Scrutton Bland Agriculture Newsletter - Winter 2021

The Evolution of Agricultural Software The agricultural software landscape has changed and developed dramatically over recent years. What was once seen as an industry that relied heavily on paper records and legacy software, it is now rapidly evolving to position itself at the forefront of cloud technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). That said, being a pioneer within new technology brings risks as well as benefits, and it is important to understand the balance of those before jumping in headfirst. But before we dive into the realms of the newest software and all that it can bring, it is worth considering how we got here. Most businesses, and possibly yours, will be somewhere on this path. In the beginning there was paper. Records were kept manually in cashbooks and ledgers. Maintaining these was time-intensive, riddled with errors and took forever for you and your advisers to compile into anything useable. Making Tax Digital for VAT removed this for all but the smallest businesses and Making Tax Digital for Income Tax will remove this for the rest, so let’s move on.

Second was desktop. Software that sits on your own machine. Microsoft Excel was the pioneer here. Taking the cashbooks and ledgers and replicating them, but this time on a computer. Data entry was painful but errors were reduced. This then led to the creation of generic accounting software, such as Sage50, and agricultural specific software such as Farmplan and Landmark. The issues with data entry weren’t resolved, but once information was located in the software it became far more useful for your business, giving you insights into how you were performing without the need for specialists. This type of software, and what follows, is most likely Making Tax Digital compliant (although we advise checking).

Third was server. With the growing capabilities of software, and bigger teams using it, the data needed to be in a centralised place. An in-house server allowed for this, connecting multiple computers to the same information, allowing multiple people to work on it at the same time. With remote desktop functionality you could even access it remotely via the internet. You still had control of your data, as you control the server, but this also meant you also housed all the risk. You needed to ensure compliance, maintain your data and manage risk. Updates, backups, Firewalls, anti-virus and other technical jargon became more and more important to ensure you could manage your finances effectively. Fourth was hosted. As the internet scaled upwards and internet speeds increased, there was the potential to do a lot more remotely. This offered the chance to outsource some of this risk management. Pushing what data you had on your server into the cloud meant you could rely on others to manage the risk. As it would be centralised there should be greater investment and with it, greater protection. Far greater than you could afford for your business. All good news right? Well the flipside is that now lots of people’s data is located in one place, making it a more appealing target for hackers.

At this point it is prudent to pause and reflect. We have talked about the different types of software operation, but not software names. At the desktop stage we introduced Sage50, Farmplan and Landmark as the software for this area. Well these still apply for server and hosted management systems. What could be done on a desktop, with some tweaking, could be scaled up to work centrally. You would still need a base programme on your desktop machine, but the data could be accessed somewhere else via that software. In essence it is just stored in a database and that database could be anywhere. We appreciate we are simplifying decades of development work and evolution of technology, but trust us - there is a point. Next came cloud. Now first we need to define this, as in this context we mean “native” cloud. Programmes such as Sage50 Cloud are hosted systems where the data is stored in the cloud, but the programme runs on your machine. Native cloud systems, such as Xero, allow you access via a browser or app and all the processing is done offsite. This technology is built completely differently and cannot operate in a hosted, server or desktop environment. But as it has been created to operate in a cloud setting there are some great advantages (as well as disadvantages) that this brings. Some of these we have delved into on the following page:

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