Microsoft Office – How it can be the ‘App Stack’ for your firm

by Alan FitzGerald – Practice Connections

I have been fortunate to have spent a total of 22 combined years in tax & accounting software and since 2015 have been an independent tax & accounting technology & services specialist for accounting firms.  Many firms engage me seeing advice on one off projects to retaining for ongoing advice & support, now and into the future.  Yes, my work is as niche as niche can get, but that is why these firms engage me; to get it right and save them time. 

Which brings me to this topic:  What would you do if you knew one of the most powerful business solutions right was under your nose and you were not using it to its full potential?  I would be pretty annoyed and would be asking why nobody told me..! 

The accounting profession over the past 10 years has been lured into the exciting (of which there is no doubt) realm of the ‘app world’ 3rd party app vendors that have created answers by assisting accounting firms with many tasks previously not possible with legacy technology and all with a ‘BUY ME NOW’ sticker.

But the questions that are being answered may not be the questions needed to be asked.  What many firms do not realise that Microsoft Office has – and continues to be – developed into one of the world’s leading productivity suites offering functionality these 3rd part apps deliver.

As lockdowns occurred around the globe, accounting firms – like many – needed solutions to engage remote teams and to do it quickly – many reached for Zoom – why? Because everybody was talking about it!  Zoom has become a generic term for a video conference.  But as was discovered, this popular solution was initially not built to handle the volume that was required of it; In fact, I was invited by a vendor to do a keynote when Zoom collapsed – globally – and with no sense of irony, I was presenting Microsoft Office!! 

As Zoom fixed their woes, stability resulted.  A small proportion of firms who contacted me had started to scratch the surface of the capability of Office during the various lockdowns by using Teams.  Amazingly (to me at least) many were paying for a full Zoom licence despite having licences to use Teams at their fingertips. 

As firms that worked with me became more informed about the differences, they learned that Teams does so much more than just a video conference.  Teams, when used properly is by far a much more compelling case over Zoom

As an independent technology ‘Software whisperer’, I help firms not only to choose software for their compliance tools that best suit their needs, but I always discuss the Microsoft Office suite – and have been one of the few presenting about it for many years.   

Why do I do it?  As an advocate for my clients, I am on their side so would not be doing my job properly if I did not clarify what was possible/could be replaced firm within a suite of tools a firm is already paying for.  I don’t take software commissions from vendors, so it is no skin off my nose if there is an alternative solution that is better for a firm – I just field the irate phone calls from vendors!

The possibilities for firms are almost endless with Microsoft Office if you are using any of the tools one the left, you can probably do it with a solution from with Microsoft on the right for which you are already paying.

Microsoft Office (depending on your licence type) is one of those solutions that can replace many aspects of the 3rd party app-stacks in a firm from Zoom to security, 2FA user access, to the potential future replacement of practice management, document management and much, much more.

Security and Microsoft?  Surely that is a contradiction in terms Alan?  Well as strange as a that may seem, especially given Microsoft were one of the most targeted providers for virus-hacking in the past, that is exactly the point: Microsoft is globally one of the most secure platforms available and their Azure cloud hosting solution is used by many 3rd party software app vendors upon which a firm relies.

But what sets the Office suite aside in recent past, is the fact it has moved far beyond the realms of Outlook Word and Excel.  Microsoft365 (as Office is now known) is a complete collaboration suite and elements within it are being harnessed by software vendors to the accounting profession.  Why reinvent the wheel if you can leverage from it? 

Here are some ideas to ponder which are possible within the suite:

  • Invite clients into a secure collaborative space to work on tasks & jobs
  • Reduce the amount of email ‘noise’ in your office by creating spaces where you can take this ‘noise’ elsewhere.
  • PowerBI is now the world’s leading analytics software – it can replace many popular reporting tools used in firms today.
  • Create a central repository for templates, HR forms and more
  • Interact with a virtual whiteboard to engage remote users/clients so share ideas
  • Automate processes using bots to link an array of software – yes non-Microsoft ones too!
  • Microsoft are also leaders in Artificial Intelligence (or as I prefer to call it, Assisted Intelligence) – these developments will make it easier for you to work with your clients and vice-versa in the years ahead.
  • Lots more
  • The R&D investment in the suite is incredible – far beyond most if not any other vendor, globally. The suite is rapidly becoming the be all and end all

The best things about all of this is that most firms already have it installed but are not using it to its full capacity.

Microsoft Office was previously an array of standalone, independent solutions.  Over the past few years, it has been transformed into an integrated, automated, collaborative solution.

Are there pros & cons to using Microsoft?  Absolutely as there are with using apps which is why it is important to understand what you want to achieve and match them to the best technology.  My standing recommendation is not to have your usual IT team manage a Microsoft design.  This has been a controversial statement of which I have received backlash, but there is a big difference in having someone ‘keeping the lights on’ and designing your future technology; the roles are very different.

I am always available to assist.  My website has links to book a chat, referrals from previous clients, blog posts and more.

Still not convinced?.  As I mentioned, I don’t get remunerated by Microsoft for assisting clients with their products so if you want independent advice on your firm’s technology from any aspect, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn I write extensively and take a look at what other firms have said about my work on my LinkedIn page and how I have helped them – maybe I can do the same for you?

I also offer free technology calls which you can book via my website along with a range of services to assist firms navigate the world of accounting technology delivered in simple language.  Here is what one client said:

“The world of accounting software can be complex and daunting. After a 20 minute conversation with Alan my partners and I were left with a clear picture of where we should go and what steps we need to take to get there. Highly recommended.”

What can I do for you?


To find out more about Alan and Practice Connections click here.