How can Accounting Firms use Big Data with Clients?

Well first and foremost, lets deal with the ‘big word alert’. What is Big Data?

Big Data is exactly what it sounds like. Large volumes of data, both structured and unstructured that come into a business on a day-to-day basis. Examples of data include (but are not limited too) accounting, email, social media, website analytics. Endless data comes into your business without you even being aware of most of it.

Capturing this data is one thing. Using it to create value is another. Technology has come a long way. All of a sudden you have ways to hold data like you would have never imagined. But what do you do with it all? You certainly don’t pay to capture the data and then not use it. Or even worse, you pay to capture the data, and create reports/dashboards that don’t mean anything.

The most important thing to consider before going down the road of Big Data in your Accounting firm is, are you willing to invest time into it? Its great to get Big Data about your client base, but you need to be willing to spend time massaging this data into dashboards/reports that are of value to your clients. Else forget it.

If you are willing to invest the time, what are your top options?

1. Customised builds with IT business providers that specialise in Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics. This move normally would be for bigger business (not your Mum & Dad businesses). It’s high end, they are experts in their field, and they can create value to the business (if they know what they are talking about). On the flip side, it’s expensive.

2. DIY with Tableau ( https://www.tableau.com ). They have been around a long time. They are leaders in their field, however, competition is catching up.

3. DIY with Microsoft Power BI ( https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us ). Microsoft have been heavily investing in this project. It’s gaining serious traction and is looking likely to overtake Tableau as the leader in the field.

4. DIY with Spotlight Reporting ( https://www.spotlightreporting.com ). They integrate very nicely with Xero if your firm is running purely on Xero Practice Manager. They have report templates for different industries and they have been around since the beginning of Xero.

Recommendations

If you are an accounting firm looking at the best option to service your clients, I would recommend Microsoft Power BI for your small/medium sized businesses for the following reasons; (I’d stick to point 1 above for your large clients)

a. The base language of Power BI is Microsoft Excel. We all know accountants are experts in Excel. So the learning curve is small.

b. The Institute of Chartered Accountants have recently invested in a program named CA Kairos. Under the hood of CA Kairos is in fact Microsoft Power BI. CA Kairos is the knowledge centre. They have open forums with other progressive accounting firms and are building templates for different industries to help you with dashboards that mean something to your clients. Plus much more.

c. Its cheaper than any of the other options. In fact, if your clients data set is small enough, and you were happy to not refresh the data instantly, it’s free!

Summary

In conclusion, my view comes down to this. Do you invest in an IT Company (Spotlight or Tableau), or do you invest in Microsoft? Microsoft may be an IT Company, but on a whole new scale. They are pushing significant resources into Power BI. On top of this, Microsoft are now aligned with the Institute of Chartered Accountants and most importantly to the always busy accounting firm, it costs less in time and money long term.