Why accountants should embrace e-commerce financials

The government say you either go online or go out of business.

Constant lobbying to remove the key escrow element from the bill (data encryption security which was believed to infringe civil liberties) is going to help a lot, but we must also find a way of boosting customer confidence in security issues. It is good that lobbying can be effective but it is a shame the government did not consult the industry in more detail first.

Industry opinion can change things and if anyone in government is listening let’s move forward with digital signatures.

Access Accounting’s MD Alistair O’Reilly is confident enough to put his own credit card details on the net if it is a secure site. But currently his digital signature on a document is valueless.

We would like the government to introduce a central secure system for the storage of digital signatures that works in a similar way that secure on-line credit card authorisation does.

The e-commerce take up will increase dramatically once digital signatures are legal. We know the government is making great strides because of their desire to introduce the electronic submission of personal tax returns.

Government needs to establish a legal framework to guarantee the UK will be the best place in the world to trade electronically. They need to then back that up with lots of good publicity about how much they trust trading on the web.

We see it as our responsibility to teach our dealers to understand the technology and its benefits and we then expect them to teach end users.

Consumer resistance is being overcome every day. In fact every day you meet one more person who has purchased a product on line.

Accountants could derive revenue from training their customers in e-commerce. There are many aspects of e-commerce that could be of great benefit to accountants in their own businesses – remote entry of time sheet springs readily to mind. Others could be: billing by e-mail; potential new income stream in advising clients; implementing e-commerce solutions for clients; using e-commerce themselves with Intranets and marketing web sites.

Everyone has to trust computer output if they use a desktop system. The web is no different. A good web shop will keep an audit trail just the same to satisfy the VAT man as well as the auditor. This is the benefit of e-commerce developed by a branded accounting software provider – it is fully integrated.

90% of businesses have their computer records accepted at face value and the other 10% have the pleasure of showing the VAT inspector through hard copy records of prime documents.

Accountants can work with partners to run online servers with whatever software the accountants wish to offer SMEs. A major benefit of the web is that small companies can offer a big company service.

We are not sure there is any point in running small applications over the net – the benefits are far greater with large database applications or applications that need expert support like accounting systems.

Locally hosted websites were all that were available until recently and these require expert knowledge to install large web servers with very expensive telephone lines. But, remote hosted sites allow the customer to rent an inexpensive service that still provides industrial strength solutions.

Any accountants who do not see e-commerce as an opportunity will surely see it as a threat.

E-commerce will not go away and accountants must follow their customers if they are to survive and lead them to prosperity. If your business is the same today, as it was last year – you have definitely plateaued and may even be on the way down.

It is the small companies which need the most help and which can gain the most tangible benefit from e-commerce. Everyone can look big on the web and trade more effectively.

Accountants should believe in planning and evolution. If you do not evolve your business then it is standing still.

As Bill Gates said, if you’re not embracing e-commerce by 2002 you could be out of business. Accountants should take note.

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