When it comes to the cloud, look to small businesses to drive innovation, not just software vendors. Matt Peng has seen this first hand in his consultancy Business Continuum, a cloud integrator specialising in the Xero add-on market.
Business Continuum works mainly with accounting firms, creative agencies, architects and surveyors, specialising in Workflow Max: a
Xero-owned job management tool. It also sets up inventory apps such as Cin 7, Dear Inventory and Trade Gecko, and some smaller CRMs.
Peng has watched the smaller software vendors struggle to add new features quickly; it can take two to three years to add a major new element. Small businesses are turning to integrators to build custom solutions through APIs to get all of the parts moving together.
Integrators are doing more custom work connecting the outer wheel of Xero’s hub and spoke model. While all apps need to integrate with Xero, they don’t necessarily pass data directly to each other so well.
In fact, some SMBs can see the opportunity to onsell a solution to their peers who haven’t yet found a way to solve common business problems. “More and more of that will come about because small businesses [want] a more integrated solution faster than the software vendors can provide it,” Peng says. “It may be a fact of life for the next few years, until those SaaS providers can be as big or as successful as Xero.”
Peng is ex-Xero himself, and although he studied accounting at uni, his work history is solidly in technology. He has previously worked on MYOB’s Solution 6, Reckon APS, EY’s Tax Integrator and Wolters Kluwer in tech support, product development and deployment in accounting firms.
Peng was the second employee, after the managing director, at Xero Australia in 2011. He wore many hats – as is typically the case in a small startup – but the pace was exhausting. After 10 years of professional work, he took a sabbatical and thought about what to do next.
“Three months after I had left Xero, I felt the immense magnitude of how many businesses were wanting to move to the cloud. I knew I needed to double down very quickly,” Peng says. “The best way to do that was to be a partner to drive the business.”
Peng also found that he wanted to follow his own advice. For years, he had been telling accountants to start their own advisory businesses and help clients move into the cloud.
Now, he wanted to apply that same mantra to himself.
Peng saw it as coming full circle. He had worked in support, consulting and software development, and was now coming back to consulting. But this time, he applied everything he learned about using the cloud as a platform.
“It’s changed from a vendor-led implementation to implement-it-yourself to a consultant-led scenario,” Peng says. His biggest win to date was migrating a client from SAP B1 to Workflow Max and Xero – with the same or better functionality, he claims.
Business Continuum initially went to work with any SMB, but has increasingly focused on accounting firms. This is a natural client base given Peng’s long history of implementing practice software for firms, and his own accounting background. Peng also sees accountants as a way to
pass on his knowledge of cloud systems to their clients.
“Even if we scaled really quickly, I’m such a small drop in the ocean. I am able to achieve a little more scale when firms are adopting, recommending and sometimes implementing cloud products.”
Peng’s partner, Chung Hui, is also an accountant. He worked in Deloitte for seven years with private clients in the cloud division. So, why hire an accountant and not an IT guy?
“I guess one of my selling points is that I understand accounting,” Peng says. “These days, it’s a little more common to find an accountant with a technologist bent. I know they have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of business. We are here to implement business systems; understanding what drives the finance side of things is key.”
Head office Blackburn, Victoria
Top executives Matt Peng and Chung Hui
Vendors Xero, WFM, Receipt Bank, Cin7
Sector Accounting, creative agencies, wholesale, construction