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Fix That Leak in Your Digital Plumbing

As we know, technology upends everything from transportation to accounting, and no one has been left unaffected. Whether you’ve known about this reality for years, or you’re just waking up to it, code is the undercurrent of a future-forward accounting practice.

While we don’t all have to become developers (yet), there’s an increasing demand for people to be “code competent.” As is suggested in a 2015 PwC report, courses that teach basic programming skills using common coding languages like Java and Python could become staples of accounting students’ curriculum.

Digital plumbing is one of several tech trends that are not only permeating the accounting industry (and, digital plumbing strategy subsequently, the entire business world), but that are also changing the way we handle data and its inter-connectivity.

Automated data collection and processing systems empower companies to use their information more effectively. And because data plays such an important role in how businesses are able to market to and serve their customers, a digital plumbing strategy  is a key ingredient to any business’s competitive advantage.

But these systems are complex, integrated environments that you run your entire business on, and as Doug Sleeter, founder of The Sleeter Group, noted during one of the presentations at SleeterCon 2015 in regard to the development work of integration, “It’s hard bloody code to write.”

As an accounting adviser concerned with your clients’ digital plumbing, you don’t need to know how to build application program interfaces (APIs) from the ground up, nor must you know your way around a software development kit. However, you should at least understand the language and some of the concepts your developers deal with when building applications. This way, you’ll be able to enter into a macrolevel discourse on working with data to understand how these technology products translate into action within a business’s system.

Fortunately, becoming developer-literate doesn’t require you to study the nitty-gritty rules of programming languages (though I do suggest checking out courses like “Getting Started With Programming” at Codecademy to get a basic understanding.) Most importantly, it’s about answering questions critical to good product design, like “What are we trying to build?” “What problem does that solve for your customer?” and “How will your customer engage with that platform in a way that is easy and impactful?”

At SleeterCon 2015 (Accountex in 2016), I had the chance to sit down with Workato CEO Vijay Tella, and during our conversation I was able to glean some incredible insights into how to answer these questions. The Workato integration platform received one of the Awesome Application Awards at SleeterCon.

Examining the Workato Solution

As Doug Sleeter suggests, learning to navigate these development-heavy conversations would be challenging under other circumstances, but programs like Workato help to bridge the gap. Accountants and other nondeveloper professionals will be held accountable for their roles in data collection and management, especially as tools facilitate improved collaboration. But after talking with Vijay, I’m convinced that Workato makes it easier for accounting professionals to advise — and have an impact on — the role of data flowing within a company.

Think about it like this: Business owners have access to countless apps that will help them manage everything from their accounting to their HR needs. But as helpful as these apps are on their own, trying to manage them all individually is unwieldy. The switching costs can be astronomical, which is what makes an integration platform so valuable. However, it’s nearly impossible to find and use one of these platforms as is. Every company’s workflow is different, after all.

Workato offers a cost-effective solution for integrating all of your apps and processes in a way that makes sense to you. It’s a system that will actually help manage your data so it doesn’t overwhelm you. While Vijay recognizes that Workato isn’t the first or only integration platform out there — think IFTTT, Zapier, etc. — it offers something the others can’t: an opportunity to close the “last mile.”

This means accountants don’t have to go into the back end and hard code themselves. Workato provides the user interface and the opportunity to close that last mile of customization — or, as I like to call it, “hyper-customization” — with little to no coding knowledge. Workato provides this option through its intelligent, multilevel “recipe” mechanism, explained Vijay, one that other small business alternatives don’t have.

Integration Is the Future — Who Will Take the First Step?

No matter how excellent a standalone service is, it won’t survive the age of integration if it doesn’t adapt to the shifting needs of a growing business. However, this creates a Catch-22. Software companies know that integration leads to better customer retention, so of course they want to be proactive in partner integrations. But most are simply not in the business of integration, as Vijay pointed out.

Yet integration presents both a challenge and an opportunity for tech companies across the board. They may need to build integrations to stay competitive, even though that’s not their core business.

Tip: Check out Workato’s ISV Partner Program if you’re a software vendor looking to tackle this integration speed bump.

Digital Plumbing Strategy — How Workato Manages It

If you’re an accountant, regardless of whether a current integration exists, Workato is a great tool to start with! There’s no going in the back end to code — you get the user interface that provides the opportunity to hyper-customize.

As Vijay explained during our conversation, Workato supplies the framework and the tools and allows you to fill in the details so you’re getting all of the data you need, and simplifying your workflow. You can also manage all of your client recipes in one dashboard via Workato’s partner program so that you’re not reinventing the wheel with every new customer.

Accountants in particular have a real opportunity to make an impression with digital plumbing. The Pareto Principle tells us that we often spend 80 percent of our time producing data and only 20 percent of our time reviewing it. We’re trying to flip that equation to better serve our clients, and I believe Workato is a vehicle for achieving that objective.

By setting up these systems and perfecting different recipes, you’re at the forefront of a movement to improve your industry. You’re making clients happier and setting new best practice standards in your field.

And that is the moral of this story: Accounting folks need to put on their technologist hats and think about how their roles are a part of the discourse on handling data. When some accountants first hear the term “digital plumbing,” they think it dehumanizes their jobs. But having a great data management and workflow process simply allows humans to interact more effectively with technology. Implementing a digital plumbing strategy isn’t about removing people-to-people interactions; it’s about solving this last-mile problem.


This article was originally posted by Mathew Heggem for The Sleeter Report / Accountex Report, and you can view it here.

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