From handwritten ledgers to cloud-based accounting: an industry in constant flux

From handwritten ledgers to cloud-based accounting, the industry has evolved at a rapid rate, says Bridget du Toit, head of sales and services at EasyBiz Technologies.

Johannesburg, 25 Sep 2019
Read time 4min 40sec

A lot has changed in the world of accounting since the days when ledger entries were made by hand. The shift from paper accounting to cloud-based accounting over the past few decades has kept accountants on their toes, especially those who have been in the profession for many years.

In Heritage Month, head of sales and services at EasyBiz Technologies, Bridget du Toit, reflects on how the profession has evolved over the years and why accountants have had to be resourceful and flexible.

“In the early days, accountants entered transactions into large ledger books. It was all done manually and well known that accountants were the employees who worked late into the night, poring over columns and columns of figures, trying to balance the books. An enormous amount of attention to detail was required and one small error could throw all the calculations out,” she adds.

The computerisation of accounting was liberating and reduced the time needed to process, balance and consolidate ledgers from hours or days to mere minutes.

“When I was first introduced to computerised accounting, we had a DOS-based accounting system. Typically, DOS applications were very rigid and required that users learn certain keyboard shortcuts to navigate.”

Then Windows arrived and life changed again. Suddenly, accountants and business owners were able to have multiple applications open and switch between them. They had to learn how to use a mouse and a new set of shortcuts – but more importantly, many applications, including accounting applications, became available to them. 

With the improved graphic user interface that made work easier, accounting software seemed to “grow up” and include more functionality. Where the early applications may have only offered a ledger, users were now able to do invoicing, quoting and manage the full business cycle in one program. 

Du Toit says computerised accounting hit its stride in the early 90s. “In those days, it required a significant paradigm shift for accountants. Older accountants have already made the transition from the manual book to computerised accounting and then to online accounting. The profession has evolved significantly several times in their lifetimes. Young accountants don’t always understand this.”

When accounting was first computerised, disparate systems in organisations did not talk to each other, making it difficult to gain a single view of the business. Employees were office-bound and had to make sure their work was backed up at the end of each day to avoid loss of data. No backups could mean having to recapture everything, an arduous and time-consuming task. Ongoing software updates required installation, which took time and effort.

Three years ago, online accounting made its appearance, heralding exciting new changes for the industry. “Online (or cloud) accounting is still in the embryonic phase. While it has several newly developed features, it might lack certain capabilities that were inherent with the desktop version. This, however, is changing fast. There will be a tipping point where online will exceed desktop,” says Du Toit.

Processes have now become more intuitive, incorporating predictive reporting, business monitoring and alerts. “Cloud accounting allows for mobility and enhanced collaboration between the accountant and the customer, something that couldn’t really happen in the early days. Instead, business owners would have to take time out of their day to have meetings with their accountant where they’d hand over their cash receipts and pour over piles of documents,” says Du Toit.

Online accounting allows accountants and business owners to work from anywhere, any time. They can work on any mobile device without the need to back up, making the data secure. Users get automatic updates – all they need to do is log in and see all the new features. They don’t have to download them.

Du Toit says there are several complementary apps available that align perfectly with online accounting systems, from mileage trackers for VAT and tax claims, to time tracking. “The most important thing for me is that there is a single version of the truth. All reporting and dashboards are available to all of the users – the business owners and the accountants – and they are all seeing the same thing at the same time.”

So, what does the future hold? Du Toit says artificial intelligence – the ability of technology to predict and suggest, based on usage and historical data – will make accounting systems even more efficient and useful.

“This is not far off. Accounting systems will be able to predict certain things based on what you have done over the past few years. It will remind you to do certain things at certain times of the month or year.

“This could feel like a threat to the accountant, but it shouldn’t. Accountants should embrace their evolving roles and step out from 'I’m doing your books' narrative to 'let’s step into the new era and I will charge you a value-based fee, which gives you access to your online accounting system, management reports, analysis reports and strategic input',” she concludes.


Since 2004, EasyBiz (Pty) Ltd has been the exclusive South and Sub-Saharan African distributor for the world’s leading accounting solutions provider, Intuit QuickBooks.

Offering a range of products to fulfil the bookkeeping and accounting needs of start-ups, small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and growing businesses, EasyBiz recorded having more than 50,000 businesses utilising the quick-to-learn, quick-to-use QuickBooks Desktop solution in 2018.

With more than 4.3 million users worldwide, QuickBooks is the #1 accounting software in the world. Not only can it be up and running in just a matter of minutes, it also automates painful accounting tasks and enables small businesses to generate reports, monitor budgets and keep on top of their finances without needing to fill in endless spreadsheets or deal with complicated calculations.

In response to the growing global demand for more online solutions, EasyBiz offers QuickBooks Online software with options tailored to the needs of businesses of different shapes and sizes. QuickBooks Online Accountant (QBOA) - a solution that offers accountants innovative tools to simplify tasks while ensuring greater control - was also recently launched in South Africa in February 2018 and has seen tremendous success.

The EasyBiz Johannesburg-based head office provides local QuickBooks customers with access to business advisors and software experts, telephone, email and on-site support, as well as installation services and ongoing training courses and seminars.

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