Big Ideas

XEROCON Brisbane 2018: A conference for the human accountant

Xerocon 2018: A conference for the human accountant

23 September 2018

3702 people attended Xerocon 2018 - an inspiring and informative event. 3702 humans, that are, among other things, real accountants, bookkeepers, business owners, and tech experts. We shared a common purpose to seek ideas about the future of technology and how it can be used to make business beautiful. Or, as we say at Engeneo, how it can be used for better business. 

 

The human themed event spanned three days, was full of quality and thought- provoking content and was capped off by an unforgettable party at the aptly named Cloudlands. It was not possible to attend all sessions, nor to pay due respect to the hundreds of add-on software exhibitors, but I can assure you that I learnt lots and had plentyof fun along the way. Below are my notes, split into two parts – the developments that will make a difference in your business, and some bite sized pieces of the wisdom and knowledge that resonated most with me.   

 

Xero – What’s Cooking

 

Xero has developed new features internally and has acquired Hubdoc, a Canadian tech company that automates data entry by importing financial documents and turning them into data you can use.   

 The product update was led by Herman Man, VP of Product for the USA. As well as the acquisition of Hubdoc and the new features that have been developed, Herman spoke of the exciting machine learning capabilities that Xero is developing to automate repetitive tasks and reduce the amount of time business owners and their advisors spend collecting and entering data.

 These developments are important to business owners and their advisors because they will help to improve everyday business processes, provide deeper insights into business performance, and allow us more time to do other things. Below is an overview of the main points: 

1. An improved mobile experience.

Xero is improving its mobile app by adding functionality and better design. They’ve understood the key financial points that are important to business owners.  On your mobile app you’ll be able to see your net profit, how much money is in the bank account, how much money your customers owe you and how much you owe to suppliers. You’ll also easily be able to complete the full invoicing process through mobile – which is awesome because it’s likely that invoices will be paid faster. 

 2. Improved Invoicing.

 The new invoicing functionality is still being tested but is expected to be faster and more intuitive. Through machine learning the software will attempt to learn your internal processes and will then automatically populate the majority of an invoice based on what you’ve entered previously. Mundane administration time will be reduced by making sure that you no longer have to enter account codes, tax rates and tracking categories. Finally, an improved flexibility around layout and design and the ability to invoice your customers from any device at any time will make for a premium invoicing experience that is good for your cash flow.  

3. Email to bills.

 Did you know that you can e-mail a bill to Xero? This is a great way to get your source documents into Xero and can speed up your accounts payable process. 

 The team at Xero are currently developing the ability to extract and automatically populate details from any PDF bill into Xero. We’re told that soon you’ll be able to simply forward any bill from any business to your personal Xero billing address, and  the bill will be automatically created and populated in Xero. 

 This feature aims to eliminate manual entry altogether and will save business owners many hours on data entry each month. Having up to date and accurate records in Xero allows more accurate reporting, and better business decisions. Often small businesses will have entered sales invoices but skip the step of entering purchase invoices, due to a lack of time or resource. Streamlining this process provides the opportunity to improve the accuracy of cash flow reporting and forecasting – an essential tool for many businesses.  

 4. Hubdoc.

Xero invested a hefty USD70M into their acquisition of Hubdoc. The vision here is ‘code free accounting’ and this acquisition along with e-mail to bills is aimed at eliminating the need to chase documents and at fully automating the bookkeeping and data entry tasks that can consume valuable admin time. The obvious benefit of all of this is that we can focus on shaping the data into a useful form, rather than collecting it. 

 Hubdoc (not available in NZ, yet) will remain a stand-alone tool (for now) but it is likely that the integration with Xero will become more powerful and seamless over time. Right now, Hubdoc can be used to auto-fetch financial documents from vendors and extract key information from your receipts and purchase invoices. These can be published as bills into your accounting software (Xero, Quickbooks online etc.) and then matched against transactions that are pushed through from a live bank feed. It’s also a secure hub for storing important documents, so you can access them via the cloud in one location under one login. 

 The most visible add on partner at the conference was, without a doubt, Receiptbank (available in NZ). I received a free Lenovo tablet for viewing a demo of their product and attended a party hosted on a yacht - thanks Receiptbank! Receiptbank is a great product and a direct competitor with Hubdoc, with a lot of similar features. This may explain the aggressive marketing effort as it seems clear that competition is stepping up in the area of accounts payable and bookkeeping automation. 

If you are looking to improve and automate your accounts payable and bookkeeping processes, I would recommend using either of these products, and also investigating some of their very credible competitors. Both products live up to their claims of improving efficiency and whilst similar, have different areas of strength that you may find best align with your business.  

5. Send direct payments from Xero to your bank.

 For me, this was one of the more interesting announcements. Xero is currently testing in-software payments through National Australia Bank (NAB), meaning that at some point in the future you’ll be able to make payments direct from Xero and by-pass internet banking all together. Whilst this is something that is being tested with one bank in Australia only, it is a progressive move and in combination with the initiatives mentioned in points 3 & 4 above it makes for a slick and desirable process. Just make sure you’ve taken time to implement the appropriate controls within your business before you switch it on! 

 My hope is that NAB’s subsidiary, BNZ, and its Kiwi competitors will be able to quickly follow suit once the function is tested and proven.   

 6. Xero Projects.

 If you are using Xero Projects then you’ll soon notice some changes. Xero Projects and Xero Payroll will now work more closely together and you’ll have improved time reporting, credit notes and the ability to add roles and permissions.  These seem logical steps and is perhaps not that surprising – but I thought you’d like to know anyway. Xero Projects remains a basic solution, but is an effective way to record time where your job or project tracking requirements are straight forward. 

7. Two-Step Authentication (2SA).

 2SA will be mandatory in Australia soon, and also for anyone who has access to an Australian Xero account. This is a good thing, and for our New Zealand clients we encourage you to adopt this too. Why? According to Xero’s head of security, Paul MacPherson, over 80% of breaches occur via stolen or weak passwords, with email as the primary method of attack. Here are Paul’s simple interventions to better protect your data:

  • Choose strong, unique passwords

  • Protect your devices, including smartphones and tablets

  • Use additional authentication – 2SA / 2FA / MFA / 2SV

  • Stay informed and up to date on cyber security and be aware of the latest developments.  

 8. What wasn’t mentioned?

 I had expected to hear of development commitment towards an industry specific benchmarking tool. There was no word of this from Xero, despite plenty of foreshadowing over the years. For the meantime, the business insights data is a nifty glimpse of small business performance and it is interesting to compare our local stats to the insights for other countries. If you are interested in benchmarking data for your business then get in touch, tools such as Ranqx can help us prepare an informative report for you. 

 

 

What else I learnt and why I went

 

In a rapidly changing world it is important to remain relevant. In a recent interview of Yuval Noah Harari by Sam Harris, Yuval made a comment that exploitation was the key challenge of last century and remaining relevant was the challenge of this century. I’m not making light of exploitation but when you think about it, becoming irrelevant could be worse than being exploited (or better if you are optimistic?).  One way to remain relevant is to invest time into learning, another is to keep abreast of trends, and a third is to build strong networks (both locally and globally) – these are the three main reasons I attended XeroCon. As an added benefit, it was a great opportunity to take a break from the day-to-day, reflect a little and to plan for the future – from both a personal and business perspective.  

AI is the 21stcentury’s steam engine 

Of the Keynote speakers, I most enjoyed listening to Professor Genevieve Bell – a cultural anthropologist who happens to have 20 odd years’ experience working for Intel in Silicon Valley. It was refreshing to hear her thoughts on human-computer relationships and thought provoking, and a little fun, to consider how to manage them. Genevieve made the point that AI is the 21stcentury’s steam engine (curiously, so did the next keynote about blockchain). The example given was that steam engines were used to extract water from mines for something like 100 years prior to playing their part in igniting the industrial revolution. It’s what changed that is interesting because after this point, the steam engine changed the way we thought about time, space and travel.

Genevieve went on to say that artificial intelligence is the beginning of a change, it is not the end. Whilst not yet a game changer, AI can be considered the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution and there are several key questions that should be considered before we get too deep. 

If you’re interested in these issues then I suggest you check out some of Genevieve’s work and if you have the opportunity you should definitely listen to her speak. Alternatively, if you want to increase your relevance perhaps you could apply for her course – a new applied science for managing AI, nothing like a challenge!  

Less = More

Mark Manson wrote a self-help book for people who don’t like self-help books. It’s called ‘the subtle art of not giving a f*ck’. 

I have not read the book but found Mark’s thoughts on life and self-improvement quite entertaining. From my point of view he oversimplified the ‘ability to choose’ but I did appreciate his Less = More mantra. Assuming that you are able to work out what is important to you, begin with these three things:

  1. Focus on fewer things and do them really well
  2. Focus on fewer people and really care about them
  3. Focus on less information of higher relevance

 

What’s your 1 percent?

Trent Innes, Xero’s Managing Director for Australia and Asia, talked about the importance of the one percent. His words were along the lines of ‘99% of what we do is invisible, it is expected and taken for granted. It’s the 1% that matters’. Put another way, the 99% is important, and must be done well but it is that little bit of magic or the extra 1% that you do to make your customer feel special – that’s what matters. 

 Trent finished with a challenge around incremental improvement. One percent extra in small manageable chunks with the challenge being to identify one thing that we wanted to do post conference. For me the ‘one thing’ was to visit a friend that I had not seen in a while and personally congratulate them on a new venture – certainly a worthwhile excursion.  

Summary

 If you have an opportunity to attend an industry event, I recommend taking that opportunity because there can be many benefits. I gained a lot from attending Xerocon and especially appreciated this year’s humanity theme. Personally, I am better for it and am looking forward to sharing more of what I learnt with you. 

 

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