Your Inside Track to Modern Software Assessment | Transcript | Episode 004

Your Inside Track to Modern Software Assessment | Transcript | Episode 004

[Adam] Hello, and welcome to tech for finance, where we help finance professionals, leverage technology to support their ambitions as businesses and as individuals, I'm your host, Adam Shilton. And in this episode, we're going to be chatting with Tom Costa, who is the partner enablement manager for Sage Intacct, and is an expert in ERP systems of all shapes and sizes.

Having started his career with Sage, Tom went on to work with a number of other big name software vendors, including Microsoft, Infor, SAP and Acumatica. Before returning to Sage.

Tom now focuses on helping the Sage partner base deliver maximum value during their customer interactions, advocating a customer-first approach to software demonstrations that focuses on enabling results as opposed to merely ticking requirements boxes.

So thanks for joining me today, Tom.

[Tom] Thanks for having me, Adam.

[Adam] No problem at all. So you joining from Colorado today?

[Tom] Yes I am. Yeah. That's another sunny day here in Colorado.

[Adam] Yeah. Excellent stuff. So I know your time's precious, Tom, so we'll kick it off. I mean, if you could give just a bit of a background, I see you seem to have come full circle since, was it the late eighties you started it at Sage originally, just to give us a bit of background.

[Tom] Yeah. So originally I started with a company called state-of-the-art software, which was later acquired by Sage in the late nineties. And, you know, it's, you know, technology has always interested me going back to when I was even in high school, I took the only programming class that the high school offered at the time, which sadly enough was on punched cards. So, the electronics of computers never, you know, I understand them, but there was no interest there, but it was always the software side that interested me, which led me to gravitate towards a career in the software industry, as opposed to just hardware sales or things like that.

So that's kind of how I got started in it. And where I lived in California at the time, there were a number of software companies, virtually startups in those days that I went to work for one of them called state-of-the-art, which is how I got into the accounting software arena originally.

[Adam] So Very good. And you've been, been around the houses a bit, so there's there's some big names now. Yeah, so how come you ended up back in the, in the Sage ecosystem, it just, just seemed like the right move at the right time?

[Tom] Right move at the right time, more than anything else. I had a career first in selling accounting software and then demonstrating accounting software. And after a period of time of doing two or three demos a week over the course of about 20 years, I really wanted a bit of a change. And Sage Intacct offered me that ability to really go into more of a training role for how to sell the product, how to demo the product as opposed to actually doing the work. So it was a really nice transition for me at this point in my career, which I'm on more of the tail end of my career now, but it is a nice transition from being able to share the experiences that I've had over the last, you know, 35 or 40 years to, you know, newer people that are just getting into the industry.

[Adam] Okay, good. Thanks for that. So I'm going to shift my questions about a bit if that's okay? Cause I think it might flow a little bit better, so you spoke about Sage Intacct, which is, I mean it's a cloud accounting system, right. And we don't have to get into the territory of demystifying what cloud is because obviously it comes in a number of different variants, but of course in this sense, Sage Intacct being a cloud system whereby you know, similar to a Xero or whatever I suppose, smaller accounting solutions, you get a URL and you login, right.

So we're now in a position where people can log into a cloud application as opposed to what it used to be, which was a server hosted, maybe physically installed in it frmo CD back in the day. So compared to where you've come from compared to, you know, accounting in the cloud now, what are some of the major shifts that you think you've seen in, in recent years during that transition?

[Tom] Well, you know, probably the most notable one has been the shift to more of a remote work environment from where we were all in the office together. We were all connected to a server in a workstation. We couldn't access any of this information outside of the building, to now you're right.

We have a URL, we have a browser, you know, I want to access this on my phone, my laptop, my tablet, I can do that. And so making that accessible as we work more remotely, and I think the concept of remote work is here to stay. I don't think we're ever going to go back to pre 2019 levels of we're all going to go into the office Monday through Friday, there's going to be some hybrid variant of all that, but all of it includes working from home.

So that idea of remote work is very important, but even so much as you know, doing an approval on your phone of a PO you know, where you're not in the office. So that ability to facilitate transactions, even though I'm not in the office, I can still approve a transaction. I can still approve a PO. I can still, maybe on a Saturday, see how do we do for the week? I can go on my tablet. I can look at dashboards and graphs. And that allows me to take a quick look at, gee, am I going to have a good weekend because I don't have to worry about anything? Or is there something for me to worry about that I might need to go in and take a look at more immediately?

So that access of information, that ability to facilitate transactions to access this anywhere, anytime has really been a trend over the last 10 years, but it's certainly accelerated over the last couple of years.

[Adam] I'd agree because it was, it was always moving in that direction. Wasn't it, but as you say, 2019, a lot of businesses had literally no option, but to adopt a new way of working. And we're still seeing that. I mean, there are still many, many businesses that are still making the transition, right? So it's interesting to see how, how that's going to progress in with the same line of thought.

I mean, if you're not having to manage your own infrastructure and you are on the infrastructure of a major player, like say SAGE or SAP, you know, fill in the gap, obviously that's, that's a large shared database of information that we're now seeing more and more services, whether it's AI and machine learning and, and all of those sorts of things. And I know more and more of these more sophisticated AI platforms are being used to really, you know, improve, especially some of the, the laborious manual stuff, you know, that, that sits at ground level. So what's, what's your impression?

I mean, are we now getting to the point where AI automation machine learning is, is essential to modern finance teams? Or do you think that it's still emerging? Do you think it's still more of a nice to have?

[Tom] I think it's more than a nice to have now that I've actually seen practical use cases for it because the concept of artificial intelligence has been bandied about for the last 20 years or so, maybe even longer than that, but there was never what I felt a practical application of it for a small to medium-size organization.

It was always huge organizations, huge enterprises. They had the budget to incorporate this type of technology, but now we're finding that it's gone down to the small to medium-sized level. And I'll give you two examples of these use cases within Sage Intacct, we have what's called the GL Outlier.

And what that is is an artificial intelligence that as a journal entry is being recorded into the system, through machine learning, the artificial intelligence learned what a normal journal entry would look like, right? What have we done in the past? What's normal look like? So that as I'm keying in a new journal entry, that general ledger outlier assistant is going to be able to say, by the way, you've never done a journal entry like this before it's gonna, even though it would have been a balanced debit and credit, it was a valid accounting entry, the combination of account number amount dimensions, which are different department, location, regions, salesforce, and customers. Those are all dimensions within Sage Intacct.

But that combination that you just strung together of all the history of all the stuff that I've learned about your system, this is of course the machine learning kicking in. You've never done this before, are you sure you want to do it? And let's get it approved to make sure. So here's one aspect of it finding an error before you had the error. And we all understand the term garbage in garbage out.

This GL outlier, this artificial intelligence is catching the garbage before it gets in, in the first place. So what does that mean to a customer? They look at all these dashboards and all this wealth of information they're now presented with, and they have this thing running in the background. They know where this is looking out after them. I believe that gives them a level of trust in the numbers they're seeing that may be in the older legacy system.

They might not have had that higher degree of trust in that old data where garbage in garbage out could have very well affected them. So that's one example of how I think artificial intelligence, although it's still a relatively new thing. It's only at this level only a few years since it's been introduced into the, into the client world, I think is now is going to become an absolute necessity to us and using the software to kind of keep us from having to search for that error, which is a very manual, tedious effort that could take days, if not a week, to find one journal entry area, it's a needle in a haystack.

Now we can devote that time to other things because we don't have to spend the time looking for the needle in the haystack.

I know that was a long answer to a short question, Adam, but to put it in context of what this stuff actually means to someone in that small to medium size organization. I think there's real value to something like this. And I, and I think it's going to be absolutely a necessity as it, as more practical use cases come online for these types of technologies and the reduction of the manual tedious stuff because the artificial intelligence is able to learn, how do I want to do this? And it'll just do it for me.

[Adam] And we're already seeing evolutions of that. Aren't we, because I know you mentioned using the example of a journal entry there, you know, not having to wade through masses and masses of data and just having a system point it out for you.

But I know that there's also been work with approvals, for example, you know, so something that fits within a certain threshold has already been approved for the last 12 months. So you only, you get to the point where you only need to approve something if it doesn't match, you know? Yeah. So it'll be interesting to see where that goes to be fair.

And I remember when I was just starting to immerse myself in the concept of AI machine learning and, not just that, but also the concept of technology that wasn't available in the SME space.

I remember when Microsoft first launched the HoloLens and they were giving the examples of a field service engineer goes out to site.

Traditionally, they'd have a big, massive, big pack of paper in the back of a van, you know, with instructions, you know, user guides and manuals and, and all of that sort of stuff. But now we're getting to the point where somebody with a, with a HoloLens you can just look at, say an electric panel, and then somebody from the back office can see through their eyes and give instructions, even if the engineer isn't, you know, senior with the necessary experience.

So I think it's interesting that sort of technology is, as you say, becoming more accessible to SMEs.

There's a couple of ways of looking at it because you've kind of, I do work with all sizes, but you've got the really small emerging companies that are still building their finance team. You know, they might be a fast to a high growth business and there may be a crossroads, do we invest in people or do we invest in technology? So they could be using basic systems like spreadsheets and they say, right, well, as a result of our growth, we need somebody to come in and manually key that, or follow this process and so on. And then they're into paying salaries.

But these sorts of technologies, if you can automate, it reduces that need to hire unnecessarily, I guess. Sure.

But I suppose there's the other argument as well, because when you look at a more established business, that's already got a finance team of maybe 10, 15 people. You know, it's a, it's a different business case because instead of saying, right, well, we're going to put in a platform and stay lean as we grow we're then into repurposing territory. Aren't we?

So instead of having somebody that is, you know, doing the, the low level stuff, they can then focus on potentially the more strategic stuff. So I think it's going to be interesting to see the way that this continues to evolve, not just in the SME space, but also for larger organizations that are seeing a shift in what their day-to-day looks like. Right.

[Tom] Well, one of the things that I've noticed, cause I've, I tend to go through quite a few of our customer case studies, I've read hundreds of them. And one of the things that I noticed was because the level of automation now is higher than it used to be the manual tedious things, operations that a user would use to have to do no matter what that is.

Now, there's a level of automation that they don't have to do as much manual tedious time consuming operations, because the automation does that.

But what we're finding, and here's an interesting offshoot where I'm going with this, as they now have time, because they're not doing the manual tedious stuff to do more interesting analytical work. And I, and what we found from what our users are telling us is because it's not manual and tedious and it's analytical. The users find that work more interesting than you know, a factory worker, right, where he's doing the same thing every day, right. You know, when it gets monotonous, now they're doing analytical work, which is far more interesting.

So their job satisfaction has gone up because they're doing more analytical work and less manual data entry. And then this time where we have, you know, turnover as being a major concern for any size organization, if the individual, the individual employees find the work interesting and fulfilling, forget the money aspect of it, they find their job fulfilling interesting to do. They're going to probably tend to stay as opposed to the person who's doing the manual tedious stuff that they just get sick of. They are more likely to jump.

So this level of automation has allowed the employee to do something they're more interested in doing. So they're probably going to stay. So that, it's an interesting offshoot of what we've been finding from feedback from our customers is this automation, you know, there was an interesting offshoot to that that we actually found that I didn't really consider, you know.

I considered like you, the level of automation as we grow, we don't need to hire someone. And that's, as far as I took it. What our customers actually said was their employees were staying longer because they found the work to be more interesting.

[Adam] So I don't know whether it's the same term over in the US, but recently we've been referring to it over, over here in the UK is the great resignation. Yes.

[Tom] Yup.

[Adam] People moving on mass, as soon as their employer says, you've got to come back to the office. I say, right. Well, hang on a second. I quite like working from home. Yeah. So you're absolutely right. And we were getting to the point and without me getting my, my hyper future focused head on that may talk about how people may end up merging with machines and all of that sort of stuff that we, we don't like to think about, even though it could happen.

[Tom] So you're not going into the whole sky net thing.

[Adam] Not quite, not quite, not today, anyway, not today, but people now have a closer relationship with tech than they ever did. So instead of people going to work and thinking, you know, I've got some paperwork to get through, I've got some reports right. They're now thinking, right, well, what does my tech stack look like? You know, what, what sort of cool applications am I going to be able to use? It's going to allow me to perform at my best. And then the closer we get to that technology, the more important is going to be for companies to have the right systems in place. Right. You know? So yes, it's a, it's a very interesting point.

[Tom] And I stay forever curious to see how that's going to evolve. And that has been evolving. The tools have been evolving. They've been getting better over time. The fundamental hardware, more memory, faster processors has allowed for this technology to evolve. Whereas 10 or 15 years ago, the concept of AI was there. The technology to actually get it to do something was a warehouse full of servers. Now it's your phone. I mean, so the amount of technology and the cost of this technology to enable this, you know, advancement, it's, it, it really does have to start with the hardware to enable us to do more and more with this technology.

And that's where the software comes in now that we're able to do more. We do more because we have a platform. We have a hardware platform that will support us efficiently in that operation. So exactly spot on with where you are going, but it did start with the hardware side of things.

If that, if we didn't get the advancements in the hardware, the memory and the speed and the S size form I don't think we would have seen the advances. We, we did, even though the concepts were technically there years ago, the hardware didn't support it yet.

And that's actually even true on blockchain. You know, it's not a question of, it's a great concept of doing this. Do we have the hardware infrastructure to support every transaction over the internet to be blockchain? And the answer right now is no, we don't. That's where the whole web 3.0 comes in, where they want to move to that.

But the infrastructure from everything I've read is still, maybe even 10 years away before the infrastructure can support the concepts that we're thinking about today.

[Adam] Didn't you run a webinar on blockchain or is it, was it crypto? I can't remember.

[Tom] It was crypto which is very similar to that. And, you know, and being able to deal with, you know, something that, you know, when the systems were originally developed, they didn't have this. It really didn't exist, if it did it was, you know, in the dark web, it wasn't, you know, nothing close to what it is today.

So you do have to be somewhat flexible. And the platforms that we have now, at least at Sage Inacct are flexible enough to take something that when it was originally developed, there was no concept of this, but we are able to deal with it. We are able to use it. And that's only going to get stronger as it becomes more mainstream.

Some of these technologies become adopted by the public, but it really comes down to, is there a valid use case for this? And if there is, software companies will adopt the acceptance of it as a matter of time, but it will happen.

[Adam] Forgive my ignorance. And, and this, this wasn't on the set of questions. So, equality, feel free to not answer any, but I have to admit that I've not spent much time at all in the, in the crypto space. I'm pretty ignorant of it just cause I don't really understand it.

But when we talk about managing crypto in accounting software which is a more volatile currency, should we say, is it just an extension of how you use it an accounting system normally? Is it just another currency in another bank account or is there more complexity than that?

[Tom] It's really, it's much more complex than that. And I'm not really a subject matter expert in dealing with that. That's why I had our office hours on that. So I let an expert explain it to everyone. And I know, like you, and I think the majority of the population out there, you know, has heard the term, but truth be known, we really don't understand it, not yet.

And I think that's just the learning curve. You know, it's a relatively new concept. It's still not quite mainstream. It's much more mainstream than it was a few years ago, obviously, but it is something that we stall still all have a somewhat, I would suspect steep learning curve as to how will this actually be used?

Is it going to be a currency like the dollar or the pound, or is it something different than that? The concept of blockchain, which is what it's based on, meaning, you know, the ability to really truly validate a transaction from both ends to keep it safe and secure that I think is really, what's going to drive not so much cryptocurrency, but blockchain as we do more across the web, not just with an accounting system, but another example of where blockchain will come in and say, my system talking to my bank directly, right.

Blockchain is going to be a key role in making sure that's a safe, secure connection. Is it there yet? No. Is it, is it probably going to be there in the future? Probably, yes. My crystal ball is murky as everyone else's, but I do think that it is something that, you know, these technologies are going to become more mainstream as the business use case becomes more evident, not technology for the sake of technology, which is where some of it is now, I believe, but really where there is a true value to the business.

That's when you're going to see this newer technology starting to come in and do it on its own like AI for instance. When we came up with a good valid business use case that provided value like that GL outlier, our customers love it. They can't do without it now to some extent and that's only going to expand, but it came with the use case.

First, we had the technology. Now we had to think, really think through how are we going to use this that makes the most business sense. And that's when technology really becomes accepted and needed.

And I think blockchain is definitely, definitely in that emerging space at the moment, but it's, it is focusing on what we're seeing as very real requirements.

[Adam] So, so to me, and again like you, as a, as a non-subject matter expert, blockchain says to me, accuracy, accountability, you know audit risk, you know, all of those sorts of things it tends to cover. So I think, you know, when we look at ongoing development, I don't think that's far off from where these systems start building in that capability, but, you know, it's, it is a wider concept than just adding in another feature. Isn't it?

You know, that there has to be absolute. There needs to be a lot of thought.

So again, yeah, that, that crypto session is it publicly available or is it, or is it Sage internal?

[Tom] It is publicly available. It is to our channel partners. It's on our content management system called HighSpot. They can in turn, take that webinar and share it with anyone, but they, they would first have to be a partner of Sage to access the content, but from there they can share it with anyone.

[Adam] Okay. All right. Yeah. That's, that's fine. I was just curious to see whether there's a way that people can access it, but yeah, no, if anybody is interested, then I'll include information in the show notes anyway, so that's, that's fine.

Cool. Great. So we've talked a little bit about Sage, other software, applications and AI, but, taking a step back, from my experience as somebody who's got a bit knowledge of everything, but maybe not an absolute expert in, in a precise area, I tend to find in my conversations that you tend to get a bit of a, of a split between companies that are familiar with Sage, maybe because they trained on Sage 50 when they were doing their ACA or their accounting qualifications and that sort of thing. But then we've got companies that are very quick to discount it as an option because it's not considered a true ERP in the same way some other solutions are, what are your views? Is it just an education thing? Do you think there's an element of truth in that?

[Tom] I think it's an education thing because when you look at the broad Sage family of products, you have Sage 300 here in the US Sage 300 CRA specifically for the construction and real estate industry.

It's an operational-based system. And my definition of ERP versus accounting software, accounting software is GL and cash management, right to traditional finance role of finance. But when we start going into taking care of the operations end of the business, whether it be a job costing for a construction company or project management for a professional services company or contract management for a SAAS company or manufacturing, which we recently introduced Sage Intacct manufacturing in the UK and in France, which was developed by a group within Sage that had manufacturing expertise in our X3 product line.

So they took that domain expertise and moved it over to Sage Intacct. Right. And we just introduced it, I think only a few weeks ago, but to answer your direct question, no Sage is most definitely an ERP system because we handle either with one or a variety of our different products lines that operational end of the business, you know, ERP, you know, when at first, when we first started using the term, nobody knew what it stood for. If you ask three people, you get four different answers to what the acronym stood for which is true about most acronyms anyway, by the way.

But, you know, but really what it boiled down to was the difference between the traditional finance department and the operations of that business, whether it be distribution, manufacturing, construction, when you started handling the, the operation side of the business, that's when you really were dealing with an ERP system. In my definition of the, of the of what it means for and again, you could probably ask other people, they might have a different answer, but I believe that to be the practical answer, to that question of what is an ERP system and is Sage known for that? Absolutely Sage is known for that.

We've been doing these kinds of systems for 30 or 40 years now, but we are also known as a very strong finance system too. So we actually have like a dual persona. We can be a very strong finance system, but we can also be an extremely strong and competent ERP system as well.

[Adam] So to just to demystify a little bit for listeners that aren't as clued up on the Sage ecosystem, and correct me if I'm wrong, and we only need to spend a couple of minutes on this, but we've mentioned Sage 50, which is, I mean, it's a, it's a very, very, well-known very widely used core accounting solution.

And then as a step up from there, and again, this is I'm using solutions that we know of here in the UK. You've mentioned Sage 300 over in the US but we've got Sage 200, which is when we then start moving into more ERP like territory, I guess, because we're moving out of finance and we're looking more at orders, inventory, production planning and that sort of thing.

We've then got Sage Intacct, which is true cloud accounting. And now evolving, as you say, with, with the likes of, of Sage manufacturing, and then we've got X3, which again, correct me if I'm wrong, my understanding is it's probably aimed towards larger, more complex organizations that might have more complex requirements. So they need more of a configured approach that involves more handholding when they're setting up the solution. Is it, is that a fair summary? Do you think It's more of an enterprise product?

[Tom] Most definitely, that's the best way of putting it. It's more of an enterprise class product that has much deeper functionality because those larger enterprises require that deeper functionality. And really specifically in the manufacturing and distribution space or inventory based companies that are at the enterprise level of things where they have more complex requirements, because they're not doing $10 million a year. I'll use US currency for a minute, but they're doing billions. So the complexity is much higher because of that.

[Adam] OK, and because I'm always keen to try and get some usable advice to the people that are, are listening to the podcast.

But to a finance team, irrespective of whether they're a small growing company or maybe a larger organization with an element of complexity, maybe not the enterprise level that you're talking about, how would you recommend that they start approaching an assessment?

Because some, some will go straight into a requirements mapping exercise, let's create a massive spreadsheet with 300 odd requirements that we're going to go to market with, you know, traditionally referred to either as a tender or an RFP or something like that.

Versus an approach that might seek advice from the solution experts. So they might not go for an RFP. They might just say, look, our objective as a business are this, this is what we're, we're struggling with. You know, tell us what sort of solutions we need to be looking at. And I suppose that ties to cloud applications that are now easier to set up out of the box with less complexity, I guess.

So what would your advice be to businesses that are starting their journey? Do you think there is still scope for that more traditional requirements-based approach? Or do you think it's moving now more towards, we just need to make sure that we're achieving the desired outcome?

[Tom] I think it's more the latter. I don't see the RFI has progressed over, let's say the last 10 years, we've seen less and less RFPs floating around. So I think the trend is moving away from that, from my experience. But I think that the idea of engaging with a professional that understands my industry right, that knows, understands best practices because as a business owner, our current practices may have been due to limitations in our existing systems.

We do what we do today because that's the way the software worked and it was not feasible for us to make any changes. It may not have been impossible to do that. So the idea of someone who understands my industry that understands the best practices of that industry that has experienced this to be able to not only tell me where my, to address my pain points, the things that I know, but to discuss with me the things I don't know.

I know what I know, but I don't know what I don't know. And that's really, my bigger problem is what I don't know. And an industry expert is going to be able to come in and enlighten me as to what I could or should be doing. And also to that end, the amount of content that is out available before they make any kind of reference, any kind of contact whatsoever with anyone. Available on the internet now is more content than anyone ever dreamed would be available.

So I can do a certain amount of research on my own before I engage with anyone so that when I do engage with someone it's a little bit more of an informed decision as to what I think.

And invariably, quite frankly, as they watch this content, they're going to educate themselves on some of the things they should be doing. So let me engage with an expert in those areas. Now we went from a, you know, a shotgun approach to a much more targeted approach as these are some of the things that I saw that I think we could benefit from now. I know what I want to get to now, I should say, well, who do I to help me get there? Right.

So I'm, I'm seeing, you know, that is you know, I think a much more logical approach, you know, taking a look at what do I want the outcomes to be?

What do I want the system to do for me, not just from a transactional aspect, but how do I want this technology to help me grow my business? How am I going to have this technology help me become more efficient and more analytical?

These are the actual outcomes of using it. Not just, it's going to speed up how we produce a payment to a vendor, for instance, right. That's how we used to try to do it. That's what an RFP will say is, can you do an electronic payment? Well, everybody's gonna answer. Yes. So what does that actually tell me? Because most vendors can answer yes. To virtually every question on the RFP because all the RFPs are somewhat standardized so they can, so it doesn't really help you at all evaluate the different vendors, but approach it from the, the industry.

I want to know someone who understands the type of business I'm in, so that it can tell me what I'm doing, right. And it can tell me what I'm not even doing at all that I should be doing. That's the kind of information.

So once we understand that, then we can start narrowing down what products will help me get to the stuff that I can't, that I should be doing that I'm not doing today.

So eventually it's going to keep narrowing that funnel down to a specific product that is the best for what I needed to do.

[Adam] So just to paraphrase you there, we're saying that with a more traditional, I mean, maybe there's nothing, technically nothing wrong with the traditional approach, but you don't know what you don't know is, is the first thing to note there.

So having the view of the world from somebody looking in is sometimes more beneficial than you trying to chart everything from the perspective of somebody who's been working in a certain way for, for however many years.

Because if I produce an RFP based on what I know it's going to leave out what I don't know, by definition, I don't know to even include it on my RFP. So all that's going to do is help me with the things I know about, but it's the things I don't know about. That's really where I'm going to pick up the most value from.

And then you're quite right. There's, there's a lot of information to the point where with your long list of potential solutions, you don't have to be engaging with everybody throughout that entire life cycle. Because if you start with a list of 30 solutions, I mean, there's hundreds, right? You start with the list of 30 solutions and you try and have a conversation with every one of those 30 solutions. You're going to very quickly end up in the supplier fatigue territory

And what I'll do actually. And I only discovered this recently, you've heard of G2, right?

[Tom] Yeah.

[Adam] Quite, quite widely known a repository of end-user feedback for all sorts of software systems. If you sign up with an account on G2, it's actually got a mechanism for allowing you to build a shortlist and a comparison.

I didn't realize that. So I'll include that in the show notes as well. Because I think for, for anybody that is really early stages, that's a really good resource. So, so that, that might be a good place to start.

The last thing that I'll say, because what we're saying there is, it is, it would be useful if you can find somebody, whether it's a salesperson or whether it's, I dunno, a consultant with experience in the industry, that you need somebody that understands you and is able to challenge you to think differently.

But my, my advice would be that sometimes tread carefully, because with that list of 30 odd suppliers that you've got, all of those will have very different approaches to funnelling you through your, or what is effectively their sales cycle. And I'm seeing more of a, more of a split now, especially with some of these hyper-growth SAAS offerings, they've got a load of investment funding. I mean, whether it's accounting software or not, it could be software of any flavour. There are very results-driven cause they've got investors to appease and they've got a very ruthless sales process.

Let's get them signed up for a demo, ask them what they want to see from a demo showing what they've asked and then generate a proposal and close.

The issue I have with that is that is very much from the perspective of that organization, winning business, as opposed to the perspective of an organization that actually wants to understand the end result of the person that they're speaking to.

So it doesn't make the process of shortlisting any easier because sometimes it takes a little bit of time to find that person or that company with that industry experience. But I think what you and I both agree on is spending that little bit of extra time to find somebody who is able to speak in a, in a more informed way who has experience is probably worth that time.

[Tom] Oh, definitely. I mean, you know again, you can look at all 30 of those solutions and you can say, here's my pain. Here's what I'm trying to accomplish. And chances are 20 of those 30 would probably be able to fit. So now we've got simple commodities that just selling a piece of software, but I'm always going to go back to, I want to, I want someone who's smarter than me.

I don't want someone where I'm smarter than they are. I'm not going to learn anything that person's not going to guide me. I'm going to guide that person. I want it the other way around. I want an industry expert that has worked with companies just like mine over a course of a fairly long amount of time that understand what I should be doing.

And I think I'm always going to go back to that is the fundamental process that that should help guide that search for a new system is to really understand not just the different products, which is certainly important. But for me to understand what are the trends in my industry? What are, what are other companies moving to? What are some of the things that are, you know, down the road a bit that if people in my industry are now looking at down the road, not just solving my pain today, because if I just saw my pain today with one of these 20 or 30 products, in a matter of just a few years, I'm going to be doing the whole thing all over again, because I didn't have anything that looked ahead right, as to what should I be doing? What is coming down the road?

And, you know, so it, the idea of maybe these systems lasting 10 or 15 years is what you want to shoot for. But in order to do that, you have to understand, well, where might I be in a few years? What am I going to need in a few years that I might not need now, but I need my platform to be able to support. So when I'm ready to get there, I can stay with the same platform. I can maybe grow it a little bit. I could maybe add something to it, but essentially it's going to grow with me. But if I don't know where I want to go, cause I simply solved my pains that I understood from last year. I'm not going to to see that map of where I should be going.

And that's where that industry expert individual is going to help me understand what I should be doing in the future, not just today, but what I could be doing. You know, and some people may call it a phase two or a phase three type of an approach. Let's solve your pain today. Phase two, let's start introducing new things into the organization where you'll be getting value from. And if someone is just interested in selling me a software license or a subscription they're done, and the real value of using a reseller to be able to provide the software to a user, is that it's going to form a relationship that could be well be a 10, 15, 20 year relationship.

And to have them come in periodically to do a health check, right? We're not going to, they're not going to leave you right after the training is done. You go user acceptance testing. You're done with the project. You need an organization that is going to work with you, not after just the initial implementation is finished, but on a somewhat regular basis, whether that be quarterly semi-annually annually.

But when they do that ask for more than the renewal of the subscription or renew the maintenance, if that's the only time they are, they're going to call you, then they're not doing you any favours.

You need an organization that has a track record of being able to work with you on an ongoing basis, because as your business changes, your needs are going to change. You're going to need that advisor there that will help you facilitate that change with this technology, right? Whatever that technology happens to be.

[Adam] Great, So they've got their shortlist. I'm conscious of time. We will wrap up on time. Don't worry.

So we've got our shortlist. We've maybe narrowed from 30 down to 10, maybe even five, you know I mean, some may class five as too many. If you're going to go the whole, whole grade, that's still a fair amount it to assess.

But the finance team may come to a crossroads whereby they've got a solution that is cloud-based. updates automatically, but it doesn't quite cover all of their requirements because, by its nature is meant to be configured rather than customized.

And what I say there, you know, configuration could be something like, I dunno, an approval workflow or, or a procurement workflow or something like that. Whereas customization would be adding something into the system that isn't there already, whereby we've essentially got to pick apart the core code or develop an add-in application or what have you.

So that might be an option, but then they've also got an option that says, right. Well, if we choose a different platform, instead of working to a solution, that's out of the box, we can essentially just build according to a brief, what do you think?

And I appreciate, you know, the answer could be well, it's, whatever's best for the business, right? Which, which I totally understand. But as we move towards more cloud-based applications that are quicker to enable out the box, do we think it's right to recommend that companies try and flex their processes to try and adhere to the out of the box capability?

Or do we think a requirement's a requirement? You know, if the solution doesn't cover one of them, do we need to find a different one?

[Tom] I would always recommend, use the system basically out of the box for a period of time, because I found that some of these processes that they had, that they wanted may not exist. That situation that we needed, this process may not exist because of a new piece of software.

Quite frankly, the situation doesn't exist now. So we don't need this process anymore. But we asked for this process because we thought, again, all accounting software is the same, not taking into account that is newer stuff than they already do some of these other things.

So there's always going to be a strong argument for using something out of the box to get a feel for it. And then three months, six months afterwards, let's do a, a check.

You know, what, how is it doing? You know, let's get a feel for now that we have a much more educated staff of people on the product. Now we'll be able to know, well, we didn't need, you know, these two things, but we needed something we didn't even know we needed, but the software does something. And it opened up, made us a little smarter on some of the things we might be doing. I actually need this. I don't need those things anymore. I actually need this.

So until you get the user base and the management of the organization, familiar with what this thing does out of the box, maybe it's a configuration piece. Maybe it's something we add on to this base foundation product, but we don't know that until we actually start using it.

Right. And it's really amazing to the users of the things they learned in the first three to six months and how much that thought process will have changed from what they thought they needed to things that they realized they no longer need to things that they may just have realized that they may want. Okay. That's, that's the things we have to start working on. So this is an evolution with these products. Now, are you ever truly done with the implementation? I could argue you might not be because your business is evolving.

Things are always evolving, new requirements. So there's always going to be that idea of let's just look into it periodically, see what you're doing, seeing what you're needing. Let's talk to the users, let's see how they're doing. Let's see where the bottlenecks are that we couldn't have foreseen. Let's take care of a bottleneck. Now it always requires an organization, and I'll give you a pitch, Like Thinc, that would be able to come in and look at where are the bottlenecks right now? Where are the frustrations? Now let's work on that, come back. And the other three or six months, how are the bottlenecks? We don't have it. Now we have it here. Now we have this frustrastion, but it's going to evolve.

So you always need an organization that's going to evolve and continue to be there for the, for that business. Right. Hopefully that answered your question.

[Adam] Yeah, yeah, no, no, absolutely. And I mean, seeing the emergence, I mean, whether it's Sage, Synamics, SAP fill in the gap, there's an emergence of marketplace partners either way.

So as we move into the cloud, the mainstream vendors, like your Sages, your Dynamics, and your SAPs are accepting that they will never be able to facilitate a hundred percent of everybody's requirements, but that's not to stop other companies from building in an, and basically performing that gap-fill exercise, you know, whether it's, oh, I want this expense management system. I want to plug it in. Okay, fine. You know, I want this HR and payroll solution, you know, I don't want that one kind of plug it in.

So I think, yes, there'll still be an amount to cover within the core application, but I think systems are now becoming more flexible in their ability to integrate with others. So yeah, no, you did answer the question.

So, so, so thanks for that. Have you got a hard stop half-past?

So it's just, it's three more questions.

So the first follows on from the shortlist to getting to the point to determine, right, well, you know, how many of our requirements do we need to, to facilitate? Are we okay without the box and then evolving it over, over time? Or do we need to, you know, customize from the start and make sure that we do sort of that big bang approach, inevitably, they're going to have to go through demonstrations at some point, you know, whether it's with 30 or five, at some point, they're going to have to see the solution.

So for finance teams that maybe haven't gone through this exercise before, maybe an accounting system is not something they've implemented or even an ERP solution, is something that they've not got experience of implementing before.

I'm conscious that there are sometimes a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to software demonstrations. And there's a lot of, oh yeah, we can get it to do that. And oh yeah, that's done here and then quickly switch to another screen.

So what would your advice be to a finance team that is going through that demonstration process? What do they need to be looking out for? What makes a good demo over a bad demo? And are there any red flags whereby somebody having a demo thinks, hang on a second, something's not quite right here.

[Tom] Some of it goes back to the person doing the demo when they answer those questions. Because, when I was doing a lot of demos, they'd say, like sometime mid-point to end of the demo, they say, Tom, can it do this? You don't have to show me, but can it do that? And I've been able to build up enough trust with that user where they'll trust my answers.

And that's the root of where I'm going with this, is, do you fundamentally trust the person doing the demo? Are they confident? Are they comfortable talking about this when they're demoing the software? Are they bringing customer stories? For instance, that relate.

We had this other customer that used this feature the same way. You'd like to where they have experience, where they're not only showing you the software, they're demonstrating a level of domain expertise in your industry for how this piece of software was used by someone else.

So I would say to that finance department, as you're looking at these demos, you'll have a wide variety of personalities performing them. And you're right. Somebody that's good with doing a demo can probably make something look like it works. And in reality, it might not. Not saying that that does not happen. I probably, even saying that, I might've been guilty of that myself in years past in other organizations earlier on in my career.

But what I am saying is that the finance department should not only be evaluating the software, but evaluating the person and where the organization that's doing the demo, this is their chance to evaluate the organization.

Do I trust what this guy was telling me? Or was he a little too slick with his answers? Did he say yes to everything? That's my red flag. Anyone who says yes to everything is lying to be someplace. I don't know where they're lying to me, but I know they're lying to me someplace.

So organizations that tend to demonstrate truthfulness, "I don't know how to do what you just asked. Adam, let me find out." I would tend to trust that individual more so than someone who said yes to everything.

And I think that's really what you want to evaluate, you know, because most of these systems, if you're coming off of a legacy system that was written 20 or 30 years ago of these three or five systems, almost all of them are going to be substantially better than what you have today. Right? You can't miss with any of them. So what's the difference? What do they show? What should they be evaluating? Not necessarily the software, certainly, but the organization more certainly because that's who you have to live with for 20 or 30 know going forward 10 or 15 years.

[Adam] What I'm hearing a lot in this conversation is, yes, we we've spoken about software technology, AI and that sort of thing, but actually a lot of your recommendations point to people instead of systems, you know, the right people with the right knowledge and expertise.

[Tom] Yeah. I've seen systems that have failed in an implementation and I've seen those same systems succeed in implementation for effectively the same kind of company. So what's different? The people on both sides of the equation, by the way, not only did these implementation succeed or fail based on the consulting firm that implemented it, but also on the business that's implementing it.

So it's equally important to make sure you have the right people on both sides of that equation. Because again, I could plug in any one of three systems. It could be a successful implementation and have providec value to a client. But I do think it's the the partner, the VAR partners that actually do the work, they are what's going to be the big difference there.

[Adam] And that's that, that's an interesting point about value there because in my discussions, you know, that there is often the chain of thought that, oh, you know, all software systems do the same thing.

Now, you know, we're only bothered about price and that sort of thing which is fine. I mean, you know, if you're working to a budget, you're working into a budget, everybody's got one they're just very varying sizes, right?

But you could tick your requirements with any system as you've suggested, but are you going to get the return? And that's, that's what matters at the end of the day, you know, ticking the same boxes, you know, in all three solutions may not lead to the sort of business value that you want on the other side. And going back to where we started, you know, if we're implementing a system to save us, having to hire unnecessarily, the proof is in the pudding.

We want to make sure that if we are implementing this, that it does definitely mean that we're not having to hire unnecessarily, not implement the system and copy what we're doing already. And then still have to hire unnecessarily. You know, it's, it goes back to that, doesn't it?

[Tom] Yeah. A lot of times we, we saw early on that we, we w we listened too much to the customer. Originally. This goes back years ago, where we would do exactly what they told us to do. And the only benefit they had from going to a new system is they screwed it up faster than they could in their old system.

They were still making the same mistakes. They were just making them faster because we made them more efficient at making bad mistakes, bad judgments, bad decisions.

So you do really do need an organization. That's going to understand. Yeah, I understand why you want it. You originally raised your hand and say, we need to look at systems, but let's talk about this other stuff too, that you didn't bring up to me, that we are going to introduce changes in some of your processes because the system can now make you more efficient.

We're not going to do things the same old way. That's the biggest mistake some companies make, is they don't want to change something they don't want to change is probably the best way I could put it.

They're going to a new system to enact change, but then when, but then they have to accept those ages. Great. So they have to be willing and understand things are going to be different there. And any change is sometimes going to be painful initially, that's something that, again, anyone that, you know, I had a friend of mine in the business for years and used to say, changing accounting systems or your PC systems was like heart surgery.

You know your it's it's, it's something major. It's going to be different at the other end. You, you really have to understand, yeah, it is going to be different. It is going to be a little painful getting there, but the value and the benefits you get at the end of the day, something that you had just mentioned is going to be worth the change and the pain.

But if you're not willing to make those changes, all you're going to do is make the same mistakes faster and early on. That's all we did is we didn't really understand we did what the client wanted us to do. Great successful implementation, not so great. They just did this. They're just doing the same thing in a different system.

Yeah. It's pointless putting in a new system unless, it leaves you in a better position than when you started. And that means there's going to be some level of change and change always means pain. There's no such thing as an, as an easy change, right? Change always equates to a level of pain, maybe not major change, but some level of pain to get to that change.

It's different. I have to learn something new and you know, but that's what the organization has to really get on board with first, you know, going back to one of your other questions, what should they do first understand that this is going to mean changes and the, and the organization, not just the management team, the decision makers, but the users have to understand you're going to be using a different set of tools and you're going to have to learn a different set of tools so that we can better run the business, which they may not see the effect of that. Right. But they have to be on board with the change.

[Adam] Hmm. Now that's, that's followed in and I'm thinking, and, and I'm empathizing with the situation that you, you might have one of the finance team, you know, finance manager controller or whatever that they might be set a project. You know, we want you to go to market and assess solutions.

So, so that, that member of the finance team goes forth, goes through that, you know, narrowing down to 50 solutions down to 30, down to 20, down to five, but then finds the, actually the appetite of the business to change. You know, wasn't, wasn't there in the first place and that they've just wasted a whole load of time for actually nothing to happen.

So maybe there's another bit of advice there is. If there is somebody in the finance team, that's been set a task that before taking on a big project like this, they actually push back and say to powers that be, do you appreciate how big a project this is going to be? Do we have the resource? Are we willing to go through the pain? You know, and, and people that haven't gone through these implementations might not know to ask those questions, you know?

So, so I think, I think that's, that's, that's a very relevant, very bit a sample, a very sound piece of advice that people can take away from this.

So thanks for that Tom. That's perfect. So this podcast called 'Tech for Finance', and it could be completely irrelevant to your working life. It could be personal life, but I am an absolute stickler for phone apps, desktop applications, productivity tools, you know, all of that sort of cool stuff that I can, you know, there's an app for that.

So when you look at sort of an app, you know, whether it was on your phone or a desktop application, or even a piece of software that you couldn't live without, what would it be?

[Tom] You'll probably laugh at the answer to this, but it's outlook. Outlook manages my communications. Yeah. Because although we all have mobile phones, we don't use them as telephones. We use them for everything, but a phone in most cases. Yeah. So, but outlook is a way of communicating to me. It's a way of telling me what I need to do, what people need me to do and what am I scheduled for? What does my day look like? So in one application, and I said, so it, the only application is the first application I opened up in the very beginning of the day. And it stays open until I leave is outlook.

[Adam] Very good. And do you use the tasks within outlook or do you just flag emails?

[Tom] I used to use tasks. I don't anymore. I actually schedule myself to whenever I want to do the task. Here's some time that I blocked off to update my courseware. I put that on my calendar, so it's blocked off so that I actually do the task. So yeah, I use it for tasks, but I don't use tasks to do the task.

[Adam] Yeah. So, so you take your email, you say this is something that needs action and then immediately it goes on the calendar.

[Tom] Yeah. I, I schedule a time where, when I will be able to do it.

[Adam] Very good. My approach is I don't open up look all the time. I try to batch emails just so that I don't get too immersed in it.

And I, I have a very simple approach now. If it's unread, I've obviously not read it. If I've read it and it requires action, then a red flag, I don't use any of the due today due tomorrow or that sort of stuff. If it needs attention, it's got a flag or if something doesn't require my attention or it's just an update, it gets the complete tick. And then from there I push it. I mean, I've got a scheduling tool that I use called Skedpal, which similar to you, you know, puts everything in the calendar, but uses AI to do it automatically.

[Tom] Ah, there we go.

[Adam] But yeah, so that's my process, but is it the same for you or do you have a set of file folders where you've got like do today, do tomorrow and that sort of stuff.

[Tom] And what I do, if it's in my inbox, I have to deal with it, Period. Whether it's due today, due tomorrow, I have to deal with this. I do have a series of folders in outlook that I use quite extensively to use as an electronic filing cabinet. So a lot of times where I may have sent you an email, I will take it out of the sent folder and put it into the Adam folder. Right?

So that I have a record of everything that I've done with you. So I do use folders quite extensively, but if it's in my inbox, whether it's reading that I want to do or request that I do something or whatever it is, if it's in my inbox, I have to deal with it.

And I'm of the opinion that there are certain priorities that you have to do before others. And I can look at my inbox and I know what I have to do today. And some of the things in my inbox, for instance, some of the reading material that I get sent to me that tends to filter to the bottom of the inbox. I know eventually I want to read this stuff, but I don't have to do it today. I may over lunch, do some reading to stay up on whether it's technology or software things that Sage Intacct does.

So if it's in my inbox, it has to be dealt with, it's not going to go away. And my inbox right now has five things to read and two emails to follow up on.

So I keep my inbox very lean because I do address these things as I go, if I were to put that someplace else in a to-do folder, I might forget it's there.

[Adam] Yeah, I totally agree. Now I think there's, there's a lot of people that work in the same way as you do, but I agree with you, you know, if, if there's something to action, if it's not in the calendar, then it doesn't, it, it doesn't exist.

[Tom] It doesn't Exist Again with all the technology and all the apps we have. I always go back to kiss, keep it simple, stupid, you know, and the more things that you can keep simple, you'll probably be able to do fairly easily. Yeah. It's gotten me through 40 years worth of working in the technology sector. So I probably not going to change things down If it works, it works. If it works, it works that it still works.

[Adam] Yeah. Very good. All right. Tom, it's been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate your time today. And yeah, there's a lot of insight there, as I say, I'll write it up in the, in the show notes, there'll be a transcript as well including links.

So yeah, I'm sure there's a, there's a lot of finance teams that will probably appreciate the inside track from your perspective there. So once again, thank you for your time, Tom.

[Tom] Thanks for having me, Adam.

[Adam] Excellent stuff. See you soon. Bye.


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