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SMEs ‘ready to embrace’ automated document handling

Technology

On his first tour to Australia, freshly installed Dext CEO Sabby Gill sees plenty of scope for expansion.

By Philip King 12 minute read

Challenging workloads and an appetite for automation make Australia a land of opportunity for document software specialist Dext, according to its freshly installed CEO Sabby Gill.

He said the company was expanding its Australian footprint and its product range in line with a view that in addition to bookkeepers and accountants, every small business was a potential customer.

Next year Australia would be one of the first markets to offer an e-invoicing product with beta testing already underway, and he praised the role of the ATO in driving the uptake of digital technology.

Mr Gill, who was in Australia on his first tour of the regions after being appointed in October, arrives at Dext with extensive experience leading technology companies including Sage and, immediately prior to his appointment, recruiter Thomas International.

Dext develops software that automates the handling of documents such as receipts, as well as extracting and analysing financial data like cash flow.

“Here there’s such a big opportunity,” he told Accountants Daily. “When you look at our penetration rate, even on the existing client base, it’s still quite small.

“We are very much focused on small-medium businesses. We’ve got a two-pronged approach — we want to use the accountants and the bookkeepers, because they really do see the value in automation and receipt capture.”

“But there’s also what I refer to as business to business to consumer. The consumer, or the small-medium business, who is a client of the practice, ultimately should also benefit from the ability to be able to capture that invoice, capture that detail, make their life easier.

“It’s not a case of automatically just trying to sell to the accountant or the practice or the bookkeeper, we’re trying to make sure that there’s value for the entire life cycle.”

He said every one of the roughly 2.5 million small businesses in Australia was potentially a client and market-dominant players such as Xero had effectively set a de facto standard. Despite some product overlap, the two had a strong partnership with the Dext Prepare, Commerce, and Precision apps available on Xero.

“Xero have already used technology to lead the way locally in the market and almost forge an element of standardisation,” he said.

“It’s not as if you have to build lots of integrations, lots of interfaces. You talk to one or two biggest players, work with them closely and then you’ve already covered 80 per cent of the market.”

Meanwhile, the ATO was accelerating the pace of digital adoption by pushing systems such e-invoicing.

“Organisations here, especially from a tax perspective, are actually quite progressive,” he said. “The fact that already people are starting to talk about e-invoicing and invoice creation, they’re already thinking a couple of steps ahead of some other regions.”

“Hence the reason for our focus on the region — they’re already on that tech journey, accounting organisations have already started to apply technology. We know that they’re ready for adoption — our job as a provider is just helping them on that journey.”

Automation was also part of the answer to the skills shortage and sheer weight of work.

“Managing a high volume of workload was identified as a top challenge for day to day work by 67 per cent of the entire respondents,” Mr Gill said about a recent survey.

“There aren’t as many qualified candidates coming through the whole process, so in order to be able to use and leverage the individuals that are coming through, how do you just make them more effective in their everyday world?

“This is why technology does play such an important part. If we can automate as much as we can, we can capture as much as we can.”

He said Australia would be among the first with an e-invoicing product being launched next year that was simple, easy-to-use, and fit on top of existing products.

Another benefit of automation was an ability to generate business analysis and avoid a cash flow crunch from poorly timed invoices and receipts.

“Small businesses don’t necessarily have the insights to be able to do that. Dext is the first step in the process. We can almost give you insights into what’s happening before it’s even hit your accounting system.”

Mr Gill expected the role of bookkeepers and accountants to change with digitisation, but it was an opportunity rather than a threat.

“It’s inevitable, it’s going to happen, whichever way you look at it.”

“I’d use it as an opportunity to say, OK, let’s try and adopt this. Let’s try and find better ways of doing that tax and compliance.”

“I think the important thing is acceptance that things are going to be different. And I think if you try and fight it and be a laggard, you will suffer.”

But the tax world never stayed still, so bookkeepers and accountants would always be needed.

“We all know compliance, legislation, taxes, change. That, to me is a huge opportunity as well. Because as much as you build into systems to go and do all of this stuff, it’s really complicated. So you will need tax specialists to be able to interpret the rules, interpret the information, interpret the data.  

“And you can only automate so much before you need some element of an individual or person to still be involved — in checking things, in creating some of the legislation and creating some of the components that ultimately have to be implemented.”

“And it’s more a case of exceptions, exceptional reporting, what happens when certain transactions don’t fit the mould or you’ve had a new type of legislation?”

 

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Philip King

Philip King

AUTHOR

Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

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