Skip navigation

Making Accountants Digital Enablers (MADE)

Accountants Coaching to Improve Productivity - join our trial

Northumbria University and Sage UK Ltd working in partnership with the government’s Business Basics Fund, welcome accountants in England to take part in free digital skills training with the overarching aim to boost small business productivity and economic growth.



Why is this study important?

Technology when applied appropriately enables and transforms businesses and people to be more efficient and perform at their best.

Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst says: “Research shows that boosting productivity could unlock £100 billion for the economy and helping small businesses make better use of technology will enable them to seize the opportunities of scaling up in new markets when we leave the EU.”

It is well understood that accountants are the trusted adviser for small businesses and with the right digital technologies are best placed through their relationship to:

  • improve the quality and punctuality of record keeping

  • save small businesses time through streamlining workflows

  • drive opportunities for revenue growth

  • reduce business risk and potential failure

If you are an accountant with a client facing role and would like to receive up to 4 hours training on key topics such as app advisory, business data analytics, CRM and tools to surface strategy conversation, then this project trial is essential for you.

We are investigating whether accountants, as trusted advisors, can drive digital adoption and management best practice and therefore increase SME productivity.

We are asking two research questions:

  • Does the facilitation of digital adoption in UK SMEs by UK accounting firms increase productivity?

  • How does the facilitation of digital adoption in UK SMEs by UK accounting firms increase productivity?

Overview of the study

  • The study is a trial, which means that if you participate, you will be allocated into one of 5 groups with different types of training (including a group with no training) so that we can test the effectiveness of each type of training.

  • As a participant, you will be given a survey every quarter, which will include a request to supply quarterly productivity data for 3 SME clients.

  • The study will run for 12 months

  • During the trial it is business-as-usual, but you may be asked to join a four-hour training workshop.

  • Once the optimal training has been identified, all participants will have the option to receive that training.

CPD Credits

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits will be available to participants in the project (more details will be available during the coaching day)

What participation in the study looks like?

As a selected accountant, you will receive a dedicated training programme. The training will be a free, four-hour workshop with supplementary support for the delivery of best practice coaching of innovation, technology and digital adoption. Each training programme will be practice-based and will look at barriers to adoption, how they might be overcome and why it is advantageous to do so.  Each programme will use technology enabled coaching tools to allow Sage UK Ltd and Northumbria University to provide rich coaching feedback.


1. You will be asked to identify 5 SME clients who would be interested in taking part

2. You will be assigned a unique identification code so that throughout the 12 months of the study, your data is anonymous.

3. You will be asked to provide baseline and historic productivity data (for 8 quarters) for 5 of the selected SME clients (we will let you know how to submit this data).

4. You will be allocated to one of the following groups (one of three groups in the trial). 

  • Group A - Foundation training workshop
  • Group B – Transformation training workshop
  • Group C - Control group (No training workshop until the trial is complete)

5. Accountants within the groups A and B provide coaching to their SME customers, augmented with digital adoption cues from the specific training workshop that the Accountant received e.g. Accountants who received workshop A will use materials from that training in their advice to SMEs.

6. Accountants provide quarterly data for two quarters for the selected SME clients following digital adoption intervention training.


Details of the training workshops/Interventions

The workshops will be arranged for your convenience as much as possible. The workshops are a fantastic opportunity for you to network with other accountants and Sage, although you will have the option to join online training.

Foundation Training – Group A

The Foundation workshop will prepare Accountants to discuss Foundation digital adoption suite of materials with their SME clients. The workshop will be practice based and will look at barriers to adoption and how they might be addressed and overcome. The workshop will use technology enabled coaching tools to allow Northumbria University and Sage to provide rich coaching feedback.

Transformational Training – Group B

The Transformational workshop will prepare Accountants to discuss Transformational digital adoption suite of materials with their SME clients. The workshop will be practice based and will look at barriers to adoption and how they might be addressed and overcome. The workshop will use technology enabled coaching tools to allow Northumbria University and Sage to provide rich coaching feedback.


Data we will ask you to provide?

Online Questionnaires: You will be asked to complete these at the beginning of the trial and at the end of each quarter over a 12-month period.  We will also ask you about examples and experiences of digital adoption.

  • Baseline data – This is 8 prior quarters of productivity data Accountants will already receive from their SME clients and a brief questionnaire regarding current levels of ‘digital savviness’ for the Accountant and for the SME.
  • Each quarter - This data will be collected quarterly for four quarters and consists of quantitative accounting data measures (that form part of the regular Accountant/SME relationship) and questionnaires (see below for more detail).
  • You may be invited to take part in an interview in May or June 2020 to reflect on your experience of using the learning from the workshops in your coaching interactions with SMEs, and your perspective on the enablers and inhibitors to adoption and diffusion of digital technologies.



What are the benefits of participation to Accountants?

Business owners agree that a good relationship with their accountant adds value to their company and we know, there is a link between the adoption of existing technologies and productivity (CBI, 2017). As a trusted advisor you are in an excellent position to:

  • Hone your business coaching skills through free education 
  • Enrich the relationship with your clients through
  • Broadening your service offer to SME clients to deliver potential income streams
  • Contribute to the success and growth of your clients 
  • Propel wider growth of UK plc.

What are the benefits to businesses?

Low take-up of readily available technologies and management best practices is driving the UK’s productivity problem. Thus,the benefits to small businesses of taking part in this study are that they would be exposed to and be given skills to develop:

  • Greater innovation
  • Increased competitiveness
  • Sustainable growth
  • The seven key characteristics of the most productive companies in the UK
  • Business use of existing technologies that have been shown to work for the most productive firms in the economy
  • Opportunities to identify the UK’s most successful UK innovators

What are the benefits for the Accountant / SME relationship?

  • Boost your SME Clients’ survival prospects and improve their sales growth.
  • Enhance your relationship with your SME customers, in order to:
  • Build on the reputation of accountants as the most trusted business advisors
  • Add value to your SMEs’ businesses
  • Increase SME satisfaction with the services that you offer
  • Reverse the trend of fewer SMEs seeking business advice from their Accountants
  • What do you need to do now?

    To express your interest in the trial please complete the form below. Following completion a member of the Northumbria University team will contact you by phone in the next 10 days to confirm that you agree to participate in the study. Instructions about the data to be submitted and the workshops will be sent to you at this stage.

    If you have any queries regarding the trial or would like to opt out of the trial, please email


    Register your interest in the programme today:

    Back to top