2020 Vision: Practices must think about their app attack

THIS WEEKEND I have been busy setting up a new mobile phone, and as is the way phones are now, the majority of time is spent downloading and setting up various apps which may never be used again.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, and in particular those who actually read my rants, will know exactly where this is going.

Firstly, to set the scene, let me tell you what I noticed as an app user, and also a user of pretty much every technology out there – for this purpose: Blackberry, iPhone, iPad and Android.

While setting up my new phone (Blackberry in this case), I actively chose to limit my apps to those that I use semi-regularly, and/or those that add real value to me. So basically, that left me with social media apps, my to-do list, taxi app Uber, and music app Deezer. I’m pretty sure that this will be as far as I go with apps on this phone. I grabbed all the stock apps that were supplied with the phone, and dumped them into a “junk” folder that I won’t ever enter access again.

This seems to be becoming my standard approach for all my phones, and also standard practice for the other users that I know. Five years ago, we were perhaps keener to download the latest app. And importantly, we didn’t have a folder to hide it away in once bored of the app.

Ditch the templated app

So why is it that accountants still invest thousands of pounds in templated tax apps, which hardly anyone will download, and will likely end up in the “junk” folder should it actually be found?

I had some fun, and decided to search for the name of one of the providers of these apps. They had approximately 300 published apps, which work in the same way as the templated websites that the industry fell head over heels with ten years ago. Same content, distributed in the same format, to each accountant’s ‘branded’ app.

They even include tax tables. Readers of my articles know my thoughts on these. Electronic delivery doesn’t change my opinion too much.

The issue is this: Does it add real value (such as Uber) or get used frequently (in the way I use Twitter)? Frankly, anyone who uses an accountant’s app daily, or believes it is a vital app that adds real value, needs their head checked. And on that basis, I don’t feel many apps will get downloaded, and certainly won’t get past the home screen.

Now I’m never one to highlight a problem without a proposed solution. I’d like to say that this is my “solutions-focused approach”. It is far more likely that I’m simply an unfortunate combination of vocal and opinionated. So, here are some thoughts from just a few moments mulling over what a good client accounting app should do:

  • integrate the important dates into the devices calendar
  • allow the user to determine the notice period that they want for these dates, and send a reminder
  • push notifications if the data in their online bookkeeping package is lacking integrity (for example, only 11 rent payments in a year)
  • a facility to instant message an account manager
  • a dashboard to show the progress of compliance work
  • a ticketing system (and visibility of the same) for queries
  • packages to be purchased, with pricing and online DD/card payment facilities

This can all be done, and might go some way to adding value. As it stands, the app providers are going to have to follow the website providers model – a significant upfront cost, with a low monthly retainer – purely so that once the practitioner realises the above, they have already committed the bulk of the spend.

I’d be genuinely interested to hear any other views on this – so, if any practitioner has won a client or additional fees from their app, please let me know. I won’t hold my breath.

Carl Reader is a director of Wiltshire-based firm Dennis & Turnbull, which won the 2013 British Accountancy Award for Independent Firm of the Year-Wales and South West England

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