The biggest challenge - incumbent systems & intertia
As promised from earlier threads around the time of the Business Cloud Conference, here is the first of the summary posts from our "fringe" Cloud accounting meeting. It wasn't intentional, but the section that I completed first covered the biggest barrier that emerged to Cloud adoption within accountancy - what I call the Sage/QuickBooks factor.
Just to recap, we gathered around 15 vendors in a room with a handful of accountants who had shown an interest in Cloud applications, but had not yet taken the plunge. The object of the exercise was to get the vendors to listen what some of the prime targets for their products thought about the whole Cloud accounting concept. Selected comments from particpants are presented below. It was an uncomfortable experience for some of the developers, but our feeling is that unless they face the realities of the market they're addressing, they're unlikely to make much of an impression.
There is more material to come to document some of the benefits and some constructive suggestions about how best to get the Cloud message across to accountants. But I'll need a bit more time to chew through our notes and organise it.
Culture & intertia
- “Once someone starts using an accounting package, it’s really hard to get them off it. The vendor has to do something really bad to get them off it. Once the roots have set, it’s nearly impossible to get them off it.”
- “I find it incredibly difficult to get clients off systems that aren’t good. You’re appealing to the market that has already embraced technology, and trying to get them off QuickBooks or any other programs that does what they want already... You need a compelling reason to get them to change. It needs to transfer easily, and also have the add ons that they might require.”
- “I wouldn’t attempt to wean people off Sage. If they have taken the time to get used to the system, why on earth would they want to look at another one?”
- “It makes life difficult if you have lots of different pieces of software. Having more than one type of software makes life a lot more difficult.”
- “There’s a lot of inertia, the time you have to take to look at different products is draining, you get punch drunk.”
- “If you introduce something the client finds unwieldy or doesn’t like, then you could potentially lose that client.”
- “I am Sage. When we have sold software to a client, it’s our name out there, not the vendor’s. We’ve told them it’s good. If it goes wrong, it comes back to us. All our staff are trained on Sage. When it comes to the year end, we want all our accountants to look through and understand what’s going on. We haven’t moved on to the Cloud or any other software because we’re so ingrained. I can’t consider any reason to move forward with it. I’ve got so many disparate systems internally. Our clients are happy with what they’ve got. We’ve spent a long time training them. Is it worth me turning to my clients to say we’re changing? We’re looking for margin on our work. It’s going to take someone 2 days to get the accounts in or 4 hours using Sage backup. For us it’s a big step to change.”
Skills & training
- “It was difficult enough to get clients to learn the first package, getting them to learn something else will be tricky. When clients ask for support, they’re not just asking how to create an invoice.”
- “You have to hold people’s hands to go through implementation of software. I like holding hands. We get fees from it. We set things up so it means something for clients. Hopefully at the end of a few years they smile and get something out of it. We go to clients, see what they need and work out what we can do for them.”
This was another area where the accountants in our meeting were hard to shift. They and their clients were used to certain features that gave them fast data entry, reporting and drill-down and they were unlikely to switch to Cloud applications unless they could get a similar level of functionality and speed.
- “The key in terms of functionality is filing VAT transactions correctly, easy bank reconciliation, being able to edit transactions - with an audit trail, obviously.”
- One accountant runs an online accountancy firm where clients can file all their accounting data online and his firm does the books. He commented: “You can get QuickBooks on a laptop, why would you need the Cloud? It comes back to functionality. When you’re using them, none of them really work as well as Sage and QuickBooks. If a client wants to do payroll themselves, there’s no one to do that. Each vendor seems to do one thing particularly well, but no one does it all. Sage or QuickBooks on a laptop seems to work best.”
- With online operators, the speed of response was an issue if you’re entering lots of transactions: “I tend not to use my mouse but instead use my keyboard, but with online versions there isn’t the facility to do this as much. The Cloud is trying to advertise itself as time-saving, you can get things done quickly, but I don’t think you can at the moment.”
- “The thing about QuickBooks is you can have a limitless number of customer databases for the cost of one licence. By the time you’ve paid £15 a month subscription, that’s a significant number down the drain. From a financial point of view, QuickBooks makes sense for us.”
- “It has to be functionally driven. At the end of the day people need access to their data and they’ll use the method that’s most appropriate. The Cloud is most likely to be driven by the way they need to collaborate with their clients. Focus not on the technology but on the need.”