Stick or twist: should accountants be banking on an app-filled future?

Stick or twist: should accountants be banking on an app-filled future?

Is the web really dead or do accountants need to realise its future potential?

It is now eight years since Wired magazine’s provocative cover story declared: “The Web Is Dead”.

“The World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting,” editor Chris Anderson wrote.

Anderson was witnessing the birth of a new paradigm. It was just two years after the birth of the App Store, and apps were exploding.

Mobile apps on Apple (iOS) and subsequently non-Apple (Android) devices purportedly offered so many advantages over the web – like more effective monetisation, interactive entertainment without native flash compatibility, and offline capability.

No wonder so many accounting software providers offer mobile apps, and sometimes even white-label those apps to accounting firms. No wonder everyone has since been predicting a world without the web.

The trouble is, that world has not come to pass. While you weren’t looking, the web has grown new muscles. Today, web pages responsively scale their presentation for desktop and mobile screens, providing new real-time capabilities. Many, like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, are easing the historic page bloat, and Progressive Web Apps are delivering single-page web apps that even work offline.

Accounting practices that previously declared the web “dead” need to reassess the situation, because the new web offers plenty that apps do not. Firstly, web apps offer the same look and feel as mobile apps, while also making  it straightforward for developers to create an experience that is the same across multiple devices, whether you’re working from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.This development allows staff to use whichever handset is more comfortable and accessible to do their accounting – without the need to buy all-new.

Accounting software providers are constantly working on new features to roll out to better the users experience – whether they are new languages, improved functionality like tax filing or simple bug fixes. However, customers using mobile apps typically need to update these manually in order to benefit from the latest upgrades. Even the app developers themselves need to wait for Apple and Google to authorise changes.

This isn’t the case for web-based apps. Updates happen automatically, as it’s the same code that’s used on the main application accessed on a desktop browser. Not only does this remove the annoyance of having to wait for mobile apps to update, but web app users will always be ahead of the curve when it comes to features that make business life easier.

In order for native apps to be of a manageable size, they need to strip out significant amounts of functionality. This isn’t the case for web apps, which allow users to access the full version each time they log on, regardless of what device they use.

Further to this point, web apps suffer from the perception that, because they are not installed directly on the device itself, any break in internet access (such as on a plane with no Wi-Fi service) reduces their capabilities. For those traveling for work, this is a huge concern, but it need not be!

Growing numbers of expense solutions offer optical character recognition (OCR), to extract transaction data from an image of a receipt. However, this isn’t done on the phone itself, but in the cloud. So, if users want to do their expenses without a connection on a native app, they will have to manually enter all transaction details because. No data can be extracted  photo of the receipt, so it’s still a lengthy process. And also, users will still need connectivity before you can submit expenses.

Combining a mobile web solution with the ability to email a receipt to your expense provider for OCR extraction removes any perceived offline benefits that an app may offer. Travellers can simply take a photo of their receipts, send them in an email, and as soon as their device is online, the email will go out. With incredibly accurate OCR processing done in seconds, travellers can have a full trip’s worth of expenses added to the system with full transaction details almost instantaneously.

Last but not least, web apps are arguably more secure than their mobile counterparts. A leak of expense data could cause anything from acute embarrassment to major legal and financial implications. Given that all user details, such as corporate card information, are held within mobile apps, the risk of this data being stolen from a compromised device is significant.

However, an expense solution that uses web applications will not store any sensitive user or company data on the device itself. Combine this with additional layers of security such as dual-factor authentication, and you can be reassured that your data is secure. What this means for the end user is that, even if a thief or hacker is able to gain physical or electronic entry to the device, there’s no risk that your sensitive data will be at risk.

So let’s put the myth to rest: while mobile apps may seem like the better option at first glance, when we evaluate the benefits of web-based applications, we see that they actually make more business

sense. Whether for security, convenience or to stay ahead of the curve, it’s worth checking out what the web can offer for your expense management needs.

 

Sunil Kayiti is CTO at Chrome River Technologies

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