From XU Magazine, 
Issue 20

Building a winning tech stack for your practice

Automation and integration can make practices more efficient, enabling fast growth and great client service even with the increased workload. But accountants often need a long list of products to support their complex work – not just accounts production and tax software, but also proposals, CRM, workflow, emailing, automation, client portal and e-signing... the technology stack in a modern practice can be pretty complex. But is the answer an integrated suite from one vendor, or a carefully curated set of best-of-breed products?
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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The Myth of the integrated suite

It’s frustrating to repeat the same tasks over and over again in multiple pieces of software, so it’s not surprising that some firms hunt for a single, fully integrated accountancy product suite, believing this will be the answer to all of their problems – the promise of time-saving features can be alluring.

Yet many accountancy firms are dissatisfied with integrated suites – not least because of the many compromises they face in terms of functionality. Integrated suites are often expensive, built on old tech or are locally installed, and they often include products that are limited in their capabilities or are not well-suited to the practice. Accountants often find that they even have to re-enter data within the suite in multiple places, so the only integration they actually enjoy is single sign-on or a common address database – not quite the holy grail of completely integrated data.

The reality of most modern practices is that their software landscape is very complex, often with more than 10 pieces of software or cloud services.  It’s not reasonable to believe a single integrated platform can deliver the best of everything, and critical functions such as practice management are often second-class citizens in integrated suites. For modern practices that want flexibility, integrated solutions are rarely the answer.

Senta’s clients have tended to move away from integrated suites, having found that the negatives far outweigh the positives, instead putting Senta at the heart of their practice for CRM, workflow & automation.

“Ultimately, we’ve stopped seeing the benefits for an integrated approach where you have to settle for certain systems. It just makes sense for us to have the best in class for each,” explains Gurpreet Sandhu at 3 Wise Bears.

Modern practices shift towards best-of-breed

Senta delivers best-of-breed practice management software that evolves with your business. We think the most sensible approach for dynamic firms is to source the best software for each area of the practice’s work, and to take advantage of integrations when the opportunity is there.

Increasingly, individual vendors team up to integrate their systems with complementary software providers, and whilst this doesn’t offer a single integrated suite of products it does offer far greater choice and flexibility. With thorough research to identify the best products you can then refine your search to hone in on products that also fit well with the processes of your practice.

Senta client Della Hudson, author of The Numbers Business, says: “Taking the best-of-breed approach means that we get to choose the best software rather than compromising to find a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Check your shortlisted vendors are being ambitious in their pursuit of integration with open APIs. If they’re working with other vendors to integrate, there’s a good chance your practice will benefit now or in the future from a reduction in duplication of tasks. At Senta, right from the outset, we were keen to integrate with other software vendors so that practices really could have the best choice.

“It is helpful to have one main source of client data and just share essential information with other software,” Della Hudson continues. “Once set up, changes of standing data such as addresses are rare, so there is minimal admin – and you can set up a Senta process to ensure that you don’t miss anything. These days even systems developed in isolation can be linked through their API or by using something like Zapier, so there is no additional time spent keeping systems in sync.”

In our experience, many practitioners build their practice technology stack around Senta. Some already benefit from established integrations with popular best-of-breed software such as Xero and GoProposal, and our development roadmap includes many more. Practices don’t want to be forced into a particular way of working. Some of Senta’s clients work exclusively with Xero or another package – but a large proportion want to be able to use many different platforms based on their own clients’ requirements - and we enable practices do that because we’re agnostic about what’s right for each practice.

Flexibility wins the day

“I think we all would like a completely integrated system,” says Paul Stankiewicz of Paul Marks & Co. “However, I have always been very disappointed with the main suppliers that offer accountants an integrated suite of modules, either because they are missing key functionality in certain areas or because they are far too expensive. We have decided on best-of-breed as you get far more functionality and flexibility at a reasonable price. It obviously requires more work in streamlining your processes but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”

Patricia Brennock of Ezyco Accounts agrees: “Having stand-alone cloud-based specific packages provides us with amazing flexibility. Each package delivers a high level of expertise and is not challenged to deliver many different processes.”

Usually you’ll be dealing with modern, independent software companies that are responsive to accountants’ requests for new features, and are constantly working to improve their product. They don’t spread themselves thinly by trying to offer an integrated suite to cater for all accountants’ needs, but instead focus on solving a practice’s problems in one particular area.

Allison Walker from Mint Accounting says,

“Senta has completely changed how we work at Mint Accounting and allowed us to significantly improve internal efficiency. The ability to decide how we collect and maintain data, as well as set up jobs and tasks in exactly the way we want them to run, means we feel like we are using a bespoke system. The fact we can feed in information from other platforms, such as Xero and GoCardless, is also hugely beneficial. Senta is now at the core of our business – we would be lost without it.”

Why leave it there?

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