Accountants make technology simpler for SMEs

January 3, 2020

Accountants can receive free digital tech training and advice thanks to a new Sage and Northumbria University collaboration

Northumbria University and global cloud business management solutions provider Sage are collaborating to offer accountants across England free training and advice in digital skills.

The partnership will deliver a project entitled Making Accountants Digital Enablers (MADE). With funding worth £281,000 from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it will arm accountants with better knowledge of digital technology that can drive SME productivity and in turn economic growth. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is also supporting the project.

There remains a significant challenge in the UK economy to help more SMEs embrace the digital tools needed for them to be successful. Sage research shows that UK SMEs lost 5.6 per cent of their business time to admin, a productivity loss of £40 billion in the last 12 months alone, an increase of 0.9 per cent compared to the year before.

SMEs are still burdened by paper-based admin and currently spend an average of 120 days a year on admin. However, 50 per cent of UK businesses currently use, or intend to use technology for admin functions by 2022, meaning greater commitment is required to remove the obstacles that prevent companies from accessing digital tools and skills. As a trusted advisor to SMEs, accountants are perfectly placed to help drive SME digital adoption, and this Government-backed project will be a trial to demonstrate this unique relationship.

Academics from Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School will work with experts at Sage over the next 12 months to undertake the trial, which will include 400 accountants and their SME clients across England. The training, which will be delivered face-to-face in several city locations for four hours, will provide accountants with better digital skills in app advisory, business data analytics, CRM and include free materials to share with their clients.

Sabby Gill, managing director for Sage UK & Ireland, says: “We have a productivity issue in the UK where SMEs spend a vast amount of time on admin-related tasks. If you put a cost to that time frame, it equates to an estimated £17,000 a year that could be saved by an individual SME. As these businesses scale up, hire more staff and contribute further to the economy, even greater value can be unlocked by digitising business admin. The technology that currently has the highest productivity and value-add to businesses is now increasingly cloud and servicebased. As the role of the accountant continues to expand, we envisage the training will help accountants strengthen their counsel to clients and demonstrate the opportunities that digital technologies bring.”

Dr Matt Sutherland, senior lecturer at Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School, believes receiving Government funding for the MADE is significant. He says: “Together with Sage we were one of only six applications from over 170 to be successful. It reflects the quality of the university’s research and the leading position Sage holds in the accountancy software market – and it represents an exciting opportunity for accountants and accountancy firms to work with us on a high profile project.

“Deploying digital technologies can boost productivity considerably, but many SMEs are failing to harness the potential and are being held back. As trusted advisors to SMEs, accountants could be powerful advocators for digitisation, and through this trial and evaluation, we will be able to demonstrate just how effective this could be.

“Newcastle Business School already has a record of successful collaboration with Sage, and we are confident this latest project will open up further opportunities to deepen the partnership even further.”

Commenting on the initiative, Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK, adds: “We’re pleased to be partnering with Northumbria University and Sage as the end results should offer valuable insights on how SMEs can be better supported for national and international success. Accountants are a crucial business partner to SMEs, helping them to grow their business and better understand the environment in which they operate, which is increasingly reliant on digital technologies.

This project is surely a win-win for all involved.” This is a limited opportunity and is on a firstcome, first-served basis. All accountants must include five SME clients as part of the trial.

Northumbria University
Photo: Sabby Gill with Lucy Winskell, pro-vice chancellor for employability and partnerships at Northumbria Accountants can find out more information on the project and register by visiting: www.northumbria.ac.uk/made

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