They’ll spice up your systems

This article is reproduced with the permission of CAmagazine, published by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, Toronto.

They’ll spice up your systems

By Jim Carroll

Are you ready to open up your accounting and financial systems to the Facebook generation? In 10 years, that won’t seem like a silly question. But even today, it’s an issue you should think about.

In the next few years, we are likely to enter the world of the “accounting mashup,” in which customers, suppliers and business partners start to interact with you through online widgets. As this happens, you’ll discover new business models that will provide sales opportunities, streamline customer support and reduce operating costs.

We’re starting to see this mashup happen. Best Buy, for example, recently announced its new Remix service, which allows anyone to access any content on the Best Buy website, including product specifications and prices. Someone could use the Remix service to write a Facebook widget that lists a few of his or her favourite music players and DVDs. People could click on those selections and link to a sales transaction on the Best Buy site, with a commission going to the person who wrote the widget.

Extend this thinking a little bit. In a few years, you’ll provide your suppliers with an application programming interface (API). This will define the procedures, codes and methods by which they can perform a direct query on the inventory of a particular product, stuff a purchase order directly into your system, or pull up a query that instantly sends them a stream of data from your invoicing system.

We’ve been headed down this path for some time, with electronic data interchange technology and through the tools used to provide for interaction with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Yet the next obvious phase comes about when the Facebook generation looks at the world of accounting and decides to spice it up a bit.

Young people entering the workforce are able to instantly and easily reshape information so that it is more accessible, shareable and far more interesting. They’ve taken to the world of music and video and have learned how to reassemble bits and pieces into something new. My favourite music mashup, from years ago, came from a DJ group known as The Kleptones. Their “A Night at the Hip-Hopera” remix took a swath of music from Queen, wrapped it around other sounds and songs, all in a story about early attempts by the music industry to shut down music sharing.

So what does this have to do with accounting? Who is to say that the Facebook generation isn’t going to look at the Best Buy Remix idea and rethink the whole concept of an accounting system in light of that? Why would we expect them to sit in front of a boring web browser, reviewing data on a boring ERP screen? Why would we not consider the possibility that they might write a tool that gets things done in a different way?

I’m about to spend a day working on strategy with chief operating officers from about 30 global insurance companies. I’m presenting a scenario that has a young broker writing a Facebook widget that scrapes a wide variety of auto insurance quotes from different insurance companies and allows for instant binding coverage — all without anyone visiting an insurance company website. That’s a reality that they are going to have to support pretty soon.

The era of accounting mashups will create a huge variety of issues accountants will have to deal with, including security, data integrity and control procedures.

So what do you do now? Immerse yourself in the world of mashups to understand the unique conceptual thinking that is occurring here. Spend some time on the ProgammableWeb site to explore the concept of APIs and mashups from a multitude of perspectives.

For more on mashups, please visit Best Buy Remix and