As the agricultural sector becomes increasingly reliant on up-to-date and accurate data, navigating a path through the maze of digital options is undoubtedly a time-consuming job. Ryan Pearcy, Associate Partner, runs the SB Digital service at Scrutton Bland and looks at how software can help agricultural businesses, outlining some of the digital tools which can help farmers and landowners.
In recent years the farming sector has had to adopt new ways of gathering and analysing data, not just in relation to equipment, but also in crop and livestock management. We know from working closely with our agri clients that many are seeing the benefits of using digital technology when managing their business accounts. However, the problem is that so many farmers are just too busy, or not properly informed about the other tools which are available to them. As a result, understanding what software is available, and which versions are needed to achieve an optimum result is becoming a painstaking task for many agricultural business owners.
One of the most common questions I hear from clients is ‘Where do I even start?’. With an ever-expanding range for software options available, getting it wrong can lead to costly mistakes. But, in reality the transition from a traditional paper based or desktop business processes can be easier than you’d think. Most of us are already using a wide range of apps and cloud-based software in our personal lives without even thinking twice about it; from online banking to social media, we are all managing cloud-based data already.
Of course, many agricultural businesses have already adopted accounting systems and are starting to see the benefits of having live data, accessible 24/7. From a professional advisers point of view, having access to live data can help us to better manage our clients’ finances and gives us the oversight we need to be able to recommend future actions. For clients themselves, there are some very immediate benefits from being able to send invoices out and getting paid faster, through to being able to prepare accurate reports in order to support applications for lending. Where we see the next big development is in the add-on style apps which can integrate into packages such as Xero and which are tailored to specific sectors or business types.
Most software now operates with an open application programming interface (API). This isn’t as scary as it sounds. In short, APIs allow software developers to write programmes which allow other pieces of software or apps to talk to each other. APIs have been in use for some time now in cloud accounting packages and so the logical next step has been for software developers to start to create apps which are tailored for specific business sectors, but which will all feed back into one data source.
There are currently thousands of cloud-based applications available, which is a lot for a business owner or financial director to have to wade through on their own! By using the services of a cloud software specialists, such as our SB Digital team, you will save a huge amount of time and money and have the peace of mind in knowing that the system you have chosen is the best fit for your business and is compliant.
We always listen to our clients and the overwhelming message from people working in agriculture was that whilst many of them want to engage more with digital technology, they just don’t have enough hours in the day. Our answer to this is to work with you, talking through your business needs in order to help you work out which software packages you would most benefit from, based on the data you need to gather and report on and any other software packages you need to interface with.
The next stage in the advisory process is for the SB Digital team to produce a data map for you, which shows you how your data currently flows between all the systems you use. This enables us to provide you with an independent and easy-to-understand assessment of where your systems can be improved and to suggest the software, and in particular any add-on apps, that will help you do this.
The final part is the conversion process to install the new software and to assist you in transitioning your data to the cloud. We know from extensive experience that the first three months after a new software package is in place is the crucial timeframe to ensure that your system is operating efficiently, so we will work alongside you to assist and advise should you need support.
We know from speaking to our clients that some agricultural businesses don’t think this kind of thing is relevant to them, but farming and agri businesses are often the forefront of technical development, particularly around finding ways to be more efficient and produce accurate reports.
I’d suggest any operation with a turnover between £500k and £20 million should be looking for professional advice, although smaller businesses may well also benefit.
We have also created several case studies about some of the recent work the SB Digital have been carrying out with businesses throughout the UK. Please reach out to us if you would like to be sent some to view or visit our website www.scruttonbland.co.uk/case-studies/
There is a wide range of apps available which have been developed specifically to help agricultural businesses manage their accounts. Here are some of the software systems we regularly recommend to our agri clients:
DEXT (previously known as Receipt Bank)
An easy and efficient way to keep on top of your expenses with one tap. Just photograph your receipts on your phone or smart device and Dext will extract the data and post in directly into your accounts.
A customisable approval tool that works alongside Dext to digitise the approval process for purchase orders and invoices, allowing the wider team to approve transactions wherever they are.
A useful piece of property management software which alerts you to key dates such as rent reviews, lease renewals and so on, as well as reminders for maintenance, inspection and compliance tasks.
If you are unsure where to start with your digital journey, or maybe are already managing your data in the cloud but would like to find out more about the apps available you can contact the SB Digital advisory team on 0330 058 6559 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.