Apps Advisory: Introducing automation with intelligence

Apps Advisory: Introducing automation with intelligence

In the previous articles, we explored Financial Advisory and Process Advisory. Process Advisory directly leads to App Advisory because Process Advisory creates structure and organized systems, reducing labor waste and confusion. The introduction of technology via apps builds on organization and efficiency, creating possibilities of automation and simplification of established processes.

We have explored different types of advisory throughout this series, including:

What is Apps Advisory?

It’s perhaps the best way to claim ownership over your business.

Control and distinction. In the beginning, every phone appears the same “out of the box.” You start playing with your phone, adding customizations, setting up note builders, calendar integration, emailing, social, and games. Before long, you have claimed complete ownership. Your phone is always tethered to you, and you would never dream of leaving without it. Your apps are what has made the phone yours, and it is no longer “out of the box.” You could never swap phones with another person. You probably even snarl when people touch it because that’s how important it is. You need your programs that are distinct to you. It’s practically your best friend!

To start, every QuickBooks® file appears the same “out of the box” at setup. Just like your phone, as you incorporate your data and apps, such as a calendar, scheduling, time tracking, bill pay, and reporting, there is no way you could operate without QuickBooks.

But, wait, there’s more. There’s a QuickBooks app for mobile! Many of the new business apps that have artificial intelligence and machine learning abilities integrate with QuickBooks and mobile devices. Some of the latest solutions perform tasks similar to our household Alexa. Being able to grow with this new technology means that as an advisor, we can offer the most options to our business clients.

App Advisory is all about improving workflow by leveraging technology and cultivating growth in systems that were previously marginal.

As an app advisor, the good news is that you don’t have to know all the apps. Instead, as an app consultant, your role is to advise and spark interest in emerging technology, not dictate which app they must choose. Understanding this distinction means you can comfortably perform your job, knowing you are opening the door to possibilities and educating businesses to scenarios they previously didn’t have time to tackle or know where to begin.

By creating a collaborative environment, you can work to create a tech-savvy company with better workflows and streamlined systems. Businesses are interested in artificial intelligence, and they are tech-focused and willing to take this leap without you. But, with your guidance, these companies overcome challenges and navigate the benefits of creating a controlled automated system.

Challenges to anticipate are cleaning up segregated systems, exploring the app ecosystem, creating an app implementation plan, and maintaining accounting integrity to ensure apps are appropriately mapped.

Now, let’s hear from another app advisor, Will Farnell, who is making tremendous breakthroughs in the way we think and deliver app Advisory Services in the United Kingdom. In 2019, Will co-founded App Advisory Plus to support accountants and bookkeepers offering profitable App Advisory services. Will’s full interview is below.

Why Apps Advisory?

Do you remember when you had to choose your adventure books? They were perhaps some of my favorite books, and probably the only reason I read as a young child. The story beginning was always the same. There was a basic plot, and you were the hero and narrator. At each pivotal moment throughout the entire book, you had to make vital determining decisions as to which path to choose next, and the rest of the story would be impacted based on this decision. It was essential to think out what the ramifications of each choice would be, and determine what to do next. Sometimes, the outcome of your decision resulted in your favorite character’s death, but you could always go back and choose a different path … and all was rosy again.

Apps Advisory is just like choosing your adventure books in real life! Accountants are best situated to recognize opportunities to automate cumbersome processes. For example, if a small business has been processing payroll “the old way,” we know there are apps that will reduce human errors and help employees receive funds faster.

As app advisors, we are the guide, directing them through the discovery, selection, and implementation of the apps. With more than 700 apps available, choosing which one becomes muddy. If you have followed the workflow in the Process Advisory Onboarding Assessment/Interview Worksheet, you have identified your client’s current procedures and made recommendations. Using the knowledge, you have discovered that you can now help them find technology that will fit their newly improved processes. Every app has a built-in detailed flow of operations, and it is imperative that the apps being evaluated match and complement the business’ workflow.

Expected results

As an accountant who provides App Advisory Services, our number one role during an app engagement is to protect the integrity of the accounting system. This makes us the gatekeepers of all technology that will connect to the accounting platform. Our mission is to create streamlined operations with working integrations, and build app stacks for a tech-savvy business. During our engagement, we will teach them how to use the newly designed tech stacks, constructing the ideal workflow. 

Discovery engagement

Do you love puzzles? I did as a child, and still do. For me, this is where the fun begins, and we can start building a discovery engagement.

Break down the engagement like a puzzle. If you think about your childhood memories at the kitchen table, you first opened the puzzle box, dumped it out, and started sorting the border pieces, like colors, and then pieced them together. It took time. It was FUN. The results were rewarding.

Consider the business you are building as a picture puzzle. Start with the puzzle border: What does the business do? This is followed by defining a section, a department, or a task, and then working through each area and creating an entire picture, piece by piece, adding all the necessary details to complete the puzzle picture.

The place to begin is to identify inefficiencies an app can solve. Start by defining the objective they wish to accomplish. Again, if you have used the Process Advisory Onboarding Assessment/Interview Worksheet, you will already understand their existing scenario. If not, you can do that now. To confirm and clarify understanding, you can use tools, such as sticky notes and SmartDraw, to map out their current workflow and review it together with your client.

Important information you will need from your clients include their must-haves, nice-to-haves, and current pain points an app can solve. Other considerations are who is affected and will be using the app (i.e., field service workers and office staff), plus what transactions are being affected (i.e., income and expense). A useful question to ask your client is what the workarounds have been to date. In this step, communication is vital because it can help to paint a picture if they have unique complications.

Remember, you are completing their picture puzzle. Advisory is all about the people and the task. This is the time to be as transparent as possible to avoid information gaps. Spend as much time as necessary, discovering how the business functions and how the people perform their duties. This way, when you’re app shopping, you find something that will complement their environment.

App exploration

Is there an app for that? That’s what you get to discover. A couple of places to start are research forums with friends, exploring what’s available on your QuickBooks Online Accountant pps tab, and asking apps for demos. I love expanding my app knowledge and sharing my experience with others. One free resource is The ’AppY Hour, a fun webinar series. The ’AppY Hour brings accountants and developers together to share innovation, in order to improve efficiency and create automation for business.

We all have our favorite apps, but is it ok if your favorite go-to-app does not work in every situation? With so many apps to choose from, you can search Apps.com by category to discover more app possibilities. Reading reviews about support and user experience is beneficial when looking for solutions. What you are looking for is two or three apps that fit within the perimeter of the client’s requirements.

Now, it’s time to grade. Once you have found a few apps, you can start filling in the App Exploration Worksheet. This worksheet was created by Heather Satterley as a resource used to visually compare apps during the selection process. This worksheet is useful in helping you grade the apps. Remember, no app is perfect, but the goal is to identify which app is the best fit. This app worksheet will help you identify must-haves, nice-to-haves, cost of apps, interface, ease of use, support, implementation, time, difficulty, and resources needed. The worksheet has a ranking system for which you can assign values, allowing you to objectively evaluate up to three apps at a time. Another question you might need to add to the worksheet is whether the app needs to integrate with other systems.

Client app selection. Anytime I am performing an app engagement for a complex scenario, I want my client to be part of the process. The term “consultant” literally means you consult with your clients about the best decision. We are not app dictators. This is excellent news because it releases you from assuming all the risk.

Once you have ranked the apps via the App Exploration Worksheet, trust the results. Next, it’s time to share the results with your client. The worksheet creates a visual indication of whether the must-haves are addressed, the nice-to-haves are included, and any extra features are taken into consideration. When together, you can decide which demos would be necessary for your final selection. This phase is significant. By reviewing the App Exploration Worksheet results together, you can determine which demos are necessary. Fostering app ownership with your client is essential later on for app implementation.

Define your role

Once the App is selected, is your role complete, or will you be staying on to help with implementation, support, and even ongoing management? Many apps have an implementation team and offer training, but your responsibility may continue. For example, your task may include preparing the organization for change, or perhaps developing an implementation plan with phases and a timeline. As an accountant, are you staying on the project during implementation to maintain accounting integrity in mapping, and should you? One step I recommend before any implementation is creating a backup of the accounting file. Another step is to test the app to ensure it will work for your situation. If you can copy the data file to a new QuickBooks Online location, this creates the best testing environment for your scenario.

App stacking

Another app scenario is building a tech stack. App stacking is any time two or more apps are used to perform a task. An example of a business app stack is using Receipt Bank for expenses, and LivePlan for business planning and forecasting.

App connectors are another tool app advisors use as glue to connect two or more apps. App connectors can be used to import or export specific data, creating synergy between systems when there previously was none. An example of where an app connector would be used is an eCommerce business needing to import their point of sales activity into their accounting system. A2X is one such example. They work to import Shopify daily sales summaries into QuickBooks Online, with payment methods that match bank feeds, making bookkeeping easier to manage.

Apps Advisory Q&A with Will Farnell

Q. How does your firm define Apps integration advisory services?

A. For us, we look at every client and try to understand what they do and how they do it. Are there weaknesses in the process, and could technology help? This, for us, is step one to delivering App Advisory. Too often, firms focus on the integration before they establish a need, and end up researching a solution for a problem that is not defined.

Q. Does your firm offer Apps Advisory Services as a bundle with other monthly offerings?

A. No, I think it is essential to work on a case-by-case basis. What works for one client won’t work for another. It is imperative we build a process for App Advisory Services to ensure we are delivering the right solution for the right client. Once a client is up and running with an app, we may include support fees in a monthly bundle.

Q. How do you explain Apps Advisory Services to your clients?

A. As with any areas of advisory services, it is essential to have relationships with clients. You need to know what they do and what they are trying to achieve to understand how you can be helpful. For me, in an accounting or bookkeeping firm, it all starts with the daily bookkeeping. This means that you are regularly talking to clients and getting to understand their pain points. This opens up the opportunity to discuss advisory services, one of which might be app related.

Q. How do you set client expectations/timeline for transformation for Apps Advisory Services?

A. It is so important to provide clarity. Scoping is critical, and a robust proposal of what is in and what is out is crucial to the success of any app project. Once the project is up and running, a regular dialogue is key to manage expectations around scope, cost, and time.

Q. How do you provide Apps Advisory Services to your clients? What does a typical engagement look like?

A. It varies from case to case, but all follow a process of:

  • Fact-finding – your lead generation tool
  • Process mapping – understanding the client process and requirement
  • App research and evaluation – discovering and documenting apps that may fit the requirement, testing, and evaluating
  • Implementation – planning, testing, training, and using the apps
  • App support – support clients who use of the app

Q. Where should someone start if they want to offer Apps Advisory Services?

A. At App Advisory Plus, our help desk will provide access to knowledgeable staff who spend every day talking to accounting firms and app vendors, giving them unparalleled insight into the app ecosystem and best practices for delivering App Advisory Services. We use this knowledge and insight to build educational content and app information, presented via our independent App Directory and online knowledgebase. Our online community lets you post questions and discuss challenges or successes with your peers.

Apps advisors follow this approach to an effective workflow

App Exploration Worksheet

  1. Use the Onboarding Assessment/Interview Worksheet to gather business details
  2. Verify business operation processes
  3. Research apps and perform demos
  4. Use the Apps Evaluation Worksheet to identify needs, wants, and extras
  5. Meet with client to explore the results of the Apps Evaluation Worksheet
  6. Do demos together to make the final selection and create ownership
  7. Determine your role
  8. Create an implementation plan and timeline
  9. Ongoing management

Here is an example of what an App Advisory engagement could look like for you.

While talking to an existing client, you tell them you noticed their accounts receivable is very high and aging out past 60 days. They are aware of the issue and want to talk it through with you. You then grab the Onboarding Assessment/Interview Worksheet.

The business is a residential plumbing company with seven employees. Six of the employees are service plumbers. Because this is a business you know well, you already have section one filled out from a previous meeting, which is all about the business structure and ownership. You already know most of section two, which covers employee details, but you want to make sure nothing has changed. Moving to section three of the worksheet, you ask how are they collecting customer payment for their residential plumbing services. The owner explains they are writing paper tickets in the field and giving a carbon copy to the office manager, who later invoices the customer. Because the office manager is busy, invoices can take two weeks to be created and mailed.

Now, you understand! If the plumbing is fixed, customers are no longer concerned, and they have moved on from the problem. It’s not until a week or two later that they are reminded they even had a situation, when the paper invoice comes in the mail. The customer is annoyed because now they must pay for past services, and they are further frustrated because they are out of checks! You ask to have the owner and the employees confirm your suspicion, and you work through section four of the worksheet. You already know what’s happening in the bookkeeping so you can move past section five. You understand section six the roadmap of possibilities, which will include training later if the client agrees, concluding the onboarding assessment/interview worksheet.

This is your moment! Now, you can verify you understand their problem. Confirm what you have learned. Service workers go out and perform duties, and two weeks later, invoices are mailed and slow, or no payments come in. Now, you can suggest a field service app, where they can take the payment out in the field during the customer call. This not only assures customer payment, but it’s also fast and creates a positive customer experience. You tell your client all the other benefits of field service apps, such as scheduling, capturing job images, texting customers you’re on route, GPS location, and time tracking. Your client agrees that this sounds wonderful, and engages with you to research solutions to fit their needs.

Using the Apps Evaluation Worksheet, you get to work finding apps. You talk to friends, ask for demos, read reviews, and update the worksheet as you go along. After researching, you are ready to share your results with the client. During the meeting, you show the client the worksheet, and they agree which solution scored the highest Jobbers. Then, ask them to do a Demo with you both.

The solution. During the demo, the client asks lots of questions to the vendor and you about how this app will fit their business. They are thrilled with the possibilities, and decide to use the solution. Now, you need to determine your role. Will you stay on the project, or is your job done? If you are to remain on the project, then create a timeline with phases mapped out to confirm the expectations of both parties.

I advise if the app has an onboarding team to take advantage of that because they have seen and know how to work through a lot of situations. However, I like to stay on the project to advise how my client performs specific tasks, so that the solution integrates appropriately with their existing or newly adopted workflow. Another area I strongly recommend you oversee is the mapping of the data.

Here is a copy of the resource created by Heather Satterley App Exploration Worksheet.

Decide what you want to get paid, and what your involvement looks like

Just like all areas of Accounting Advisory Services, this is valuable work. Advisory Services is a separate engagement from everyday bookkeeping and accounting services.

Performing Apps Advisory services, you must consider that the job you are providing can include app discovery, implementation, and management. These are three separate engagement opportunities. The level of involvement you choose dictates the value pricing you bill to your clients.

Often, while I am training my accounting and bookkeeping peers at conferences and events, they share their concerns about pricing app engagements. This is an area I have complete empathy because I have walked in these same shoes. What I can advise is to start by pricing an engagement with enough flexibility to spend enough time on unexpected situations.

One engagement app that is offering guidance is Practice Ignition. Practice Ignition has created pre-built templates for client engagements. One template you can use as a guide to determine pricing is their Add-on Template that’s designed for a simple app integration. Although this is for very light app engagements, Practice Ignition provides a baseline for pricing an integration. The template suggests a 30-minute meeting of goals, integration setup, and a two-hour training for a baseline rate of 400.00. Obviously, you can adjust this to fit your fee schedule and level of difficulty that’s unique to your situational involvement. Still, the template is an excellent way to ensure everyone is on the same page of expectations of results and required resources.

Apps Advisory is something every business needs

It is clear apps are part of doing business in the modern world. App innovation, creation, and modification is the norm. Most business owners do not have the time or desire to become app experts. Instead, they just need a solution that works. The need for Apps Advisory Services is in demand and expanding. The truth is that an app toolbox is an integral part of the modern accountant. Apps are a progression to the tech-savvy business owner.

The task of finding apps, evaluating apps, and managing ongoing app engagements is part of the service accountants should naturally be providing. App Advisory Services are part of the modern accountants’ role. These services help businesses be relevant in their fields by becoming faster, leaner, and more agile. Becoming fluent in Apps Advisory Services not only helps your client, but also gives you an additional stream of revenue as an accountant.

As the apps incorporate more artificial intelligence and machine learning, our job becomes helping businesses create tech stacks with access to comprehensive data and trends, which previously would have taken days to find. The results that this type of tech can give us are astounding. It also means businesses have faster access to data unfolding options, allowing them to pivot when necessary – creating a stable full of dexterity and a mastermind business.

Read the next article in this series: Compliance/Forensic Advisory.