How machine learning and AI is putting the human into business

As the lights come up centre stage at Xerocon 2018, Herman Man laughingly describes himself as “that Asian guy with the extremely German name”. As VP of product and alliances at Xero, Man is tasked with driving product innovation for the popular cloud accounting solution.

The US-born Man joined Xero some three years ago and has seen considerable growth within the company and its clientele in that short time. At Xerocon to announce the launch of a suite of new products, Man predicts code-free accounting, machine learning and AI will be the biggest game changers in the next few years.

Man said he is super excited to be showcasing a range of great products that will help SMBs grow their business more effectively. Like 55 per cent of executives, Man is a believer that automated accounting will be a game-changer.

“That’s why we have buil code-free accounting using machine learning and AI,” he says.

And while most small business owners may struggle to grasp what AI and machine learning have to do with their day-to-day, Man suggests it will help them answer the four basic questions: What do we owe? How much is in the bank? Are we making a profit? What do people owe us?

Man suggests small businesses can spend 20 per cent of their time trying to answer these questions. He tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) Xero wanted to make a platform that would make it easier for people.

According to Man, Xero aims to take the headaches out of the process. He tells KBB he wants Xero to do all the ‘hard lifting’.

“Our first evolution of code-free accounting has now evolved. We believe the next evolution is around kicking off the right workflow for this to happen.”

Man attributes much of Xero’s success to founder Rod Drury’s vision and passion to create a shared environment where small businesses and accountants could collaborate.

“To understand where we are today you need to understand where we came from,” Man explains. “There was a lot of manual processing. Access to capital for small businesses was really difficult. Xero wanted to change all that.

“We have built it using a multi-tenanted database and designed a single global platform that can be shared across all regions. So we can take the best from every area and leverage that. For AI and machine learning to work, you need computer power and data – we have 1-4 million small businesses globally so we have the data.”

Man believes Xero, their partners, practitioners and customers, all share a vision.

“We feel like we are built from the same DNA. I think everything in life that is good is about shared values,” he explains.

While Xero’s ability to reduce pain points for SMBs could explain its popularity, that doesn’t explain the almost evangelical zeal with which a Xero-user will tell you of their experience.

Man suggests the brand’s advocates are so passionate for a simple reason.

“I think at the end of the day it is the passion of the brand. The ‘human at heart’. And I think that is true across everything we do. And it drives the innovation and the passion. We care about our partners and customers and want them to succeed.”

“For us, I think success is measured by freeing up time for small business. So, a lot of innovations around code-free accounting, using machines to extract data, are about end-to-end making it easier for businesses. We want to remove the friction for businesses. Let us help automate things to improved efficiencies around invoices and bills and also take mobile and make it advantageous for SMBs to use.”

The author was a guest of Xero at Xerocon.

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Cec is the managing editor of KBB. She is a multimedia professional with over fifteen years experience as an editor on titles as diverse as SX, CULT, Better Pictures, Total Rock, MTV, fasterlouder, mynikonlife and Fantastic Living. She has spent the past four years working as a news journalist covering all the issues that matter in the political, health and LGBTIQ arena. She is the Head of Content at Pinstripe Media and a recent convert to the world of small business.

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