XU Magazine - Issue 14

Q&A with Andrew Sims from SuiteFiles

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Written by

Andrew Sims, General Manager, SuiteFiles

XU:

It’s great to be joined by Andrew Sims. Andrew is the General Manager of SuiteFiles, one of the Xero HQ apps. Andrew can you start by telling us a bit about what SuiteFiles is, and what it does?

AS:

Thanks, it’s great to be doing this and be involved with the Xero User Magazine for the first time.

SuiteFiles is a cloud-based document management system designed for businesses who want to use Microsoft’s Office 365 platform. We make it easy for them to manage and work with their files from anywhere using our flagship web app, desktop and mobile apps, plus an Outlook add-in. We also have our own backup system and a migration tool that helps us copy files from many other systems to SuiteFiles. We target the small/medium business market and have added lots of features they told us they wanted into SuiteFiles, like email integration, templates, and scanning.

Over the years, we’ve developed a real niche with accounting firms due to our unique integrations with both the Xero Practice Manager and Xero HQ.

XU:

SuiteFiles is spread across a Global scale, but what challenges do you think comes with being an international company?

AS:

We have a couple of challenges that come with international scale. First, having great marketing reach globally. Being based at the bottom of the world, everything is a long way away. Conferences and events are great opportunities for us, but attending is a challenge in terms of cost and time. I’m heading to London twice in 2018 and each trip is 4 days of travel. As a small team, we have limited capacity, so in order to overcome this we have to be really smart with our marketing – having a strong website, engaging in social media, and partnering with the right people all mean we donít have to be everywhere all of the time.

Our other challenge is around time zones and being able to provide the best support we can for our customers. Most of our customers arenít within our time zone, so again we have to be smart, develop strong partnerships with regional partners and provide plenty of content.

XU:

I would imagine every member of the company is always busy, however what does a typical day at your office look like?

AS:

We’re all desk jockeys sitting behind our computers. My day is generally made up of a mix of the following:

Answering email – I get a lot of emails every day, ranging from presales enquiries through to support questions and they all need some form of action. I often get through a backlog of email in the evening once my kids have gone to bed.

Meetings with the team – we run regular check-ins with our staff to ensure that they are happy in their work and doing the right things for both our business and our customers.

Online demos – I still get online and run demos for prospective customers. These are great because I get to hear first-hand the issues they are trying to solve and can think about how to help them.

Migration discussions – when a business wants to move on to SuiteFiles, they need to think about how they are going to migrate their file data. I get online, look at their existing systems and work out plans for the migration.

Talking to partners – we have a partner system where IT companies and cloud integrators resell SuiteFiles, plus run file migrations. I’m in contact with our partners to ensure they have all the resources they need in order to be successful

Answering the odd support ticket – I still like to know what’s happening and any issues our customers are facing, so I’ll regularly dip into this.

XU:

With SuiteFiles being a Global app, what difference do you find between the AUZ and UK markets?

AS:

Australia is by far our largest market at the moment and we have plans for growing in the UK. Australian customers tend to make quicker decisions and are not as worried about price. They understand the value of their own time and the expertise of the supplier, so they’re happier to pay for a service. The UK market is a bit more like New Zealand, more price conscious. The challenge for us is to highlight the value of what youíre getting through SuiteFiles versus a competitor product or internal servers.

Rightly, the UK market is really interested in getting good support plus also a number of changes coming up in the regulatory environment. The introduction of GDPR in May this year is really top of their minds.

XU:

Also I would love to know what key advice you have to running an international company?

AS:

There are a few things that we’ve done that have proved successful when growing and running SuiteFiles. Firstly, because we’re based in NZ, we’ve worked hard to build up our regional partner network to support customers in other countries. This has been critical to our growth and success over the years. We’ve learnt to outsource or rely on others, rather than doing everything in house (which would be impossible!).

Secondly, having a deep understanding of the markets we want to operate in and why we’re pursuing them. It being the biggest market isnít necessarily a good enough reason. We’ve found a niche with accountants, and it’s worked extremely well so far.

Thirdly, be personal and personable. We work on cultivating good relationships with our customers, partners, and other business contacts. It builds trust and transparent communication, which is highly valuable when you’re trying to convince people to give your software a go!

XU:

Xero is a very successful accounting software, what made you decide that your company needed to integrate with Xero?

AS:

There’s a lot of history behind this question but the short answer is Xero asked us to. The long answer is Rod Drury was talking to one of our shareholders who has another IT services business specialising in Microsoft technology. Rod asked him if they could do something for accountants’ files. This was about 7 years ago when Office 365 was first coming out. They tried something and, like a lot of things, it didn’t work quite as hoped. I got involved and our CTO, Callum McNeill, also came on board. The SuiteFiles app was born and integration with Xero was seen as key to our growth.

XU:

How has being part of the Xero ecosystem and Xero HQ community helped you? How has it given SuiteFiles the platform to expand?

AS:

Being a part of the ecosystem has really propelled our growth. The fact that we are just about the only document management option for accountants using Xero puts us in a unique position, as a lot of the other ecosystem apps have a number of other apps competing with them.

This has allowed us to expand our customer base globally, first into Australia and now the UK and Asia. It’s also allowed us to expand the SuiteFiles apps. It sounds cliched but we get great feedback from our customers about new feature ideas and having an app that’s mature at its core means we can do new things relatively easily.

XU:

Following on from that how do you think Xero HQ is helping the Xero ecosystem.

AS:

Xero HQ is a relatively new product, so at the moment I feel the jury is still a little out on it. HQ is going to get better though and be adopted by more users. The vast majority of SuiteFiles customers use Xero Practice Manager because it’s more aligned with their needs, but I was talking to a prospective client recently who was using the new Xero Projects functionality. I think the Xero HQ feature set will align better with smaller accounting firms who donít need everything in XPM.

XU:

Xero Roadshows are always important events for businesses to attend for a variety of reasons, but what value does the roadshows bring to SuiteFiles, why is it important that you attend? Also which was the last roadshow you attended?

AS:

We had a couple of people in Hong Kong and Singapore in January for the roadshows up there. It was our first events in Asia and the feedback was very positive.

Unfortunately, we canít get to all of the roadshows though, there are just too many but we get along to what we can. We find the Xerocon events a lot easier to get to and will be attending in Brisbane and London this year. The number one reason for us to attend is for marketing and mindshare purposes. Accountants in New Zealand and Australia have seen us at Xerocons for the past 7 years. Itís about a familiar face and also providing confidence that weíre a business that’s here to stay.

XU:

Will you be attending the next roadshow?

AS:

The roadshows can last for a couple of weeks across several locations, so we’ve had to be quite selective around what we attend. The Australian roadshow is on right now. Xero decided not to have app partners exhibit, so we’ve opted not to attend as an audience member. We won’t be at the UK roadshow in March either unfortunately. However, assuming we have the opportunity to exhibit, we’ll be at the New Zealand roadshow later in the year.

And of course, we’ll also be at Xerocon in Brisbane and London in late 2018.

XU:

SuiteFiles will be exhibiting at both Accounting and Business Expo (Sydney Australia) and Accountex (London UK). I would love to hear about what exciting things you have for both conferences, starting with the ABE and our Australian readers?

AS:

We’re working on a new release of SuiteFiles. The app is nearly six years old, and for the past 12 months we’ve been working on a big overhaul. A new user interface that’s cleaner and faster for users, plus a new backbone to enable easier future development. This update was really needed in order to keep up to date with the latest technology updates.

A number of customers are already using the new user interface but there a number of things to tidy up to complete the project. It should all be done by the ABE in March. After that we’ve got some really exciting features in the pipeline, things that all our customers are asking for but I can’t quite give them away or commit to timeframes for them just yet.

XU:

Exciting stuff. Following on from this, what do you have planned for Accountex and our UK readers?

AS:

The GDPR regulations come into place a couple of days before Accountex, so we’re working hard to ensure we understand whatís required from us so that we meet the requirements. This isnít overly exciting from a feature perspective but is vital in order to provide UK customers with confidence in our app and services.

We’re also working hard on a new partnership arrangement with a company in the UK to help us provide local support for SuiteFiles. This is proving to be vital for UK based firms – they want to know there’s someone who will respond in their time zone.

XU:

Technology is always evolving, how do you see the development of technology impacting the accountancy industry in years to come?

AS:

Compliance work seems to be becoming a race to the bottom in terms of pricing because technology is automating everything. Saying that, I still believe that accounting is a really exciting place to be because the changes are providing new ways to work. Really business savvy people will see that you don’t need to be an accountant to have a great accounting practice. The tools available mean that after hiring some great accountants you can then build a global client base and grow a substantial business.

XU:

Businesses are always having to adapt quickly, sometimes changing how they fundamentally do business, so what would you say the advantage is on replacing large legacy systems that do everything with smaller lightweight cloud apps that share the load between them?

AS:

Any legacy system is hard to change, so it can keep your business processes static. I often have people tell me that SuiteFiles isn’t like their current legacy system, which they don’t like sometimes. A benefit I think they’re missing is that we’re not trying to be like that system, and we’re not putting constraints on what you can do because of that. Legacy systems tend to try and do everything, but they’re often great at some functions, but terrible at others. By adopting cloud apps, you can pick and choose what you need, plus you’re often getting software that does one function really well. Where it gets really exciting is when these apps all start talking to one another.

XU:

You always update your Twitter page with fun pictures updating your followers on what your company is up to, but how effective has social media been when building your SuiteFiles community, has it been a great benefit?

AS:

I think our social media really adds to the view that we’re real people here at SuiteFiles and not a faceless behemoth. We didnít set out to try and gain new customers through the socials, rather provide reassurances that we’re real. As a result, we’ve got a great following from some people really engaged with us here at SuiteFiles.

XU:

The company has largely expanded over its lifetime, but what do you think makes your company unique?

AS:

I believe we’re looking at document management differently to just about everyone else. We want it to be simple to pick up and use. I also think that we respond reasonably quickly to customer needs. We’re a small, nimble business and we’re not constrained by a large legacy app or large business that owns us, so we can make our own decisions and change when required.

XU:

On top of what you have already achieved within the company, do you have any personal business goals whilst your working with SuiteFiles?

AS:

I’ve been running SuiteFiles for 7 years now, that’s 3 years more than I’ve ever been at any company. I feel that we’ve gotten off to a reasonable start as a business. Personally, I’m at a stage where I now want to see things through, get the business to a size and value where Iím out of my depth and need to pass it on to someone else. This will come by really cracking into the UK market and then taking on the USA.

I once wrote down a goal that I wanted to run a $50m company. There’s a long way to go to get to this with SuiteFiles but I’m confident we can get there.

XU:

How has the last few months been for you as a company? Are there any new features we will be seeing in the near future?

AS:

As mentioned, we have our new SuiteFiles 2018 user interface overhaul coming very soon. Our roadmap of development for 2018 is packed. Expect to see more exciting features around the middle of the year.

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