In my role as an accounting firm coach and consultant I consider it important to attend selected industry events to keep up to date with what’s going on. That way I can share things of interest with my clients. Let me share some thoughts about three events which have been held in late August and September.

Reckon APS Retreat – Noosa

This event was exclusively for APS users and was one of several held across Australia and New Zealand. It was an opportunity for APS to assure their users that they are alive and well and have a solid plan post the calling off of the acquisition by MYOB. David Francis has taken over from Sam Allert as GM and I thought he did a very good job in laying out the APS strategy. APS are returning to operating autonomously within Reckon which means David as the leader has much more control over what happens. He also shared some numbers that showed the business is profitable, cash flow positive and has a strong enough balance sheet to support investment in product development. The MYOB discussions allowed APS to get really clear about which people and other resources are theirs so the shift to autonomy within Reckon was relatively easy.

The APS strategy I think revolves around a few key things:

  1. Help clients make the best use of what they have – to optimise their use of the APS tools as they are now
  2. Adopt a more open and scaleable architecture and draw on some great specialist products to link with APS
  3. Step by step move each APS module to the cloud

Compared to the Xero and MYOB events this was intimate and low key. It was much more personal. I met most of the APS senior team and without exception they displayed a real passion for helping accounting firms. APS are not interested in selling to the clients of accountants (and in that regard are very different to MYOB and Xero) and are putting more resources into both developing their products and managing relationships with their clients. Only time will tell but it seems like they are heading in the right direction.

Xerocon – Brisbane

A two day big budget extravaganza is probably the best way to describe this! I was unable to make day one but found day two very interesting. Xero now claim 700+ add ons are in place and some of these had stands in the exhibition hall adjoining the main auditorium. Xero said they had 3,702 people attending and my guess is this was not far off the mark. There was a certain buzz about the event, although some people remarked that it was not as buzzy as the previous year in Melbourne. There were the usual announcements about some product improvements although from what I could see very little for XPM, the Xero practice management module.

Xero had recently announced the acquisition of HubDoc so that was not new news and I am guessing we will see more acquisitions over the next 12 months.

Like APS, Xero has a new leader and Steve Vamos by all accounts made a pretty tentative start on day one then showed more confidence on day two in his second stint on the main stage.

Xero people show a high level of confidence, believing they are the only show in town so to speak. Most firms I spoke to said that they have clients on multiple platforms – usually Xero, MYOB and Quick Books Online and I can’t see that changing in a hurry for most firms. The investment within Xero seems to be going into the client facing applications and it remains to be seen how XPM will evolve. They have a lot of momentum and you will inevitably have plenty of SMEs asking you to support their use of Xero. You need to be prepared for that.

MYOB Partner Connect Melbourne

Also a two day event – at the Melbourne Arena. Tim Reed the CEO said there were about 1,000 people attending and he was very happy with that. One obvious thing was the high volume of bookkeepers – one exhibitor I spoke with thought they might have represented as much as 70% of attendees. Certainly it seemed like a slightly more mature demographic than at Xerocon which I think reflects the higher proportion of bookkeepers there, amongst other things.

MYOB laid out their path to shifting all their tools to the cloud, with practice management and document management the last cabs off the rank with delivery scheduled for “2020” and a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to deliver by the end of 2019. Like many software companies MYOB don’t have a great track record of delivering on time but they are certainly putting a lot of resources into development. They say they have added 100 developers in the past 12 months and will hire another 100. It seems to me they are on the right track and doing everything they can to have a stronger cloud offering.

MYOB Advisor was demonstrated at the event and this is the tool that is producing financial reports for clients and automatically writing commentary for those reports. It uses a form of artificial intelligence they describe as natural language generation to analysis the numbers and write appropriate comments. It’s clever and is a sign of more to come.

My conclusion

I believe the industry wants all three of these players to prosper as it provides healthy competition. Each is taking a different path and each his its strengths. Horses for courses as we say. In the short term I believe that firms will benefit from making sure that no matter what tools they use, that they really are getting the most from them. An investment in user education can pay healthy dividends in this regard.