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  • Writer's pictureMatt Bontrager

The Evolution of Bookkeeping: From Clay Tablets to Cloud Computing

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Bookkeeping has been a critical part of any business, from recording to tracking financial transactions. It is the backbone of informed decision-making and strategic planning.

For thousands of years, this process has undergone countless transformations evolving from hieroglyphs to the sophistication of cloud computing technologies we have today.

It’s time to trace its development throughout history and analyze the implications it has on the evolution of modern businesses.

Early History:

Bookkeeping’s routes can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Rome, all utilized trade and commerce which needed some form of record-keeping.

This would mean the earliest forms of bookkeeping were used to write out simple tallies of goods or transactions from trade, that were then recorded on clay tablets or papyrus scrolls.

In Mesopotamia around 3000-3300 BCE, Sumerians invented cuneiform, which was one of the earliest systems of writing, etched onto clay tablets. These were referenced and used to keep track of commercial transactions and tax records, essentially one of the earliest bookkeeping forms.

The Egyptians also practiced such techniques and used hieroglyphs on papyrus scrolls and documented details and calculations of their trading networks and transactions.

The Romans also kept financial records and it was a very established practice. They developed a sophisticated system of finance that pooled together intricate records of the public’s revenues, expenditures, and debts. They were then displayed in the Roman Forum, which showed the early importance of transparency and holding accountability within finances.

The Middle Ages:

Fast forward to the middle ages, when revolutionary bookkeeping methods were no intact.

Each transactional record was now placed in two places- debit and credit and was recorded both in the debits and credits column. The goal is to see that the sum of all debits is equal to the sum of all credits.

This was a very simple system that allowed the merchant to reconcile all transactions and very clearly see all possible errors.

As a result merchants now had a way to deal with disputes all throughout. This system was later described in detail by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, and mathematician.

In his 1494 book, “Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalità.” Pacioli acknowledged he was writing about a system called the Venetian Method adopted by Venetian merchants.

At such an early time, these people established an accurate, reliable method of recording transactions to minimize errors and detect fraud. All while also creating a system of checks and balances which brought about an earlier tracking and verification of data.

The Industrial Revolution:

This time period meant increased business scales and complexity that now evolved to needing more efficient methods for managing financial records.

So what did they need in this era? Machines and tools, advanced tools.

1885, William Burroughs invented the first mechanical adding machine-basically a calculator. As a result, now calculations were done a lot more efficiently and error-free than before. The later inclusion of cash registers changed sale recording in a record-blowing way.

The early 20th century gradually incorporated accounting machines like the ones created by IBM. These were used as tools to punch cards and automate bookkeeping tasks. Now data could be sorted, tabulated, and printed out for formal reports.

The era of ease and efficiency was here.

The Digital Age:

What would we do without computers right?

The moment it was invented in the mid-to-late 20th century, bookkeeping was transformed completely. Now, we see larger computers being used for financial data processing.

The 70’s and 80’s included personal computers, and bookkeeping was officially in the digital age. In 1978, the first accounting software was introduced, Peachtree and Visalc.

These software were responsible for the maintenance of account books on computers, including keeping records of transactions and account balances.

As technology continued to advance, so did the software, and they now began to manage budgets, payroll, and help with customer relationship management.

Cloud accounting software was also introduced in 2011, and this then allowed every function to be done through the Internet.

Now we saw businesses being able to make timely and informed decisions from the financial side. Inexpensive applications were also introduced simultaneously, and now general businesses could use accounting functions as well.

The Era of Cloud Computing:

Once Cloud accounting was established in 2011, accessibility and convenience did a full 360 for the better.

Now all financial data is stored in a cloud on servers, instead of a local computer or server. This then allows for real-time access to financial data from any place with the internet, which eases the way for remote work and collaboration.

Integrating wide ranges of business software, establishing e-commerce platforms, and furthering customer relationship management, now improved bridging data flow and business efficiency.

Being able to regularly update and backup, secured any fears of loss. Even better, now businesses didn’t have to invest in any expensive hardware or software since these cloud service providers offered subscription models that incorporated support and regular updates.

Now accounting was connected and all parts of a business’s operations were digitally linked, further securing a company’s health.

The Future:

This timeline is your visual proof of how businesses of all sizes have access to tools that ease their bookkeeping tasks with accuracy and timeliness for their financial health.

Now that AI is being introduced, along with machine learning and blockchain, bookkeeping’s future is now shaped even better. These technologies can now automate complex tasks, reduce human error even more, and enhance security and transparency in transactions even more.

It is not a secret, especially after learning its history, that bookkeeping is no stranger to innovation, adaptation, and improvement. We can now ensure that technology has established a pivotal role in bookkeeping’s future.

By embracing these trends, bookkeepers are able to stay ahead of the competition and continuously pour out valuable services.

This industry has one of the most exciting futures and trends.



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