In 1999, after eight years of studying, I graduated as a registered accountant in The Netherlands. Back then, the study curriculum was traditional - I learned the hard way, shall we say. For eight years I worked for four days a week, and spent the rest of my time studying. For a while I was convinced that my degree had something to do with intelligence. Now I know better - discipline and perseverance suffice. That’s one illusion less, at least.
Eight years sounds like a long time, and it was. Long enough to get stuck in routines, shrink my perception of the world down to the scope of ‘office and client’ and suppress the creativity and curiosity I once had as a young boy.
Those years are in the past. Now I’m director of the software company analys.io. I work a lot with programmers and I believe I’m starting to understand how they think, what kind of tools they use and how their processes work. Slowly but surely I’m realizing that as accountants, we can learn a lot from them.
Here are 3 examples that illustrate the lessons accountants can learn from developers:
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel
For a programmer, a new job often starts with a question: “Has someone else ever done this before and can I make use of it?”. The internet is overflowing with pieces of code and descriptions that in some cases can be reused for free. And many programmers in their turn contribute to these kind of information resources - you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, so to speak. Have a question? No worries, there are numerous online forums where you can ask questions. And more often than not, there will be someone to help you get on your way.
When I look back on my years as an accountant... having someone to lend a helping hand would have been more than welcome. But I don’t recall an accountant who was a total stranger to me, ever helping me out with a reporting problem. But it could have been possible. Call it open source, altruistic or non-commercial, I think it works. I believe that the approach developers take, can also lead to improvement of the accountancy profession.
2. Build specialized knowledge, and then share it
Another example. I used to feel a sense of pride when I had mastered the ins and outs of my case files. But there is something to be said for specialisation, and the good developers have understood and perfected that. With tools for workflow, issue management and advanced version control, several different professionals contribute to the same project. I believe that is also possible in accountancy.
Thankfully, software programs that facilitate knowledge sharing, such as Silverfin, are starting to emerge in the sector. And that’s great, because it means quality and efficiency can increase.
3. Cultivate your laziness
What I’ve also noticed is that laziness is a good trait in programmers. They are constantly looking for ways to get the job done with less code and by simplifying programs even more.
I think laziness is an underrated quality in accountancy. I can’t even begin to count the days I spent as an assistant accountant doing the same thing, over and over again! Repetition ad nauseam. Not to mention all the overtime. It didn’t occur to me to look for smart tools to automate tasks. When I think back now, I see many examples where a “home brewed” solution in the likes of Excel (I didn’t know much else) could have provided relief. Too bad, a missed opportunity. But fortunately one that I can now make up for with software.
Of course the comparison between accountants and software developers isn’t completely fair. Unlike Harry Potter, accountants cannot perform magic with the help of computers. Luckily though, there are programmers who now and then use their magic to write software for accountants.
Software aside, let us also look at how developers work in general. As professionals in an occupation that has been around for over 100 years, I am sure there is a lot we can learn from them.
Joris Joppe is an expert in the area of technology and financial reporting. Driven by the ambition to make data-analytics easy and accessible for accountants, he started his company analys.io. His goal is clear: to improve service and efficiency for accountants and auditors working in the field of SME, through the use of data-analytics.