On Thursday 6th October there’s a panel discussion on the Lessons Learnt at Xerocon featuring Tracey Newman, Cassandra Scott and Justin Campbell. It will be held at Brisbane’s River City Labs RSVP here: MasterMind MeetUp

Whether by design, by the sheer size, by the learning, by the networks or the connections and the community Xerocon has always been a significant landmark occasion for my business journey.

My accountability group have repeatedly asked me what impact Xerocon South 2016 will have on my business, so I shall take the opportunity to explore it here….

Xerocon South was a different to the other Xerocons:

  • For the first time it was being held in my beautiful glorious hometown of Brisbane
  • For the first time it represented the whole of the Southern Hemisphere

For the initiated Xerocon is not just a to 2 day conference; it’s a week of activities, events and celebrations that happen around the conference. As soon as the location and the dates were announced I looked at the calendar to assess where the MasterMind meetup I’d been organising for over a year now would fall. Coincidently it fell on the Thursday, the first day of the main conference. I quickly arranged to reschedule the meetup to the Tuesday and within a few hours had asked the CEO and founder of Xero Rod Drury if he would be available to talk at the meetup. I connected and started working closely with the Xero API team Steve Cooper and Bec Martin and we collaborated to create a unique and informative event, heralding the start of the Xerocon celebrations. A number of (jetlagged) international partners gathered to present on the Tuesday evening. It was a great opportunity to meet and talk with and hear from new partners while catching up with colleagues, in an intimate setting.

The highlight for me was that Rod Drury graciously attended the meetup. He literally flew in – like a number of other attendees on the night. We were told he had a prepared speech. He arrived and excitement and whispers filled the air. When it came time for Mr Drury to give his speech he moseyed on up to the front of the room, amiably greeting several seated guests. He arrived at the front, positioned himself, looked out to the audience and said “So, What do you want to know?”

Ladies and gentlemen – when do you get an opportunity like that? It was a surreal out of body once in a lifetime moment. So many people have contacted me about it, after the event

As Alex Cruice said, “I really enjoyed hearing Rod speak. It was impressive to see such an expert CEO in action in an unplanned situation. He fielded questions in various areas: business, technical, architecture, etc. without breaking stride.”

So if you plan to go to Xerocon or any big conference for that matter, always arrive a week early and scan for the peripheral amazeball events.

So a few more awesome parties were attended in the lead up to Xerocon; Spotlight, Expensify, TimeSheets and Practice Ignition hosted a spectacular party on the beach front at SouthBank. I found myself next to Andrew Whitelaw rocking to the longest ever Deep Purple song. Like ever. I think I asked Andrew three times, is this still the same song? You can imagine the nodding grin he replied with.

The funniest memory of the peripheral events I shall treasure was Mel Morris leading what ended up being a huge walking bus from the Brisbane Convention Centre to the Receipt Bank party, across traffic, and up four flights of stairs. We must have brought 60 people into the Receipt Bank party – thanks to the gorgeous Sophie Hossack and her orange tribe for welcoming us.

So let’s talk about Xerocon. It was huge. I arrived with a spare coffee – someone working at a conference is always happy to receive a fresh made coffee and the lucky recipient was Rob Stone. I’m not sure if it was by chance or by design he was in the foyer and greeted me as we arrived. We talked about developing content and the new words that have arisen in the tech space – like geosensing. He emphasized that I should experience the virtual reality room – and Rob you will be please to know I took the time to try out virtual reality and can see it has interesting possibilities beyond gaming,  the customer gets a 3D concept of goods, and the retailer does not need to invest in stock.

So walking into Xerocon…. there were so many people. I kind of saw people in the distance I wanted to catch up with but there was so much happening everywhere. I tried to get around all of the marketplace partners but I did not manage too. By the end I was walking up to the booths and thrusting my badge at them to get scanned so I could get emails from them. But I still didn’t even manage to achieve getting around all of them.

There was so much. It was quite overwhelming.

Prior to arriving I studied the sessions carefully and had selected what I want to go to. I made a point of specifically asking Steven Leaney (we met during that epic Deep Purple song) what sessions he planned to go to. I find that his thinking is years ahead of mine when it comes to the possibility of technology advances.

For me personally I can see beyond the fluff. I can see what businesses can practically adopt right now to impact their business processes and improve the accuracy and insight around the data. Stephen Leaney is standing on the same technology mountain with a set of binoculars firmly faced forward. Do yourself a favour and go back and read everything he’s written in the past two years.

However don’t bother asking what sessions he plans to go to – because disappointingly he had no plans and his grand plan was to wing it! So I got nothing – but seriously follow or connect with him and read his accounting technology productivity stuff – it’s seriously good. (Totes irrelevant: I also discovered Steven has very long arms for taking selfies.)

So I was focused. I’d selected sessions, I had a clear outline of what was on my To Do List and what I needed to achieve from the conference.

So here’s the backstory on the first item on my To Do List. I virtually attended the 2015 Xerocon conference. By virtually I mean, I watched what happened on Twitter and via other forums, I did this for free. And I did not have to tackle the food queues 😉

One of the highlights I noted was I think it was Denise Twigger (now correct me if I’m wrong) met up with the developers – specifically Craig Walker (I think) – and she got him to implement a feature of request on the spot!

He opened up his MAC and updated code and released it on the spot.

Mind blown!! Who even knew this was a possibility??

So the first part of my To Do List was I was going to find Craig Walker and try to arrange to spend some time with him to go through some feature requests. I’d been dreaming of this for months leading up to Xerocon. So after Anna Curzon and Trent Innes completed their keynotes I was on a mission to find Craig Walker. For an hour I was walking around like a lost kid backstage at a circus until I finally found his better half Orange Girl who advised he was in New Zealand.

Disappointment! I could not even conceptualise a Xerocon without Craig. Let’s hope it never happens again! #SternLook

So I turned my attentions to the helpdesk who as their namesake suggested were very helpful. I explained what I wanted to do and they kindly arranged with me to meet with various developers.

Over the years I diligently use the Xerocon Feature Request area. If I meet with a client and they have requirements I always log them there. You can review this area to see what you have logged and what you’ve commented on. Here you can see my feature request profile – scroll to the bottom.

I planned to tackle about 70 feature requests. The developers I met with got out a Xero pad and Xero pen, and took thorough handwritten notes. Penny Elmslie you’ll be pleased to hear that every developer I spoke with was on brand!

The developers wanted to understand what the request was. To their credit the developers spent considerable time working with me through the process so they fully understood what I was highlighting. They wanted to understand the implications on the business, and how it impacted workflows. Interestingly there were also discussions around whether the identified issue should be amended or removed entirely.

The developers were able to give me a guide to how many developer hours a feature request could take. This was really interesting. As a lay person I had no idea that something as simple as adding the ability to sort columns could take 20 developer days.

Over the course of two days I was at the developer table for around three hours. The last thing I was asked was: If you can have one feature request what would it be?

Priorities! It’s all about priorities.

I can’t even remember how I responded … I know as a long term user of Xero sometimes feature releases are about getting publicity, and not exactly what we need right here right now. All software solutions I guess have to be like that. Publicity leads to more customers which leads to more sales of Xero for Dummies – which is why we are here right?!?! Of course not but everyone in the community has a different part, and I figure as a technical expert, this is an avenue for my attention.

The update to this story is that Xero releases are coming out thick and fast. You can monitor them here: https://help.xero.com/AllChanges and if you subscribe using ChangeDetection.com thanks Chad Davis you can be alerted as soon as they are released. Two HUGE recent releases have been: Tracking added to new style reports and the ability for the payroll administrator to edit Timesheets. The latter I definitely requested, though the original requester was Charles Klavana. It was a small issue that stopped businesses who needed inbuilt Timesheets moving to Xero. Bigger businesses are moving to Xero and I had to say at the first meeting hold your horse’s cowboy – your payroll administrator can’t edit TimeSheets but that is now a thing of the past! Let those horses free, and let your staff utilise TimeSheets.

So what has the impact of me spending time highlighting feature requests had on my business?

The implementation of feature requests helps my clients use Xero, and helps me introduce Xero to new clients minimising the barriers to entry. So potentially for additional revenue here….

I’ve also thought – I should send out an end of monthly email of highlights of any changes introduced during the month – and offer training and support in any feature release that have happened in the past month. I could also specifically highlight feature to clients who I know would benefit (the benefit of having an elephant brain that never forgets anything). So easy email and potentially for additional revenue here….Do you like that idea?

OK we are now over 1500 words in and onto the second thing on my To Do List. I had client issues that I needed to address with certain organisations directly. Let’s start with the banks. Kudos for getting NAB and CBA to showcase at Xerocon.

Me to CBA guy: So my client has a CBA bank feed and the only data that comes through is the date and the amount.

CBA guy: Hi. Yes this is a known issue, and here are the steps you need to resolve it.

Me – totally totally shocked. Issue acknowledge. Detailed solution provided. I can go back to client and resolve the issue.

Onya CBA. Much respect.

Me to NAB guy: So you know you’ve got a problem with your NAB bank feeds when there are multiple accounts with the same business?

NAB guy: Yes. Everyone here has been telling me. I will report this back to head office.

OK – so the response was not as exciting – but

Thank-you NAB for owning the issue.

Me to Greg Whittington at Ezidebit: Can you provide a Fees and Charges subtotal on your settlement summary? I further explained what I needed and Greg said it sounded sensible and he would take it back to head office. I estimate it will save me 10 seconds every week – bring it on! (Any update on this Greg?)

Ok client issues out of the way – back to the sessions that I attended. Remembering I spent so much time at the developer table I did not get to many sessions. A number of the sessions or the speakers are available on YouTube people – so look there if like me you want to relive the experience or just catch them for the first time.

Here is a back to front session overview.

The power of social media

The last session of the day was Steph Hinds of GrowthWise who talked about social media. Her team followed her around for the whole conference, videoing and snapchatting, and tweeting up a storm. I do a lot of social media myself – so I found the session entertaining, but the highlight for learning was her statement “Rod Drury hates people who paste the same content across multiple platforms” Rod went on to say on twitter he hates people who post from Instagram to Twitter – and Heather obediently turned off her ITTT from Insta to Twitter recipe. Action taken!

The AI revolution

Emmanual V Pitilis is a seriously smart guy who gave an informative talk on Artificial Intelligence. At the end of his talk at Xerocon Emmanual V Pitilis was asked would AI replace bookkeepers and his response was Yes. Afterwards I discussed this with some of the accountants in the room – who exclaimed finally someone said Yes at a Xero event! Highlights from the session were:

  • AI is invisible when it works well.
  • Computers don’t day dream
  • Revenue per person in small business is significantly less versus large business.
  • Am I leveraging automation to its fullest potential = a question to pose both internally and to the clients

Moving into a different industry – the airline industry – I just went and saw the film Sully, about how Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a water landing on the Hudson and all passengers survived. There’s an interesting theme running through the investigation computer simulation vs human reaction. I won’t spoil it, but it was interesting to see them work through how the unemotional analytical computers thought Sully should have reacted.

Can a business be fully automated? Can it automatically know when to purchase or sell or make a strategic decision without human intervention?

Accounting 2020 – A vision for where our industry is going Rod Drury

Here is the link to the keynote that Rod Drury gave at Xerocon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kU-JGdUkVeQ

The room was filled to capacity – and I was right at the back – so surprised to see the empty bean bags up the front in the video! As was to be expected Rod’s talk was visionary. It foretold us what would happen, while embracing the beauty and order of accounting. The move to the AWS platform will enable Xero to take it to the next level. The move to the AWS platform has been a bit painful and disruptive; however we shall grin and bear it and explain it to our clients as being only temporary as it will enable Xero to take it to the next level. What we’ll end up with is a multi-tenanted database where 1000’s of customers sit on a single global platform. With this we shall be able to crowdsource hundreds of thousands of businesses for benchmarking purposes. Small business currently has minimal realistic comparative data available for benchmarking – so this is an exciting possibility that we are going to see soon.

There was lots of talk about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Rod described ML as when your uber knows the traffic flow and can predict arrival time – which I guess is something that is already happening to an extent isn’t it?

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence help us understand intent and patterns. So if errors are repeated, I personally need to provide better training, while Xero needs to review the design.

Xero in on working with Cloud Integrators

Jeffrey Atizado was on this panel and you should always take the opportunity to hear from him, as he’s leading the way in the cloud integration space. The talk was very much around – you don’t need to learn it all – and honestly it’s impossible to know them all as the technology is leading to the creation of apps for niche businesses. Choose a vertical and identify a cloud integrator and focus resources there. Start with a scoping session for the client and then work as a team to deliver outcomes for clients.

Inside the Panama Papers

As a writer I loved the talk on the Panama Papers. Coincidentally I’d just watched All the President’s Men starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Set in the 70’s it explores the journalists uncovering Watergate – in a time when there was no internet, no mobile phones, they rang the library for research and to find out what books people were borrowing! They knocked on people’s doors, and recorded interviews with pen and paper.

The sheer magnitude of the Panama Papers and the volume of data journalists are trawling through in a bid to identify tax evasion is astonishing.  11.5 million documents. 2.6 terabytes. 214 488 offshore entities. I found the talk fascinating and I should read more about it. As a business I never bend the rules or deal with people who do – so I learnt about Mossack Fonseca as Panama would prefer you to call it – but I don’t think it will impact my business.

Xerocon started with the keynote presentations from Trent Innes and Anna Curzon

“This is an absolutely amazing community” Trent Innes

you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZlTyd2qecc

So what impact will Xerocon have on my business?

  1. Recognising that machine learning, leads to improved design, and negates the need for training around the intuitive workflow, I am going to move beyond offering introductory training, to offering management report development, which includes data detox. I will offer this as a service, and will develop a course around it.
  2. I will offer cloud integration scoping services. I do recognise that I should probably niche – however I’ve not yet identified an industry I’m keen to niche in. I am however well positioned to offer scoping services, which includes understanding current workflows, identifying potential improvements, brainstorming, researching available solutions, working through requirements, developing an implementation plan, and project managing or facilitating the roll out of a cloud integration solution. I know if I am part of the discussions around current work flows and adopting streamlined workflows that I have insight and experience to contribute, and am both a good sounding board, and can assist in the project management of the rollout. The statement that clarified this for me was – You don’t have to know it all … You just need to know who to work with. I know where to look for the people and resources and many times have worked with a virtual team to deliver outcomes for clients. I have a deep understanding of the app marketplace, and can help businesses quickly move to the next stage in the process.   My accountability group have also been pushing me to offer packages – so this is a good outcome.
  3. Emmanual V Pitilis said Revenue per person in small business is significantly less versus large business. As a solo operator this really hit home for me, especially as my youngest is about to graduate from high school, and I’m expecting my day to day parenting responsibilities to diminish significantly. I’ve been a virtual worker for the last decade. I am at a crossroads. Do I join a business, and sit within their office and use my skills, experience and insight to help them, help the business community. Or do I set myself up as a digital nomad and line up several virtual sessions a day, every day while exploring the world. I am actively starting to have conversations around both possibilities.
  4. I love creating content. I met lots of people who told me they love the content I create. I believe the content I create is authentic, believable, with a deep level of insight. I need to get better at monetising it. I’m not motivated by money. I’m motivated by helping people succeed in their business. But I need to find a way to make it profitable.

It took some time and grey matter to work out what impact Xero would have on my business journey. What do you think of the new ventures I’ve suggested? What impact did Xerocon have on your business journey?

If you are still mulling over this – join us on Thursday 6th October to hear the panel discussion on the Lessons Learnt at Xerocon featuring Tracey Newman, Cassandra Scott and Justin Campbell. Venue: Brisbane’s River City Labs RSVP here: MasterMind MeetUp