and artificial intelligence.

The cloud provides a dependable, scalable, and flexible data system that allows traditional banks to modernise quickly and stay abreast of the innovations that ‘born-in-the-cloud’ challenger banks are bringing to the market. An increasingly popular way of doing this is by adopting a hybrid and multicloud approach.

Most organisations are considering diversifying their cloud technology, with 76% of bankers now agreeing with the importance of implementing multicloud systems in order to benefit from resilience and security improvements made by the main cloud providers. These cloud ‘hyperscalers’ also provide regular updates and continue to release exclusive new services and platforms as they continue to innovate.


Optimising costs

Our research indicates that cost optimisation is a primary reason that banks are looking toward the cloud for their future storage needs, with 81% of bankers confirming they have adopted cloud technology to save costs.

Installing and maintaining on-premise IT systems is lengthy and costly for financial institutions. When using the cloud, however, purchasing and installing hardware is no longer required as the cloud service provider hosts all the required infrastructure. The management of the hardware is included within this, reducing the overall cost of IT support further.


 Organisational inertia

Technological innovations are usually heralded for their ability to streamline operations, making them quicker and more secure. Our research illustrates that 62% of bankers believe organisational culture and inertia to be a key challenge within the sector. Besides being flexible for scalability and cost, adopting cloud technology can bolster organisational efficiency, since banks can spend fewer resources managing the relationship between trading volumes and payment infrastructure. Bankers acknowledge this opportunity, with 95% of organisations understanding that cloud technology can reduce time-to-market.


Overcoming misconceptions with cloud technology

Misconceptions usually exist around any emerging technology and our research found that this theme continues with cloud technology.

43% of the bankers we spoke to admitted that security concerns have impeded full cloud migration – a concern that has frequently been confirmed when speaking to financial services institutions. However, cloud providers invest heavily in the security of their cloud infrastructure which, as a result, makes it almost always safer than its on-premise, client-owned counterpart.

One aspect of adopting the cloud that continues to cause concern, is that which is commonly termed the ‘digital skills gap’. More than half of banks claim a lack of cloud-savvy employees internally has slowed down adoption. At GFT, we understand that this is a major issue for the adoption of cloud technology in all sectors, including banking, and have committed to training and encouraging young people to learn the required skills and enter the sector. We recently launched our Manchester Innovation Hub – a dedicated location to support the upskilling and growth of tech roles in the north.

Going forwards, cloud technology is the primary option for banks seeking to evolve and scale their business, whilst minimising risk, time and cost. Bankers recognise these benefits and the overall findings of our research suggest they will continue to grow their investment in cloud technology. Whilst evolving traditional legacy systems is very challenging, cloud technology continues to advance and we believe that over time it will become a powerful mainstay within the financial services industry.


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A Smarter World: What role will electronics play in 2022




There has been a sharp increase in technology and devices designed to make our lives simpler, faster and more productive in recent years.

Industry 4.0 is taking the digital revolution of the late 1900s one step further, combining cyber-physical systems with the power of the internet of things (IoT) to automate computerised decision-making and enhance efficiency. As a result, intelligent technology has surpassed the simple tools and gadgets people enjoy using every day; it has become a driving force for innovation and problem-solving for businesses worldwide.

The first generation of ‘smart’ technology products provided enhanced connectivity, allowing people to stream video on smart televisions or communicate wirelessly between devices. But with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), our devices do more than simply talk to each other; they collect and interpret data to inform user experience and automate processes that would typically require human guidance.

From watches to phones, building controls to medical equipment, we are heading towards a ‘smarter’ world at lightning speed. So, in 2022 and beyond, technology will continue to evolve and improve its capabilities to deliver personalised, mechanised solutions that will optimise functions and enhance our day-to-day lives.


How will smart tech change our way of life?

The pandemic has significantly impacted global technology trends, with lockdowns contributing to heightened activity within the consumer electronics industry.

The demand for games consoles, smart televisions and other entertainment devices led to an 18% increase in the global consumer electronics market (excluding North America) in the first half of 2021, reflecting pandemic-related behavioural changes and consumers’ growing expectations for premium electronics. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the public is also more conscious of their health and the limitations of our health services than ever before. Wearable technology such as smartwatches — which can remotely monitor and record physical health data — is, thus, becoming increasingly appealing.

As more and more businesses embrace remote working models, employees are enhancing their homes with innovative home technology, too. Demand for devices such as mobile stereo headsets and headphones spiked in the wake of lockdowns. Organisations are also embarking on digital transformation to secure online networks and optimise energy efficiency in modern offices.

The future of the electric vehicle market also looks bright. With governments facing global pressure to reduce carbon emissions, major automotive manufactures like Bentley, Volkswagen and Audi have pledged to cut fossil fuel cars from their product portfolios by 2030. And despite the pandemic-related semiconductor shortage that crippled the automotive industry, UK electric vehicle sales jumped 186% in 2020.


How will the electronics industry meet demands?

In a digital world, technology is embedded in everyday objects, and ubiquitous computing connects devices through continuous networks of sensors and servers — all of which must be carefully designed and produced by electronics manufacturers. As a result, the future of electrical engineering will depend on the industry’s ability to address the technical and logistical considerations for delivering these advanced systems and equipment.

From smart grids to intelligent lighting, IoT has the potential to revolutionise the way we live. With technology permeating so much of our lives already, local governments are investing in ‘smart cities’ that will harness data collected through the IoT and cloud-based technology to tackle social issues and improve urban life, sustainability and transport. However, the IoT will also be essential to developing new electronics.

Brexit, the pandemic and labour shortages have impacted supply chains and threatened to stunt the industry’s ability to keep up with ever-increasing demand. But embracing IoT can streamline processes, provide accurate real-time data to mitigate supply chain disruption and improve the overall quality of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and other core components within electronics. Plus, as sustainability is a core focus for businesses across sectors in 2022, developments in AI and ML will be crucial to ensuring systems are operating with the minimum energy output.

From remotely controlled wire cutters to industrial robotics performing monotonous tasks in factories, investing in robotics will also be crucial for electronics manufacturing services providers. While the industry focuses on training the next generation of engineers, adopting robotics will reduce the likelihood of human error that might affect manufacturers’ abilities to continue delivering high-quality electronics products at scale.


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