Behind the Mask talks to Alan FitzGerald about the original punk, touching his toes and anxiety management

Alan FitzGerald
Founder, Head Chef & Chief Bottle washer, servant of all and of none
Practice Connections Advisory

www.practiceconnections.com.au

1. So, who are you anyway, and what do you do?
Originally from Ireland via Germany, I have been in Australia for nearly 25 years and have spent 20 years of that in tax and accounting software and over 27 in technology - jaysus that’s a long time now that I think of it…  

2. How did you get into this job?
I had spent 7 years in semiconductors (computer chips) in Germany & here in Australia and wanted a change. An opportunity came up to join Solution6 (now MYOB) in May 1999. I've had the privilege to work in one of the most (some would suggest ironically) dynamic software markets including APS (an Australian accounting solution) as well as with Thomson Reuters which introduced me into an entirely new level of global tax and compliance, I also assisted Otico Software (https://otico-software.com/)  and Inflo Software (https://inflosoftware.com/) launch into APAC.

I left the market in 2014 for 15 months to go traveling with my wife and upon my return, a large enough number of my old clients contacted me to ask for some independent advice for their firms that it prompted me to create PracticeConnections - now in its 4th year - assisting accounting practices and companies navigate the increasingly crowded world of software and services. These days I blog / podcast extensively, present at accounting conferences and am regularly asked for my perspectives on future of areas such as blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 4th industrial revolution, RPA & AI as well as local and international tax solutions.

3. What song from your past still gets you moving today? 
Anything by ‘The Pixies’ - hard to believe their album Surfer Rosa is now over 30 years old; I’m playing it as I type for old time’s sake…..

4. If you could go to one concert from the past, what one would it be? 
Mozart was the original punk - to see him in action would be pretty cool. The outfit of the time would be fun too...

5. A socio-economic question, but feel free to answer from your gut.  If AI, automation and robotics are going to replace repetitive and laborious tasks, what impact will this have on your industry and profession? 
I think the legal and accounting professions needs to embrace RPA & AI they both have lost a lot of talent over the years through disengagement doing repetitive no value work; RPA & AI will improve accountants and lawyers lives.

6. If around ⅓ of government revenue comes from payroll tax, how will society and government cope with a reduction in the number of repetitive and laborious jobs available?  What will need to change? 
I think it is shortsighted to view the automation of tasks within a job as the elimination of the entire job; already I am seeing data analysts within firms - these are additional roles within firms that did not exist 5 years ago and pay salaries often twice of a graduate - payroll tax is increasing in those instances it is increasing the tax revenue base rather than reducing it. 

7. What other challenges face accountants, bookkeepers or SMEs today?  And, how should they meet those challenges? 
Accountants provide ‘’Anxiety transfer services’’ so it is a great time to be in practice, as the government keeps changing the rules! 

As the tax system is so complicated, it will always take a human to choose the best path.  vCFO services in particular is a growth area. Technology is also more democraticised than ever before.  The jobs of the future are being created now by people that will all require assistance in one form or another from firms; the market is ripe for picking. So tell me what the challenge is?  It seems there are a stack of opportunities.  My only concern for firms is that the practice management software market in Australia is sadly stuck in a 1990’s way of thinking - CRM is the next major leap forward but few are reconciling themselves with this need.

8. With all of this change, comes some opportunity.  What opportunities do you see presenting themselves already? 
I have been helping a few firms recently re-jig their IT strategy and in each case the employment of data analytics tools and importantly CRM tools are high on the list. 

Firms sit on HUGE amounts of data but the archaic systems being used often hide this information in areas that are impossible to interrogate.  The firms that will benefit are the ones that embrace change to roll out more open systems and to offer practice advice to their clients incorporating areas such as regular mini audits.  These firms will be able to advise and guide their clients on a monthly basis using technology that enables clients to adapt in weeks rather than months so firms will be offering tactical as well as strategic advice and not 12 - 18 months after the event that most systems force firms to work with. 

9. I don’t know about you, but I need a drink after that.  If you could buy anyone a drink in a bar and chat to them about anything, who would it be, what would you drink, and what would you talk about? 
I have always been fascinated with Julius Caesar every since ready Asterix & Obelix books.  I’d like to have a drink with him the night before he crossed the Rubicon river setting off the Roman civil war. He had a famous quote which I often state ‘Alea iacta est' (the dice are thrown as in when you throw the dice you have no control of the outcome, fate and destiny are in the hands of the gods so sit back and enjoy the ride!  It was a pity about the unfortunate workplace dispute though; modern HR techniques may have had a better outcome...

10. And after you had that wee drink, if you could walk up to anyone, kick them in the shins and shout something at them, who would it be, and what would you shout?  Go on...get it off your chest!   
Ah look, if you burn energy harbouring grudges / bad feelings, it is energy that could be converted into other areas.  Now if you had asked me that question in my teens, you most likely would have a much different answer.  I did have a ‘long hard chat’ with one of the class bullies from my school 12 years ago at a reunion where we reconciled.  In school in the 1980s for 6 years he was a nightmare to many.  But what I didn’t realise what a sh*t time he was having with his family; bullying was his outlet - so you never know what someone is going through. 

11. What advice would you give to yourself at age 18? 
Do more stretching…..  I'd hate to say anything that might spoil the most wonderful life that I know I've had and continue to have.  “You’ll have fun - hang on tight’’

12. If you could retire now, what would you do? Or not do? 
I've always threatened to do an ironman triathlon; I've been fortunate to have run 5 marathons so this would be the next challenge - it would also keep me out of the house 5 days a week training which would probably keep my wife happy….

13. What do you want to achieve that you haven’t as yet? 
I've played guitar for 35+ years; you’d think I would be better, I’m not and I'd like to be much much better…..Mull of Kintyre; I’ll master you one day….

14. What’s next for you, and your business? 
As a founder all of the IP that I have generated is in my head so is difficult to sell / pass on.  However I have been mentoring some start-ups which has been very fulfilling and I have been assisting international companies enter into the Australian market which is satisfying too.  My speaking gigs at conferences are filling up which is nice that associations are interested in me sharing my perspectives with their members, but most of all it’s about having fun and enjoying life.