Skating towards the puck

I was introduced to the phrase "Skating to where the puck is going to be" by Gary Boomer of Boomer Consulting Inc in the USA.  Its source is Wayne Gretzky who said " I skate to where the puck is going to be not where it has been". Its a mindset that has served me well.  It sure beats staying with the status quo.  

Today marks the 20th year that a journey began in Sydney, Australia.  It was the day that a small office opened in Walker Street North Sydney. All it had was a filing cabinet; Telstra were due any day to connect the phone; our office in London was a mailbox office in St Johns Gate.  No clients. 

Today is the 20th anniversary of Advanced Professional Solutions (APS) in Australia and the UK.  In 2012 we did a management buyout of the UK operation and I became the CEO and founder of Symphony - APS Limited where we have been serving our Advance client base as well as new clients in the USA and Australia who use the SymphonyCRM, SymConnect Integration, Act-On and TimeCapcha platforms.

In 1998 we imagined where that puck was going to be; our mission was to focus on the top end of town accounting firms and provide solutions that moved them to a standard SQL Server practice management system running 32-bit Windows software that was easier to use.  Microsoft had gone from the desktop standard to the database standard server of choice.  We were the first to go there and had a compelling offering in both countries. Importantly, and above all, we focused on what the relationship had to be and that it wasn't just about the technology. We were trail blazers we worked hard and played hard.  We had a lot of fun.  To the firms in Australia and the UK who became our foundation clients, you know who you are, thank you for believing.

We didn't compete on price and we were definitely a premium offering.  Firms liked the value proposition and thanks to the foundation clients who believed and supported our vision we built a strong referral base.  Results flowed and client conferences demonstrated that value existed in the technology. But more than anything it proved that strong relationships matter, a lot.

Reflection # 1 Be ambitious, think big and have the courage to imagine what it will look like in 5, then 10 years.  Articulate that to your clients. Build out your delivery with people that have a deep understanding of the vertical.

Soon we merged the operations in Australia, New Zealand and the UK into one global team.  We were able do that at speed because of our culture.  It was strong and everyone was aligned.  

Our mission was to be inspirational in creating value for our clients and our lives.  It covered a lot of bases. We agreed core values that would stand the test of time and inspire people to join our quest.  Firms didn't want to just change the technology; they also wanted a new relationship and for us that meant providing firms using the Solution 6 platform a forward path.  Yes, it was about technology change and yes, it delivered. All firms wanted a connection with a business partner that was essential to them in forming ways towards the puck.  

Reflection # 2 Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Druker).  Make sure that the behaviours of the team demonstrate the cultural values on a daily basis.  Ensure that they are sincere and that it's OK to fail, don't beat yourself up, all of this is a journey not a destination. Learn to fail fast. 

Reflection # 3 Relationships are king; Put that first, above everything else, and the rest will fall into place. Don't cut corners and above all do what you say you are going to do.  Go that extra mile. Clients will reward you with their loyalty.

In 1998 firms wanted a total solution and that tended to mean practice management integrated to tax and accounting. Roll forward 20 years and the technology requirements of the top 100 firms have changed significantly. Today we discuss platforms that spread beyond SQL Server practice management systems; platforms that integrate marketing automation, referral management, opportunity management, client on-boarding, with ETL processes that update multiple business systems such as HR, document management, expense management, performance management, client relationship management leading to higher client engagement supported by a mind set of continuous improvement.  Phew!  I call this Client Life-cycle Management and this forms part of our vision for the top 100 firms.

Most importantly who is going to help you gain that competitive advantage transforming you through the continuum of value from technical compliance to advisor and consultant? The journey has lead me to Boomer Consulting in the USA who specialise in getting firms to sustainable success and future readiness. The communities and consulting that Boomer deliver are great examples of how firms can accelerate their development.

Reflection # 4 Again be ambitious, think big and have courage.  Articulate that to your clients.  Skate to where the puck is going to be.  Build out your delivery with people that have a deep understanding of the vertical.  Yes, this a repetitive reflection; history has a habit of repeating itself. 

Do all of the above and make sure it addresses the cloud, as well as hybrid options.  The younger generations and the baby boomers (me) are all wedded to the new ways of computing.  If your platform doesn't have a mobile solution/s you are way behind the eight ball and can’t even see the puck. You may / will  not make it. 

To deliver this vastly different approach in 2018 compared to 1998 firms want their technology partners to stay true to core competencies and inter-operate with other solutions via API's and integration engines to ensure the API's do their job. 

Practice management is no longer the central system.  Instead, it is now a subset of a broader ecosystem.  Integration is king and its not just tax and accounting, it's a lot of elements and it must be done in a way that conforms to the principle of flow.  Solutions must work with the user and stop the clunking around from one system to the next.  The cloud has been a great enabler of flow.

Reflection # 5 You can't be all things to all people.  You need to form strategic partnerships with each actor staying true to their core competency enabling faster innovation and higher levels of service.  Firms are moving faster than 20 years ago. We have to have the cadence to keep up with that and partnering and integrating with other open, cloud based solutions builds a stronger ecosystem that enables the firm to reduce their dependency on one supplier.

That's a lot about technology, relationship and culture.  Fundamentally it's the same conversation in 2018 as it was in 1998.  Something key has changed, however. At the top end of town you can no longer get to where the puck is going to be through software presentations, slide decks and fact finds.  

Those conversations are fundamentally all about what firms think they need and what the software supplier thinks they offer.   The age-old struggle of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing can still be found but more than ever firms require a partner with a deep understanding of how they operate and how to move them forward.  Listen to the language.  It's not just about "what" it's about "how".  

It is this dynamic that led to the development of EnvisionTM, a workshop that requires investment of time by the firm before starting any assessment of platform options.  It's a process that we developed to help work out where the hell that puck was going to be rather than focused on what we think we need. Above all it’s the process of  getting firms clear on the "why", why you need to change and the restraining forces that contribute to the current state of play.  

You're never going to get to the puck if you don’t deal with the issues that are holding you back.  Sure, technology is one element, always is, but EnvisionTM unearths the process and importantly the cultural dysfunction that will always impact projects no matter what you try to do.  

Once clear on your "why" the "how" you get there becomes clearer; project goals, priorities and key successes factors fall into place. In short it ensures the selection of the right platform and the right business partner.  EnvisionTM is actually a process of common sense and an invaluable methodology for both the firm and us as a business partner.  

Reflection # 6 People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it.  Make sure your why is authentic by ensuring the behaviours in your business are aligned to the culture.  Culture = Values x Behaviour.  My why is the relentless pursuit of new methods to transform software platforms and process for accounting firms.  "People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it" (Simon Sinek).  I can spend a whole day on this topic alone.  

We will celebrate our 20th birthday as Symphony - APS in the UK next week.  As it turns out I find myself in Sydney working with a client who believed in us and is definitely skating towards where that puck will be.  They followed the EnvisionTM process and we are really enjoying the new journey with them.  The approach is evolution not revolution (Matt Paff)  

Reflection # 7 Somethings never change even though change is a constant.  

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction" (Bill Gates)

Wherever firms find themselves, whoever they partner with, I know that they will be looking for meaningful relationships with partners who want to listen and share their vision. I'm looking forward to being as much a part of those relationships in the next 20 years as I have been in the last 20. Bring it on.

Brian Coventry

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