Today I am speaking with Cameron Lynch. Cameron is a Chartered Accountant and the founder of the Etani Business Platform. He believes he can help businesses survive and prosper in today’s disruptive environment. Cameron is experienced with Business Intelligence (BI), Analytics, Big Data and implementing cloud-based solutions to streamline reporting systems.Live data has a significant role to play in assisting businesses to make wiser decisions, both now and in the future. Cameron’s passion is driven by the concept of creating vehicles to help businesses and individuals prosper.
Cameron worked previously in Consolidated Financial Reporting. Every month, a team of accountants would send the subsidiary financial accounting data to existing, pre-filled tabs on numerous Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for consolidation.
While this may sound like smooth sailing, all it would take is for one person to hit the wrong key in the wrong cell, paste data into an incorrect tab, or add an additional column, without updating the SUM formula, and everything was corrupted. It was impossible to retain the integrity of all the accumulated data.
Imagine this scenario:
You walk into a meeting with your Board of Directors, armed only with your phone, tablet or laptop, containing live consolidated management reports. Your device can continually review all marketing, sales, finance and operational data in one place at any time. You can access updated information and answer all questions raised in the meeting, saving everybody a great deal of time and providing invaluable accurate insights.
Finally, Cameron has created a diverse new system, the culmination of years of experience, searching, testing, learning and an overwhelming passion to be the best.
How does the Etani Business Platform help accountants?
When you couple Etani and Microsoft Power BI, you have a powerful system to help accountants in many different ways:
- Etani provides your SME and small corporate clients with the best analytics software in the world. They have full access to live business insights simply by using their phone, tablet or desktop.
- Accounting firms are enabled effectively do Power BI analysis at scale
- You can extract data from third party SaaS software. Xero, MYOB, Quickbooks Online, Workflow Max, SimPro, Dear inventory, and many more. Live data is then streaming straight into your client’s dashboards
- The Etani Bootcamp gives you 5 x 2 hour training sessions on BI in-house. Unlimited staff can attend or do the training online at your own pace. There’s plenty of on-going training available.
Etani has created a lengthy list of templates you can use inside Power BI. These cover sales analysis, budgeting, cashflow analysis, and various other scenarios. This template library continues to grow. Instead of your client struggling to make their own templates for each aspect of their work, these have been created for them, saving thousands of hours.
Client delivery vehicle:
Etani embeds your reports and dashboards into your own branded application. These are available on Desktops, iPhones, iPads, Androids and Tablets for your clients to use.
There are numerous benefits of doing this.
- Your clients don’t need a Power BI Pro account (at a cost of $12.70 per month per user) to use the business insights.
- You retain control of your IP.
- The client can’t take the Power BI work you have done to another accountant.To find out more, visit www.etani.com.au
In this episode, we talk about . . .
- How his training to be an accountant, and understanding of cash flow has equipped him to run a business
- How Etani and Microsoft Power BI help practices deliver advisory services to SME’s.
- The two main reasons, Cameron thinks users love Power BI
- The different data sources clients want, beyond Financial data
- The most successful rollouts of Etani Business Platform and Power BI are undertaken by firms charging a monthly fee, productising their offering, and benefitting from recurring revenue.
- And I have included in the show notes a link to and a link to those Trello templates.
Links from the show
The International Federation of Accountants post stating that the reported balance sheet only reflects 20% of what is happening in the business (link) plus you can join for free – thanks Monika at Streamline Management for this information.
A cool free offering from Trello – Team Templates, for everything from organising Party’s through to Goal Setting:https://trello.com/teams/team-management You can use the template, or get inspiration on how to create your own template.
Can I encourage you to sign up to my newsletter, by visiting : https://heathersmithsmallbusiness.com/newsletter/
Heather: Hi Cameron. Thank you so much for joining me here on Cloud Stories Podcast. Can I start by asking you the most important question? Who is your favourite Superhero and why?
Cameron: Oh, thank you for having me, Heather. It’s great to be here. My favourite superhero, I probably have to say Batman. I’ve always been a Batman fan. In fact, I still watch the Batman movies to this day.
Heather: Oh, awesome. What was your favourite Batman movie, or who is your favourite Batman actor should I ask?
Cameron: Heath Ledger. His portrayal of the Joker was unbelievable.
Heather: Yeah. Well it was, it was sensational. I think he’s being redone, isn’t it? The Joker, someone else is now doing the Joker in the next-
Cameron: Joaquin Phoenix is doing it and yeah, it looks like it’s going to be really good.
Heather: Yeah. He’s a brilliant actor. Yes, I think he’ll get lost in that character too. So Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Joaquin what can … Okay, so your business is actually based in Adelaide in South Australia. That’s correct, is it?
Cameron: Yeah, that’s correct.
Heather: What’s the Internet connection like for you there in Adelaide?
Cameron: I have problems with all of them, whether it’s ADSL, whether it’s the satellite ones or whether we’re on the broadband, everything is a disaster.
Heather: Oh, that’s not too good for growing a technology business is it?
Cameron: Yeah, we make do.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always interesting to hear. It’s surprising that one thing throttles … can throttle our business and that we really need.
Cameron: Too often I’m turning to personal hotspot.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. And I frequently am doing that as well. At least the 4G that we have is quite strong if we can access it. So you run a business called Etani Business Solutions. Can you share with our listeners what, Etani Business Solutions does?
Cameron: Yeah, of course. So it’s a SaaS based business that is being used predominantly by accounting firms, and it wraps around a platform called Microsoft Power BI, which some of the listeners may have heard of, some may not off, it’s a business intelligence tool. So what is Microsoft Power BI? It’s an analytics platform that you would use to deliver dashboards and reports to your client base, your SME client base. It’s a enterprise grade platform. It is the absolute cream of the crop. So, why is Etani here. Etani assists with all of those blockades that make it really difficult to use it, so that you can go forward with using an enterprise grade platform to deliver advisory services to your client base.
Heather: So why did you start your business?
Cameron: Well it was four plus years ago, so I’m a chartered accountant. I’ve got a background in practise and commerce and I was working in the consolidation space in commerce. I had a team of accountants around me and they would … At the end of each month they would give me an Excel document to put consolidated financials together. And we had tabs along the bottom, lots of tabs. We had this master consolidation Excel spreadsheet and lots of people were touching it. There was lots of formulas going between their, lots of sums and VLOOKUPs. It was just so dangerous. I mean, I would constantly find material mistakes in it. And that was actually the beginning of Etani. ‘Cause I said this cannot be the answer. Like all I seem to be doing is integrity on the data, I’m not actually adding much value here and I’m not feeling comfortable that the answers are right. So I mean that’s where Etani really came along was looking for a solution to this problem of data integrity.
Heather: I think I spent a lot of my earlier career in practise on data integrity. I think you really summed it up there. And hopefully as we move to cloud solutions, integrated cloud solutions, we can actually do what we should be doing rather than the data integrity side. So from an accountant’s perspective, what surprised you about growing a startup technology company?
Cameron: I think when you were looking startup, trying something that hasn’t been adopted yet. And even though startup sounds like it’s quite foreign and not a lot of people do it, actually it’s very busy. It’s a very busy market, the startup space, and you’re competing against a lot of different people who are trying to convince, in particular accountants, that this is the future or this is something that is of value and accountants are notoriously difficult to get hold of. They’re notoriously … they’re very busy and so why is this one needing their attention? I mean that has been a major challenge for me.
Heather: Yeah. Thank you for that. Do you think your training as an accountant has equipped you to actually run a business?
Cameron: Oh absolutely. I think it’s equipped me to run a business, although it has quickly brought up a million things that I didn’t know, but having that business acumen background as a chartered accountant and seeing the insides of lots of other businesses has helped me enormously to … Particularly in cashflow. Cashflow is absolutely king and I think being … having my background in accounting has … it’s been an enormous benefit.
Heather: It’s very exciting in this ecosystem, this accounting [inaudible 00:05:57] ecosystem that we are seeing chartered accountants such as yourself actually launching software solutions and technology that will actually go back and help the other chartered accountants and you’re actually, you know, running a business.
Cameron: Yeah. And that background as well, selling directly to accountants. As an accountant I actually have experienced their pain points. I’ve pulled out general ledgers and printed them and written the general ledger codes by hand. I mean I’ve gone through all of those stories that they have. So I understand the importance of automation, I understand the importance of technology and I’m just here to try and make life easier going forward.
Heather: As someone growing a business, how do you balance your time? How do you balance your time between what’s required in the business and then your own work-life balance?
Cameron: In startup, I don’t have enough work-life balance. I mean, work-life balance is an odd word. I mean, I always say that you’re always out of balance in some area. Whether that’s with you not spending enough time with your friends, not spending enough time with your family, not spending enough time on work, not spending enough time with your physical fitness. Something is always lacking I think, and trying to get that balance is difficult. I look at startup and trying to get this platform moving as short-term so I don’t want to do the hours I’m doing long-term, but it’s what’s needed right now.
Heather: Absolutely. Who is the ideal client for your solution?
Cameron: I actually don’t think it’s an accounting firm per say. It’s actually a decision maker. A director in the firm who embraces tech, is using or looking to launch into advisory in the analytic space, and they’re hungry for better reporting. I mean they’re frustrated by being limited with what they can do on the advisory side, they want more. That type of hunger for delivering an analytic solution that adds value to their client base. That really is my ideal client and it doesn’t matter really if it’s midyear, or it’s a smaller firm or even if it’s actually what this virtual CFO movement, they’re not even actually doing compliance in their business. They all fit with that hunger for this type of work.
Heather: And I know that you have clients here in Australia. Are you seeing clients globally as well?
Cameron: Yes. Particularly in New Zealand, there’s been a pickup on this. The Xero ecosystem is huge. For some reason the Xero ecosystem is attracted to Power BI and more or is hearing about it more than the other vendors, but and so obviously case in point then New Zealand is picking up on the Power BI movement and reaching out to me. I’ve signed just last week my first firm from India. So yeah, I think Australia and New Zealand are the front runners here in this space. I think we’ve heard that we’re generally in the SME space five to 10 years in front. Have you heard the same thing?
Heather: I have. Yes, yes. Every conference tells me that, but I also go to overseas conferences, so I look into that too.
Cameron: And they say the same thing.
Heather: Every conference has a different take on everything. Every country has a different slant on everything should I say. So where does Power BI, and should I call it Microsoft Power BI or just Power BI? Where does that … and other business intelligence tools fit into a modern practise?
Cameron: Power BI is fine. I think it’s become a household name now that it’s associated with Microsoft. I think it is fitting in that analytic space for you, and just as a precondition in most cases I’m talking about delivery to SME, and I think it fits in to deliver dashboards and reports and analytics to your client base. And it’s advisory, it’s an advisory service is where it’s used.
Heather: Excellent. So what are the outcomes you would love to see from people actually using your solution?
Cameron: I think it’s two fold. So one, what are the two reasons that you turn to Power BI? Is one, the custom nature of it. So the custom nature of it is so important because every business is different. Every business has it’s own limitations, it’s own areas that it needs to understand better in the analytic space. So the custom nature is the most powerful thing about Power BI. The fact that you can, it’s your canvas is something I like. You know, you create your own artwork on it and you can still have templates, but it’s your canvas to do what you want. So that’s number one.
Cameron: And number two is the data sources. The data sources. It’s not okay to say that financial data is enough anymore. Clients want more and there’s lots of data out there. There’s CRM systems, there’s social media, there’s marketing platforms, there’s Excel, there’s website data. I mean if you want to scrape data from the Bureau of Meteorology, so it fits into an accounting firm with delivering really, really powerful analytics for a client to make better decisions. I mean that’s the aim here is to deliver better analytics.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I was just speaking with Monica Salesman from Streamline Bookkeeping Solutions I believe in Sydney. And she was telling me about IFAC, which I believe is the International Federation of Accountants, which is actually a free organisation to join and they’re very focused on this integrated reporting. And she sent me a link, which I’ll put in the show notes, and the article said that the balance sheet only reflects 20% of what actually is happening in the business and that we need this other information. And definitely weather has such an impact on so many businesses that bringing it in for analysis what’s has happened and what’s predicted is definitely useful to bring alongside as well as those other pieces of information when you’re making decisions about business.
Cameron: Yes, absolutely. And also on top of that, in that financial data, the underlying data, I mean, what does that general ledger amount mean. Too often I’ll see things like I can’t just do total sales and they’ll choose total sales, and they’ll choose wages. Wages divided by total sales. Okay, well what does that mean? I mean, and this is the power of tools like Power BI. Let’s get under the hood of what that … I’ll give you a great real life example of that wages v total sales. Is a client … It’s a pub group, so they own multiple pubs and they’re using Xero. So they have separate Xero organisations for each pub, and they’re also using Deputy for their timesheets.
Heather: Which is a payroll solution. For anyone listening, it’s an Australian payroll solution. Sorry.
Cameron: That’s okay. And so what they’re able to do is bring in the Deputy timesheets, which are segmented by bar, not by pub, but by bar. So there might be five different bars in each pub. And then the same thing on the Xero side for sales, they’re using a POS system where they point that POS system to Xero and publish by bar into the [inaudible 00:13:53]. So all of a sudden now we’ve got an automated live data feed for wages divided by sales by bar, which is just incredible. That is just a weekly dashboard. Every Monday morning they’re studying that piece of information for what happened over the weekend.
Heather: That’s fantastic. That’s probably the reason why when I’m sitting in the quiet bar and there’s a busy bar, they close down my quiet bar and push me into the busy bar because of you. But yeah that’s … that is fantastic information and that is the insight that you want and [inaudible 00:14:29], the Deputy will be very pleased to hear that you’re using that. I also wanted to mention for regarding that comment that I made earlier about IFAC, it’s actually free to join, which I didn’t realise and they have a newsletter. So that was I-F-A-C if people are interested. What’s the favourite feature you have about your product that everyone should know about?
Cameron: The data sources. So we are building out a library of different data sources and we look after the SME sector. So you will not be seeing Google Analytics from us. You won’t be seeing big business. You’ll be saying SME, and particularly operational data sources. So that is something we’ve got a major … ’cause you won’t find them. They’re not readily available on the market because they’re designed for the SME market. So we’ve got simPRO, Counter, Unleashed, DEAR Inventory. There’s a big list of ready made out of the box data sources that we just … by the click of a button, we bring you live data that feeds into dashboards and reports for you. So you’re straight off the bat, you’re away. And that’s just such a weight off your shoulders to get those data sources just flowing for you. You can get on with knowing that it’s reconciled and actually building something that’s of value.
Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s excellent. What tips do you have for practises wanting to successfully adopt and roll out Power BI?
Cameron: So there’s a debate in the advisory market about productisation . This is just talk to your client is an expression I hear quite regularly. I think you have to productise. I think productisation of advisory works really well. Just like compliance has worked really well. Productisation of compliance in accounting firms. So you need a BI implementation plan about how you’re going to go about it, and the most successful people who are rolling this out, I’m seeing, charging for … a monthly fee. So definitely be going down the monthly fee path and they will be charging anywhere between $500 to $2,000 a month per client per month.
Cameron: Then that obviously can change depending on whether you want to package that with your compliance fees or whether you want to add in a monthly meeting with your clients as well. But that is the roll out and that is the upside to this is we’re carrying revenue through a vehicle that you can build custom solutions for your clients. So they can … An account … A client can’t actually leave you unless they want their custom solutions rebuilt. Really. I mean if you’re adding value, they’re not going anywhere, which is wonderful. It’s a wonderful feeling to have that, that you’re adding value in.
Heather: You’re strengthening the bonds.
Cameron: Yeah, absolutely.
Heather: So let me just circle back to that question. I’m a practise and I’m up and running and I’ve got maybe 10 staff working with me. How do I engage with your solution? How do I engage with Etani and roll it out into actually my practise with one step before I’m actually talking to the client. So you’ve talked about how do I market it or sell it to the clients? How do I adopt it and how do I get my staff on board?
Cameron: So Etani offers a 30 day trial of the platform. We recommend that the decision maker and the director doesn’t actually do the Grunt work. You got to choose a superstar, you’ve got to choose a champion, and it’s generally at the senior to manager level in your firm. And they normally carry a hunger for technology and they generally carry an interest in Excel. You bring them into the system and they can begin their online training on how to use Power BI.
Cameron: Generally the first step is replicating pre-existing analytics that you’re doing for clients. So what that would normally mean is they would be dumping data out of an accounting software into Excel, and it will generally be a budget, the actual, quarterly, or monthly with a variance analysis on that and a percentage of total sales. That type of report in excel. So that would be your first protocol. Let’s roll over those clients that you’re doing that into an automated system where we’re no longer doing chart of accounts mappings and integrity checks on the data and just get a free flowing quarterly analysis for your client base.
Heather: Excellent. Thank you. So, what tips do you have for people who want to start learning Power BI?
Cameron: I started learning it by Googling, and I found several different training platforms that some of them were free on YouTube, which I obviously started on those free ones to get a background and then I moved to paid versions of it and I just consumed myself in training of it. And that’s what Etani has as well. We have an online training platform with about 20 plus hours of content that you can just make your way through at your own leisure and it’s part of the Etani platform so you don’t actually pay extra on top of for the training.
Cameron: The reason I recommend you start with that Etani training is because we’ve written it from your perspective as not enterprise. I mean always keep remembering that Power BI is an enterprise grade software, so the training out there in the market is generally going to be geared towards enterprise. We gear it towards Xero, QuickBooks, MYOB, small medium business software.
Heather: Absolutely. So you have 20 hours of training on your website. Can anyone access that, or are they a client?
Cameron: Yeah. It’s only open to Etani clients, but unlimited accountants in your firm can have access to it, and it’s broken down into … there’s a Power BI bootcamp, how to use Power BI, and then there’s an Etani instruction series, How does power behind Etani interact. And then we have trainings that go specifically to the data sources. So Xero for example, we have a Xero training course. How do you bring in the Xero budgets, because obviously that’s a popular thing to do is to hook up your budgets against actual results, and sign with MYOB and QuickBooks. I mean individual trainings for those specific softwares.
Heather: Absolutely. Yeah. No, and YouTube is always a great source of learning. I think a lot of people are just learning so much from YouTube these days, and then my children are going to university and they’re like, “Oh well we go and work out what they’re teaching us at university by finding the YouTube channel.” Which seems kind of bizarre that we’re paying for university and then they’re finding all that on YouTube. But thank you to all those people on YouTube who are creating those videos. So Cameron, what apps offered or tools can’t you live without?
Cameron: Trello. I can’t work without Trello with my team and they’ve just bumped … I don’t know if you’ve noticed the free version is no longer, but Trello is just, I wouldn’t be able to track what I do without it.
Heather: They’re no longer offering a free version of Trello?
Cameron: Well, they are, but they’ve put a limit now on it. So you have to … it’s forcing you to upgrade into a paid version by the amount. I think you can have boards, but you can only put a certain amount of tiles into the board or so. And that comes into existence in July I think. I can’t live without Trello. I can’t live without GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. I mean, and I can’t live without Calendly hooked up to my GoToMeeting. It is just so powerful that I can be sleeping and people can book in appointments with me. It goes in our diaries, everything’s handled for me. It’s so much fun. I just love that. It’s so good.
Heather: Yeah, it’s like … technology is like engaging stuff to do all of those, that manual tasks for yes, and it is fantastic. So that was great. Trello, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar and Calendly. And I’ll put that link in the show notes. Trello have just released a group of templates of boards on how to embrace productivity in your team. So I’ll drop that into the show notes because there you can access them for free. The templates that they’re showing you. So what does the next five years look like for you Cameron?
Cameron: When I ran into Power BI, and I mean, this is my background by the way in accounting firms. I’ve been involved with self-managed Super Fund roll outs, and the adoption of electronic working papers have been on. I just love all the new stuff that’s coming through. And when I landed on Power BI four plus years ago, I just said, “This is it. This is absolutely it. This is what I’ve been looking for. I bet you it is what other accounting firms are looking for.” It just … and so far I haven’t seen anything to change my mind. In fact, I actually, I think it’s strengthened.
Cameron: I think that Power BI is an absolute showcase. It is just going to be the Excel of accounting firms in the past 15 years. I mean you think how important Excel is going to be? Has been? I think Power BI is going to be the same and I think it’s already proven to be. It is just so useful, like the way that you can automate and scale advisory services in your firm and deliver custom nature templates and dashboards.
Heather: And you can move away from data integrity into value add services, which is-
Heather: … which is a breath of fresh air. So Cameron, how do you recharge? Where do you go when you want to forget about work?
Cameron: I go off into the Adelaide Hills, and I go, it’s amazing because the Adelaide Hills is just on our doorstep. It literally takes me 15 minutes to get there and I’m walking up a hill with kangaroos and animals all around me. And not a sound, only sort of like this ha … this buzz from the city from behind me. But it’s just, it’s my special place where I can go walking up that hill and it’s where I do my meditation and also my physical exercise.
Heather: And for our listeners, what Cameron didn’t mention as those hills are where the best wineries probably in Australia are also. [inaudible 00:25:03]. So you’re actually walking to the pub, hey? Thank you so much for talking with us Cameron. I’m sure our listeners were really interested and keen to hear about your passion for Power BI. How can people get in contact with you?
Cameron: You can jump onto the website, Etani, E-T-A-N-I.com.au. In this contact pages you can send me an email, email@example.com, and my mobile’s up on the website. There’s lots of ways to book times with me. I’m all over social media, particularly on LinkedIn you can find me. Hopefully if you just search my name, I’ll come up.
Heather: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Cameron.
Cameron: No, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me. I love having the opportunity to just share this. I just, I’m so passionate about this movement into business intelligence. I really do think it is the future and I can’t wait for other people to learn more about it.
Heather: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Cameron: Okay, thanks Heather. Bye.