Accountants need to test software packages to advise their clients

Customers expect their accountants to know what accounting software they should be using – so it’s time to test how the software will perform for your clients’ businesses.

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The world of accounting software is changing so rapidly right now, it may feel like free fall to a conservative accountant who is used to gradual change in the industry.

For many years, accounting firms have had a stable software environment and have been able to advise clients which accounting package to choose to suit their needs.

In 2014, there is a dark grey cloud of doubt hanging in the air. Reckon has just released its new offering, Reckon One, but has lost control of Quicken licensing; Intuit has now released its cloud accounting platform for Australia and has the Quicken licence, but no client database; Xero is everywhere, with no barriers to entry; MYOB is trying to move from its old installed base to a new cloud platform as fast as possible; and

others, like Saasu, Sage HandiSoft and JCurve, are chipping away at the market as fast as they can.

Some are still arguing about security, functionality and usability of cloud solutions, while the developers provide new functionality in their cloud offerings and abandon traditional installable solutions. In 2014, there is no question that accounting software is going to the clouds. But how do we select the right products, and how do we know they will be with us for the long haul?

We can see the new products out there, but do not yet know about their features in any scientific way. Their marketing is emotional. They want us to like it or feel good about it or think it is easy or beautiful.

I made a point of spending some time watching US Super Bowl ads recently and what I saw was amusing, emotionally stirring, disturbing or entertaining. It was not informative or useful. That is no longer how a product of a known brand is sold to the masses. I am seeing this more and more across the B2B industry scene. Buyers educate themselves on product, then shop for an easy solution.

So the accounting industry is faced with a challenge: to discern for their clients which of the software giants has the right solution. We can back a company because their old product was good, we can jump ship to a born-in-the-cloud solution because “they must have got it right from the start”, or we can start doing research and analysis of our own.

Will our clients wait for us to figure it out, or are they seeking leadership from people they have turned to as thought leaders in this space for many years?

What if the providers don’t all make it through the competition that is coming? The business marketplace is surely big enough for multiple global vendors, but will they fight hard enough for dominance and damage the weaker players to the point where there are winners and losers?

My advice is to take a level-headed approach and invest some time in one of the cloud solutions’ great advantages – trial periods. Free trial periods let people in your office subscribe to each of the different services, enabling them to run typical client processes through the various platforms to see how they perform, manage and report.

Other things to consider include ease of use as a non-accounting person, as well as ease of central management of hundreds or thousands of clients. Also ask, have the companies developed streamlined banking processes? Do they handle multiple entities, multiple currencies, stock, payroll and so forth? If not, do you need to offer different clients different platforms and support all of them from your back office? What will that cost in terms of training and administration for your staff?

This is the fastest pace of innovation in the tools accountants use in their offices since 1999 and Y2K and the introduction of GST. That changed the face of accounting and business. This time around, are you active or are you a complacent bystander trusting your software house?

David Markus - is founder and managing director of Combo (combo.com.au), a Melbourne-based IT service and support company. Contact him at info@combo.com.au or on 1300 726 626.
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