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Edinburgh software firm creates jobs as accountants adopt scheduling product

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Originally published in The Herald.

A young technology firm which aims to help accountancy giants deploy their staff effectively amid fierce criticism of the sector is on course to grow annual sales to around £2 million this year.

Edinburgh-based Dayshape has won orders from around the world for the system it developed to utilise artificial intelligence to automate planning work that was becoming too complex for human administrators.

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Founded by an accountant with an expert in artificial intelligence, the company reckons Dayshape can complete the work of thousands of human resources schedulers only faster.

It has made rapid progress on the sales front after finding a way to apply academic advances in the area of logistics scheduling technology in the commercial world.

Accountancy firms are under pressure to ensure they get staffing issues right as they try to boost trust in the profession and the value of the audits they complete.

In a review of work completed by the largest seven accounting firms published in July the auditing watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council, identified widespread shortcomings.

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Its then chief executive Stephen Haddrill, said: “At a time when the future of the audit sector is under the microscope, the latest audit quality results are not acceptable.”

Dayshape says its software allows firms to assign people with the right skills, availability and experience to jobs to maximise profitability, client satisfaction, and employee engagement.

The system can deal with staff in multiple locations and automatically adjust schedules to take account of deadline changes and unexpected absences.

The success of the firm provides vindication for chief executive Andrew Bone’s decision to trade a career in accountancy for the riskier business of running a start-up.

After working at accountancy giant PwC and Royal Bank of Scotland Mr Bone founded Dayshape with his friend Alastair Andrew, who completed a doctorate in artificial intelligence at Strathclyde University.

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“Artificial intelligence was doing interesting work using real-world scenarios … the frustration was that that learning was not being implemented,” noted Mr Bone.

The consultancy the men established completed a major project to help Edinburgh council optimise its healthcare logistics planning systems before cutting a deal with PwC’s business in Poland to develop what became Dayshape in partnership.

Dayshape is now being used by firms operating under the brands of two of the Big Four accountancy giants around the world.

Mr Bone said the company expects annualised revenue from the software to rise to around £1.3m in the current year, with other income taking total turnover close to £2m.

He is confident the firm can maintain strong growth in coming years and that annual revenues of £50m could be achievable in five years. The company wants to be a meaningful player at a global level.

The optimism reflects directors’ assessment of the potential size of the accountancy market and the scope they see for Dayshape to win work in sectors such as law and engineering.

Mr Bone said the company is in talks with another top 10 accountancy firm. It has had encouraging conversations with law firms and an engineering business in Aberdeen.

The founders’ confidence appears to be shared by investors. Mr Bone noted Dayshape has raised £935,000 from business angels in two rounds completed in 2016 and 2018.

The company has remained profitable after more than doubling employee numbers over the past year, to 27 from 12.

With the firm “recruiting across the board”, Mr Bone expects headcount to rise to at least 40 by this time next year.

He is concerned about the potential impact of Brexit on perceptions of the UK. However, Dayshape has not had any indication the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union is making it harder to recruit staff with the specialist skills it requires.

Last month Edinburgh-based financial technology firm Nucleus Financial noted a “marked downturn” in job applications from citizens of European Union countries amid upward pressure on salaries.

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