Better Business Technology

Could SMEs ditch accountants in favour of cloud services?

ACCOUNTING professionals in Australia are facing up to the uncomfortable realisation that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may be ditching their services in favour of cheaper ‘cloud’ based accounting systems.

Accounting for SMEs is blurred by opportunities in 'cloud' services.

The realisation has come out of national research by software developer CCH in alliance with Brisbane-based coaching, content and technology firm, Proactive Accountants Network.

The research found that almost two thirds (64 %) of SMEs would consider replacing some of the roles that their accountant currently performs with a cloud-based accounting system.

Already 14 percent of SMEs use cloud-based software to manage their accounts, the survey found. Online programs such as XERO, SAASU, MYOB and the soon to be released CCH iBizz are making it easier for SMEs to bypass their accountants, and lodge their Business Activity Statements (BAS) through lower priced avenues.

CCH has teamed up with Proactive Accountants Network to educate accountants on the move towards cloud based accounting.

The firms are conducting a tour – titled Remaining Relevant and claimed to be the biggest accounting event ever staged in Australia – to 13 Australian cities and likely to be attended by 2,000 accountants.

Proactive Accountants Network CEO Rob Nixon said accounting firms were an intermediary that process and compile data and they were in the firing line of being drastically disrupted by the internet.

“It’s not years away – it is happening right now,” Mr Nixon said. “I already know of accounting firms who have had ‘ethical clearance’ letters from Asian accounting firms doing the work directly for their clients.

“They can do this because the accounting data is ‘light’ (a login) and not ‘heavy’ (a USB stick or disk.) When the data is light it is more transportable. “Compliance is being commoditised with these tools. You can go to accountant websites right now and see ‘packaged’ compliance services advertised at set fees per month.”

Mr Nixon said the situation was “not all bad”.

For those accountants who are embracing the technology, he said, 62 percent believe the biggest benefit of using a cloud-based system was that it could be accessed from multiple locations. He said 32 percent felt cloud accounting technology meant they did not need to worry about maintenance or purchasing hardware or accounting software.

Mr Nixon and the CEO of CCH Wolters Kluwer Asia Pacific, Russell Evans, want to stem the tide of SMEs doing it on their own because research found that SME businesses failed, in part, due to failures in seeking professional advice (about 26% in the report) and receiving poor professional advice (21%).

“It is in the best interest of accountants to maintain leadership in cloud solutions so they can better service their SME clients,” Mr Evans said.


Local government driving new location-aware smartphone apps

LOCAL councils are seeking new ways to operate more efficiently and connect with their citizens through location-aware smartphone applications (apps), according to a new Australian technology study. Image

Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) and geographic information system (GIS) technology leaders Esri Australia recently conducted the 2013 GIS in Local Government Benchmark Study, surveying 150 councils on their use of mapping technology.

The survey discovered 58 percent of respondents expected to release location-based smartphone apps within the next two years.

Of the councils surveyed, a majority believed further development of mobile technology was a key priority for them over the next five years.

The research indicated smartphone apps could play a crucial role in information gathering during emergency situations, and as a means to share council data with the community.

Speaking at last week's SSSI annual conference in Canberra, where the study was launched, Esri Australia principal consultant Gary Johnson said the research showed councils see GIS - an advanced data mapping technology - as the key to better communication with the public.

"Ninety-nine percent of respondents believe GIS technology can improve the way councils communicate with citizens," Mr Johnson said. 

"That might be through the development of a location-aware smartphone app, or user-friendly online maps.

"This statistic is given further weight when we consider 83 percent of respondents believe information sourced from the public is important to emergency response activities.

"It is no surprise councils are planning to act on these understandings and connect with the community through location-based smartphone apps.

"Many respondents indicated this was also being driven by the community, which now expects greater access to council information in the easy-to-use, visual format of digital maps."

The study also revealed councils see GIS technology as integral to emergency management internally, with around half of respondents declaring it strengthened decision-making (53 percent) and resource allocation (47 percent), and heightened situational awareness (48 percent) during a crisis.

SSSI president Gary Maguire said the aim of the report was to raise understanding and awareness of the role of the GIS professional in Australia's local government sector.

"The survey serves as an important piece of industry research because it provides an outline of how councils across the country are currently using GIS," Mr Maguire said.

"It also highlights how they plan to use it in years to come, providing an indicator of areas of growth for the sector and new trends.

"Most importantly, it provides our councils the opportunity to share with each other knowledge and insights that will impact future technology strategies and potentially facilitate collaboration in areas such as open data or emergency response."

Mr Johnson said the study showed councils continued to be national innovators in the use of GIS technology.

"Local governments are the largest user of GIS technology in Australia," Mr Johnson said.

"They have consistently been early adopters of GIS advancements, and as a result drive much of the innovation in how the technology is used.

"This is evident in the way local government have used GIS technology during emergencies to verify crowdsourced data, and to develop a two-way conversation with the community via smartphones apps."
Mr Johnson said the study was proof that the use of GIS technology within local government was becoming widespread.

"Sixty-eight percent of respondents believe their organisations have a strong understanding of the value of GIS technology," Mr Johnson said.

"Given the study showed 85 percent of councils already provide all of their departments with access to GIS capabilities it is clear we are seeing an expansion of the technologies within our councils - which can only mean better services and more open communication with their residents."


Vodafone connects first mobile and internet TV customers through NBN


Vodafone is recovering lost ground by taking a lead in connecting mobile, high speed broadband and internet-based FetchTV customers in tune with the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out.

Vodafone goes to air through NBN fibre.


Vodafone this week connected its first customers to the NBN site at Armidale, NSW, giving them access to mobile phone services, internet pay TV and high speed broadband services.

"We are pleased to have connected our first NBN customers and delighted to be providing them with some of the innovation that's possible with the latest generation of mobile, fixed broadband and TV services," Vodafone Hutchison Australia CEO Nigel Dews said.

Vodafone is trialling innovative TV services with new entrant FetchTV, including high definition (HD) movies on demand and is also the first operator to trial femtocell technology with the Vodafone Expand product through the NBN.

Vodafone Expand boosts indoor signal strength for Vodafone 3G mobile devices, providing better call quality and mobile internet access.

The trial is underway in Armidale, NSW, and Vodafone is planning similar trials in the other NBN trial sites Kiama, NSW, and Brunswick, Victoria this year.

Fujitsu offers free 'cloud hopping' for Aussie SMEs

Fujitsu has announced a special trial program for its Cloud offering at vForum 2011 in Sydney that offers free access to independent software vendors (ISVs) and small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

Fujitsu is offering SMEs a free trial of its cloud computing system.



Over the next three months, organisations can access Fujitsu's Cloud Platform, which includes Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS) hosted in Fujitsu's Australian data centres, as part of a free two-month trial.

This permits organisations to try before they buy and to experience the breadth of the solutions on offer at no charge or risk.


As the world's third-largest IT services provider, Fujitsu is well positioned to provide enterprise class, secure and highly available compute, storage, and network capacity via a web-based, self-service portal.


Craig Baty, Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand executive general manager and chief technology officer, said, "Since we went live with our Cloud in September 2010 we have had a high level of interest from enterprise and government customers.

"We have introduced this trial offer as an added incentive that will appeal to smaller organisations such as ISVs and SMEs to drive the development and use of Australian applications. It will also allow organisations of all sizes to test the suitability of the Cloud locally.


"ISVs will benefit from the ability to sell their software 'as a service' to a global market place. Our Cloud platform will help them to address increasing pressure to deliver on demand, customise quickly and take new releases and functionality to market rapidly.


"SMEs will benefit from the flexibility and scalability of our Cloud platform, which will allow them to provision ICT infrastructure and services to match the peaks and troughs of demand. They will only pay for the service they need at any time which will reduce the need to have dedicated infrastructure installed that is under-utilised."


Mr Baty said Fujitsu's Global Cloud Platform is built on open standards with published APIs and includes 24/7 global support for the infrastructure platform. The Australian and New Zealand service is delivered from Fujitsu's sustainable data centres, which are located across Australia.


He said the Fujitsu Cloud Platform incorporates multi-tier security for a true enterprise-grade environment. Its browser interface makes it simple to build, provision and manage secure environments for even relatively complex three-tier workloads. Provisioning is highly flexible via a self-service portal and availability is guaranteed to be at least 99.95 percent.


"We are offering this free trial as a demonstration of our commitment to the Australian businesses. We are confident that the platform will deliver excellent value to our customers in adopting it as a Cloud platform to enable business growth," Mr Baty said.


The free trial offer is available until January 31, 2012.


Organisations interested in registering for the free two-month trial of the Fujitsu cloud services can do so by visiting the Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand website.



Women in Technology honour leaders and innovators

OUTSTANDING and innovative women in technological fields were recognised last week at the Women in Technology (WiT) awards in Brisbane.

Tammy Halter's Absolute Data Group (ADG) again made finalist ranks in the WiT Awards.


Always made at a themed awards dinner - this year a ‘Green with Envy' Gala Dinner - the leading women in bio-science and technology were acclaimed by the WiT Awards judging panels.

This year saw finalists in nine award categories from career start to outstanding achievers, and introduced for the first time an award to recognise women making contributions to regional and rural Australia.

WIT interim president Jane Fitzpatrick said, "As always the WiT Awards Gala evening gives us the opportunity to showcase the talented women in the technology sectors and use them as examples to attract and retain women in these industries."

Special guests included Shadow Minister for ICT, Roz Bate, and Karen Struthers, the Queensland Minister for Community Services and Housing and Minister for Women.

Both women spoke about the need for women to be encouraged in their professional endeavours, highlighting the strong growth of women entering technological careers through the efforts of groups like WiT.

The 2011 WiT Awards presented winners and finalists in nine categories.

The Life Sciences Queensland Biotechnology Outstanding Achievement Award winner was Jenny Martin of the University of Queensland (UQ). Finalist was Kymberley Vickery of SCIP Consulting.

Bond University Infotech Outstanding Achievement Award winner Jane Hunter is also from UQ. Finalists in the category were Tammy Halter of Absolute Data Group and Marie Phillips of Icon Software.

The Department of Communities, Office for Women Employer of Choice Award was GBST Holdings Ltd. Finalists were Absolute Data Group and Hynes Lawyers.

University of Queensland Biotechnology Research Award winner was Tara Martin of CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences. Finalists were Norelle Daly  and Annette Dexter, both of UQ.

The UQ School of Information Technology and Engineering's Information Technology Research Award winner was Janet Wiles of UQ. Finalists were Denis Bauer of UQ and Sandra Mau of NICTA.

WiT Professional Award winner was Helen Murray of Queensland Health. Finalists were  Sonia Poothia of Mondial and Virginia Wilson of Suncorp.

Griffith University PHD Career Start Award winner was Kelly Brooks of UQ and finalists were Laura Bray of QUT and Alexandra Depelsenaire and Jana McCaskill, both of UQ.

WIT Regional Development Award winner was Kirsten Heimann of James Cook University, Townsville. Finalists were Yvette Adams of the Creative Collective and Janine Garrett of Charm Health.

QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation Rising Star Award winner was Olivia Wright of UQ. Finalists were Jyotsna Batra, Daniela Loessner, and Inga Mertens-Walker, all of QUT, and Celia Webby of Uniquest.

Women in Technology is one of Queensland's most respected and active technology industry associations and a peak body for women in the technology industry in Queensland developing a sustainable and growing network of members, sponsors, supporters.

WiT aims to promote the achievements of women in the technology industries via relevant events, programs, awards and networks that also provide opportunities for WiT members to grow and develop their skills.

WiT recognised in the 1990s that there were many women who went unrecognised for their talent and impact in technological fields and so created the awards program to recognise these outstanding women. The programs have been running since 1997 with three awards to the current nine categories this year, with a  growing number of sponsors.

In its lifetime, in excess of 90 awards have been made with the winners sharing in over $500,000 in prizes.

The association has now grown to a membership of over 350 women and men and over 1200 affiliates. In 2002 the association changed its name to Women in Technology, recognizing the relationship between IT and emerging technology fields such as science and engineering.


Meshblox: shopping container solution for computers in hostile environments

BRISBANE business Meshblox has come up with a simple solution that could solve one of the biggest problems on mine sites: making information technology systems reliable.
Dusty, difficult mining environments can be 'plugged in' by Meshblox.

Toowong based MeshBlox Pty Ltd is developing a product, the DataBlox, that may provide the answer to the regular failure of critical IT equipment on mining sites.

The DataBlox is basically a complete data centre in a shipping container. It's designed specifically to house computers and communication equipment in extreme and demanding environments.

These days mining tends to be high-tech and information technology (IT) is critical to the smooth operation of a mine.

For example, in mines, computers are required to assist with safety audits, labour force planning or to control and manage critical mine processing equipment.

MeshBlox managing director Matt Heysen said unfortunately mine sites tended on the whole to be located in environments hostile to computers and communication equipment.

"They're hot, dusty and wet and as such extremely corrosive environments, often leading to high IT equipment failure rates," Mr Heysen said.

He said unreliable equipment and failures in IT equipment at mine sites could cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity.

"Housing IT equipment on mine and industrial sites tends to be a bit of an afterthought. So equipment often ends up being housed in demountables that are not suitable for electronic equipment, leading to inefficiencies in power and cooling and that do not often meet the industry standards for housing computer equipment," Mr Heysen said.

"Naturally the industry is very keen to find a solution that is practical, cost-effective and standardised. So what we've come up with is just that.

"The good thing about shipping containers is that they are easily transportable. You can put one on the back of a truck and bring it anywhere. You don't have to put up or take down a building. They can easily be transported from one site to another depending on need."

He said the company had carried out a series of tests on their DataBlox prototype in Brisbane with the assistance of the University of Queensland (UQ).

He said MeshBlox had been in negotiation with several mining companies and that the industry was showing a keen interest.

He said the company was also exploring the suitability of the DataBlox as a communications and IT centre that could be rapidly deployed in disaster-affected areas.

The Queensland Government recently provided the company with $49,000 in innovation funding to help the company get to the stage where the product was ready for commercialisation.


Good ship Broadband sets sail, but Australians still sitting on the dock, reveals ACBI, CSIRO report

AUSTRALIAN business is currently not prepared to take full advantage of the services afforded by next generation broadband, according to new research by the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI) and CSIRO's Digital Productivity and Services Flagship.


The ACBI and CSIRO report, Broadband Impact and Challenges, offers fresh insights and evidence to better understand the impact and opportunities offered by next generation broadband as well as advice on the necessary steps needed to mitigate the associated risks.

The report highlights the problem that most discussion on next generation broadband in Australia has centred on the timing of its rollout and its cost, rather than how to take advantage of its potential positive impacts.

The report was compiled using key findings from comprehensive community surveys, interviews with businesses and thought leaders as well as detailed analyses of existing data sources and peer-reviewed economic and social research.

"Although we are living in an increasingly 'Digital Age' full of smart devices, tele-working and social networks, one in five Australian adults still do not use the internet," said ACBI director Colin Griffith.

"Recognising that more and more government and business services are delivered online, a key focus of our research is to understand the behaviour and capabilities of adoption and use of next generation broadband.

"Across the board we have found that giving more people and businesses the skills and confidence to use these broadband services effectively will not only have a positive impact on their quality of life and business success, but also create broader economic benefits."

Interviews with industry and government stakeholders cited a lack of certainty about the future rollout of Australia's broadband infrastructure as being a significant barrier in helping them prepare for the future.

"Like other major Australian infrastructure projects such as the Snowy River Mountain Scheme and the Sydney Harbour Bridge Harbour Bridge, the debate around our national broadband infrastructure has predominately focused on cost and scale," Mr Griffith said.

Colin Griffith.

"While these are important discussions, our research highlighted that government, industry and the community need to invest in capability building through training and investment programs if we are to fully realise the benefits of next generation broadband."

The report also includes a number of key insights to help government and businesses prepare for some of the potential threats which next generation broadband may bring.

"Along with its many benefits, next generation broadband will also create challenges for Australia, accelerating disruption to businesses, jobs and services," Mr Griffith said.

"If we are to mitigate the potential threats than active leadership at all levels of society and across different organisations is needed to ensure that there is strategic investment in capacity building and innovation to help safeguard our digital future.

"Ultimately, it is the capabilities of every person and business that will determine the overall level of benefit realised for Australia in terms of jobs, improvement in productivity and quality of life."

The Broadband Impact and Challenges report was officially launched to a group of industry and government stakeholders at an event in Sydney on Monday.

ACBI is a national research initiative connecting people to the benefits of broadband through innovative services. It is led by CSIRO in conjunction with National ICT Australia (NICTA), NBN Co with funding support from the NSW and Tasmanian Governments.

ACBI helps to create opportunities through broadband-enabled services, demonstrate their use in real world situations and evaluate their potential commercial and social value. ACBI is designed to connect people and business to the benefits of 'game-changing' services and applications enabled by next generation broadband technologies.

CSIRO's Digital Productivity and Services Flagship is a $48 million research initiative targeting productivity growth in Australia through frontier services innovation and by unlocking the value of a national broadband infrastructure.

For more information visit the Broadband Impact and Challenges report.



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