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.”

Functionality
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.”
     
Comments

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dahowlett's picture

Tired arguments

dahowlett | | Permalink

@john - it's interesting to see what you are documenting here. These are arguments that go back to the days when I first talked about this style of operation. 

I've said many times the cloud players have made a ham fisted job of enumerating benefit and that's still very much the case. They're trying to work it out but in truth - as with most tech - they're lousy marketers once it comes to working on the business side of the house. There are always exceptions but that's what I tend to see. However I am seeing some very good examples of how it CAN work.

This is not a one dimensional issue as I'm sure you're aware but cuts across many dimensions. Fact is that cloud computing is fundamentally different yet most cloud players are responding to the incumbent FUD. That's utterly the wrong way to go.

All the indicators are that cloud IS on the map. Some vendors are having trouble with provisioning because paying demand is that strong. The smart professionals are feeling the recession far less. There are way too many upside bullet points for them to ignore as they look to modify business models. 

ddruker's picture

Of course that's what they think

ddruker | | Permalink

So I wasn't in the room - but it sounds to me like no one had done a very good job of explaining to the firms, in their terms, how shifting to cloud-based accounting applications will help them be more productive and profitable and at the same time help them to provide better service to their clients.  If you haven't proven this to them, of course they will stick with what they already know.  It's easy to make the mistake that this is a discussion about technology - it is not - and it sounds from the post like the discussion was about features and technology.  The firms - and particularly the small firms - could generally care less about technology - that's why they are still using Sage and QuickBooks, even with all the issues they have with those products.  They all remember the early QuickBooks marketing campaigns - "Fire your accountant" - but they use it because it's ubiquitous and they don't know about anything better.

Over here in the US, the AICPA and a large community of the technology gurus focused on the profession are doing a great job of making the business case for cloud computing to the profession.  It sounds like there is a lot our friends in the UK could repurpose from this great work.

For example, check out the AICPA web site site here - http://clientsolutions.cpa2biz.com/index.html

Some of the most impressive pieces they have put together are white papers and ROI studies on how cloud accounting impacts the productivity and business model of the profession.  They have lots of case studies about firms who have been successful moving to the cloud, they have tools to help firms move their clients to cloud based systems and more.

In the US, we also have a large community of technology experts who's role is to advise CPA firms on the best products, services and technologies to leverage - they run literally thousands of courses every year where financial professionals come to learn about the latest technologies to improve firm productivity.  These are firms like Root and associates, K2 Enterprises, The Sleeter Group, Boomer Consulting and many more - it's really a whole cottage industry, and all of them are advising the firms to begin adopting the cloud.

The AICPA and the state accounting societies also all put on continuing education conferences every summer - firms come to learn both about the latest GAAP and IFRS content, but also about practice management and technology.  Cloud computing is a hot topic in all of these. 

All of these things together help the profession understand how cloud computing can help them and help their clients.  And once they understand this, they do begin to adopt.  Virtually none of them will move from what they already know if you can't show them clearly how it will be better for both them and their clients.  If you do - they will - they are very smart people...

David Watson's picture

Lack of Vision

David Watson | | Permalink

I read this post with resigned agreement, the feedback received seems typical of individuals and firms who have a lack of vision when it comes to helping their clients move forward. I agree it is fool hardy to try and move clients who are perfectly happy with what they have, but if there are real benefits to be had why not?

In my experience what clients value the most is proactive advice. We should regard it as part of the job to keep the client informed of ways in which they can make their businesses more efficient. If it means that they endure some short term pain involved in the move from one system to another, then that is part of the ROI calculation that they have to make. We should at least make them aware of the choice.

The firm who sticks their head in the sand and ignores this technology is at risk of losing its precious clients to a smarter leaner operation who uses cloud based systems to deliver the job more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Firms should focus on lowering the cost of production of these compliance based tasks, and try to help clients grow their business. That is where the high value work is. Finally, don't forget that Cloud is not just accounting, for many businesses the benefits to be gained from Web based CRM, and Document Management totally outweigh the number crunching, it seems again the profession focuses on what we like, not what is important to the clients.

 

David Watson Indigo Group 1 Friary, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6EA T: 0117 370 4384 ¦ M: 07921 830 7770 ¦ www.indigo-consult.co.uk

Inertia

Accountsportal | | Permalink

John,

Thanks for the reminder of this.

With the pace of technology, never before has it been so easy for consumers to vote with their feet (and wallets) and move to someone else across a broad range of products and services. But, when it comes to certain markets, the favour swings back to the provider somewhat: accounting applications are an excellent example of this - what I would call a 'sticky' product.

The other half of the issue that I was trying to convey when I raised the "inertia" issue at the fringe event was how and where cloud service providers get their customers. Much of the focus was on how to convert existing users from desktop accounting apps (Sage, Quickbooks, etc) - yes, there are converts to SaaS providers and this will continue to be an important market. But, a large chunk of business comes from clients who are looking for their first package - I suspect that this is where the largest growth potential in SaaS apps will come from.

Of course, the argument works (maybe even better?) the other way too: once someone has used a (good) cloud app, the likelihood of them going back to desktop is probably even more remote. And this will continue as the boundaries between whats online and not continue to rapidly narrow. In 5 or 10 years, this wont even be an argument: everything will be 'online' in one way or another and that will be the de-facto standard.

dahowlett's picture

Well, well

dahowlett | | Permalink

@ddrucker: without wishing to revisit the whole saga one of the vendor attendees told me there was no real chance for them to put the case forward in the manner you describe. The buy side representatives were not evenly drawn so adding the two together meant there was a lopsided playing field. But as I said above and which we discussed last evening, there is demand, firms are 'getting it.' However, they are not in the majority. They are in sufficient numbers for this to provide enough market for vendors to thrive. And as I have said elsewhere, that's exactly what I am seeing and in direct contrast to the incumbent position.

@david - you've nailed it but let's not be too hasty here. There's a reason why saas/cloud is disruptive. Here's one set of reasons and as you can see it has all manner of implications. But there are other factors bearing on the situation. Practitioners are under pressure. Bureaucracy is a killer. Newer entrants are nibbling away at what firms thought were established client groups...the list goes on. Historically, they've been lousy at marketing as they didn't 'need' to sell so much. The US is different in that regard. I think professionals DO see what's happening but, as Dan points out above, they need educating. Repeating what I said above, the vendors need to do a much better job of articulating benefit. Net-net, there is plenty to be done and as I said here, there is much to learn from what Dan's company is doing. Bags of best practice style examples. 

david_terrar's picture

Give us a chance to make the case

david_terrar | | Permalink

Hi John,
As you know I found the event valuable, but flawed.  The only reason any of the vendors present was uncomfortable was because we couldn't respond to any of the comments - just listen.  We all have good solutions or sensible responses to every issue raised.  Two things that would have made the event better.  First if the vendors had been allowed to elect a generic spokesperson to respond on behalf of all of our solutions.  Second, if the audience sample had included someone like Richard Messik who has adopted the concept and could explain why, as well as someone who wouldn't touch online with a barge pole. 

The comments you've listed are all great raw material for the arguments we SaaS/Cloud accounting providers have to present.  We collectively have to do a much better job of explaining how these solutions can address the various detailed concerns raised but, more importantly, provide a different way for an accountant to collaborate with his/her client and focus more attention on advising, rather than just bean counting.  There is always inertia from an incumbent technology, and the comments back to you from @dahowlett, @david, @ddrucker above are spot on. 

The point you seem to be missing is that the demand is there from the accountants who are waking up to this new technology.  All of the vendors see it in this space, and it is exactly why 3 (yes 3) industry groups to promote Cloud Computing or SaaS have been set up in the UK in the last 9 month (Intellect SaaS Group, EuroCloud, BASDA Cloud SIG).  They will be promoting the benefits of cloud solutions generically.  It would be great to get a more balanced view of how useful cloud solutions can be for an accountant here on AccountingWEB.

David Terrar

D2C, Twinfield, Business Two Zero  
 

daveforbes's picture

Same old questions

daveforbes | | Permalink

If people are coming up with the same tired old questions that have been long since answered

1. they may not be aware of these previous answers.

or

2. the answers were not satisfactory.

 

John Stokdyk's picture

Maybe you should try and "get it" sometime too

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

David & Dennis,

There I times I think you are engaged in a deliberate propaganda campaign against AccountingWEB, but from comments here, I'm not sure if either of you bother to read what you comment on any more. As I mention in the introduction to this thread, the whole point of the fringe session and the material that is appearing here and other threads in this discussion group is to present a fully rounded view for the benefit of AccountingWEB members and the Cloud accounting industry.

At last Autumn's Softworld event, Richard Messik rightly took the industry to task for talking too much jargon and failing to grab the attention of accountants. So we did the fringe session as an experiment to get developers to LISTEN to accountants for once rather than preaching at them.

The people we chose were not Luddites - a couple of them had approached us for advice about the Cloud, but hadn't jumped to it yet. They were prime prospects for Cloud accounting and we thought analysing their experiences and attitudes would be educational for suppliers.

The comments here show that it's impossible to ignore the influence of Sage and QuickBooks and I think there are important lessons that Cloud suppliers can pick up from their success. There are a couple of good positive marketing messages raised here by Accountsportal and David Watson, which echo what was said at the fringe session. Stay tuned for some of the constructive comments from the session in the the Getting the message across thread (now live).

Same questions - unsatisfactory answers?

JC | | Permalink

Have to agree with both @jstokdyk & @daveforbes

@dahowlett - yes they are the same arguments from the past but for some reason they still remain & haven't been answered satisfactorily. Surely this is the problem

@David Watson - is it lack of vision or the concept of change and sticking with what you know being the safe option. The profession at large has always been inherently conservative and slow to change

@david_terrar - are 3 industry groups doing essentially performing the same function a good thing?

As you quite rightly say demand is there and growing but quite frankly EuroCloud talking about a new 'eurocommissioner' is a real 'turn off' and strikes of more self-promotion than anything else (another gravy train). Anyway anything prefixed by EU is regarded with scepticism by many in the UK and will not do much to advance the cause

Intellect & BASDA are generally regarded as forums for vendors/developers and therefore too introspective and removed (not helped by a subscription to join the club!). They may well not be, but that that is probably the perception.

Also there must come a time when the talking must give way to delivery - which comes back to the title of your posting '.. give us a chance ..'. In reality SaaS (in its various guises) has been around for over 10 years now

Finally - where is the UK equivalent of the site in @ddruker posting which provides practical assistance and case studies - may well exist but so far I haven't been able to find it?
 

david_terrar's picture

Not propoganda, just after more thought leadership on SaaS/Cloud

david_terrar | | Permalink

Hi John,
It's quite clear not everyone coming across this thread will have seen all the history of the "fringe" event, and I was simply trying to add some context which IMHO was missing from your introduction above.  I hope people read what Dennis and I have said, and read your response (and its tone) and take a view.  What we are saying is not propaganda.  I believe that AccountingWEB isn't giving enough thought leadership on this topic.  That's what I told you when Stuart Lauchlan (with you along too) requested a meeting with me before Christmas. I'm looking forward to the changes and new things Stuart talked about.

Look, I've got a position.  I'm  a vendor selling SaaS solutions.  I'm also chairman of the Intellect SaaS Group, and a board member of EuroCloud UK.  We've formed a loose liaison with the BASDA Cloud SIG and members of the three groups meet regularly, so everyone should know where this particular evangelist for SaaS is coming from.

I'm really looking forward to your next piece.  My only concern is that the lead story always seems to focus on the negative, before we get to any positives.  I'm just after a shift in balance and emphasis here on AccountingWEB.  I believe we really need some form of event or debate where we can get at the real and legitimate concerns of the typical practice considering this sort of technology jump.... is it worth it? how painful will the transition be?  what happens if a stick with Sage and QB - do I get left behind?  what about security?  what happens if my SaaS vendor goes belly up?  Is it really any different to putting my beloved Sage on a hosted service somewhere?  All I'm after is a forum for getting those questions asked and answered.  I hope it can be here.

David Terrar
D2C, Business Two Zero
 

 

david_terrar's picture

Reply to JC

david_terrar | | Permalink

Hi JC,

Talk to any of the SaaS suppliers and check their numbers on take up.  The fact that the take up is beginning to accelerate shows that, although SaaS has been around for 10 years a breakthrough/change is occurring.

Should there be 3 industry groups?  Definitely not.  I won't bore you with the politics and history, but we are where we are.  There are vested interests that mean the 3 groups can't combine, but I'm on a mission to make sure we work together rather than compete.  We have started to invite representatives from the other 2 to each of our meetings - I attended the last BASDA Cloud SIG.  Jairo Rojas of BASDA came to the last EuroCloud member meeting, along with Lloyd Adams of Intellect.  We are all working together with Richard Anning of the ICAEW discussing some form of standard or quality mark for SaaS solutions - it's a complex issue, and we have decided to work wth something called the Cloud Industry Forum who are more advanced on the topic than we are.  We don't want to reinvent the wheel.  When each organization does an event, or creates a useful delivery, the other 2 will promote it or focus on a different aspect.  We'll see how it pans out, but we can do more if we work together.

We absolutely need a resource that pulls together case studies, best practice, how tos and why tos.  I'm up for contributing to it, wherever it gets created. I know my Cloud/SaaS colleagues would be happy to pitch in too.

David Terrar

D2C, Business Two Zero

 

daveforbes's picture

BASDA infomercial

daveforbes | | Permalink

@jc

You are correct about BASDA - Business Application Software Developers Association, the membership is mainly developers - and the list of members is quite extensive - http://www.basda.org/Members-35472.htm - though with a few surprising absences !

There is a non-voting associate membership - http://www.basda.org/How-to-Join-BASDA-35412.htm for other interested parties that wish to attend SIG meetings.

You are also correct, there is an annual fee, but it is a not for profit organisation. The associate membership cost is not huge - if you attended any SIG meetings your loss of chargeable time would probably be a more significant outlay. 

 

I thought it was a useful event.....

bryanrichter | | Permalink

There seem to be some differing views on what the objectives of the fringe event were. I saw this an opportunity to get a real world view from a representative group of accountants on their good and bad experiences with Cloud computing. Why some were using it and why some were not. It wasn't an opportunity for the Cloud vendors to make their case there and then, but perhaps to assess how successfully the message was getting across. Personally, I thought it was a really good thing that that us vendors had to shut up and listen for once :) 

Some of the arguments may be tired, but I think this shows that the vendor community has not done a great job in getting the message across. Usually that's because we talk in terms of the things that seem important to us rather than the things that are important to the accountants. If they haven't got the message yet then it's our fault, not theirs.

So for my part, thanks to AccountingWeb for running this. It certainly made me go away and think again on some issues. One point I found particularly interesting was one of the accountants discussing their use of the Cloud which actually turned out was a traditional accounting application that was being hosted for them by a third party. As far as the accountant and their clients were concerned, they were getting the benefits of being in the Cloud, but they wern't actually using what the vendors would class as a proper Cloud application. And they were getting their Office applications hosted at the same time. I'm sure many of the Cloud purists might take exception to this approach, but it may sit a little uncomfortably with some of the vendors that new hosting technologies are starting to make it viable to make a traditional on-premise application accessible in the Cloud with the need to completely rearchitect it.  Technically it's been possible for a long time, but virtualisation is making the price model much more competitive.

 

Illegitimi non carborundum

axw001 | | Permalink

John

You are absolutely right that the vendors need to listen more. The fringe meeting was a valuable event in that it clearly underlines some key issues that need to be recognised and addressed by vendors delivering functionality via a browser (and by implication the developers of the browsers and the standards that make them a viable and coherent option for delivering functionality over the internet).

For all the fanfare about web2 and ajax, speaking as a developer, the web is a particularly hostile environment for delivering complex, responsive, and intuitive user interfaces. Given the current state of play web interfaces are more of a compomise than PC based interfaces. Yes you can approximate PC style interfaces in browsers with emerging javascript toolsets, but often times these lead to a poor user experience of sluggish browsers as they are asked to do a lot more than they are really architected to do. The browser has become a sort of accidental operating system but developing to the environment does sometimes feel a bit like towing a caravan with a moped. Vendors have to recognise that users of their applications may experience similar emotions when moving from a slick and instantly responsive PC application to a web application.

The ubiquity of the browser and the simple elegance of the concept of using the browser to access/deliver functionality is a powerful combination which will develop and improve over time, much as TV has gone from black and white to colour and one day will be HD/3D. To my mind the browser is still pretty much a black and white experience.

As for Incumbents and Inertia - absolutely. Sage and Quickbooks have huge mindshare amongst consumers and amongst the profession. I don't particularly enjoy the expense and upheaval of changing the toolsets and environments we use for Liberty Accounts development, so i fully understand that an accountant that has invested in Sage toolsets and Sage trained staff might want to stick with what they have got.

At the end of the day there is not much point hectoring accountants, telling them that what they are doing is wrong and backward, you just have to focus on delivering functionality and value to those who want to work with their clients more collaboratively, where online comes into its own. Things are changing and will continue to change. As online vendors demonstrate clear value by making life easier and more profitable for the profession and their customers then the profession will increasingly "get it"

 

Alan Wright

Online Accounting Software from Liberty Accounts

dahowlett's picture

Another day, another food fight

dahowlett | | Permalink

 @john: propaganda? Wow - that's pretty rich given that my stated position is that of a buy side advocate although as you know I believe the future IS saas. What did I NOT read in your reporting that wasn't said 4-5 years ago? I did not wish to revisit the past but comment on what others are saying. 

That doesn't excuse vendors from making a poor case and as I have said above - they've been lousy at doing so. Dave Forbes and JC are right in that regard. That's one reason I have been visiting the topics and will continue to do so in the absence of any effort on the part of others.

As you know I track this industry closer than anyone else and regardless of what THIS panel thinks, significant sections of the profession HAVE moved on. If they're not AW readers then....It is not consistent I will agree and there is much to be done but look at the numbers and you will see. Sage has declined, all saas vendors have grown and not by just a few here and there. Check what's been happening at Kashflow the last year and my commentary around the industry. Along with Xero, they are the current UK bellweathers.

@jc: have you not seen the database and wiki I'm working upon? If you like the idea then you can always contribute. for anyone else, it is getting plenty of attention.

@alan: the industry generally (and I don't just mean saas accounting) has been far too defensive in its responses to FUD. Sage/QB are acutely aware of the issues facing them as vendors. Check what Paul Walker said to me recently and look at Intuit's own cloud initiatives. FWIW - Sage contacts me frequently on this topic so don't run away with the idea that they're stuck in an on-prem world forever. They have a LOT going on. 

As to other comments around trade associations - my position on this is crystal and David rightly points to what is happening elsewhere. That was an initiative I kicked off FOR buyers so please don't position me as a propagandist. That's simply NOT true. 

Hugh Scantlebury's picture

You're right Alan

Hugh Scantlebury | | Permalink

 

I too found the fringe event was useful in that at the end of the day it confirmed to a certain extent what we already knew - namely that some accountants are REALLY set in their ways and whatever the new breed of vendors do, change will be a slow if progressive process. Whilst exasperated, I am no longer surprised at the lack of awareness within professional firms of what featured SaaS solutions are actually capable of.

Cloud is not the only driving force (an enabler, but no panacea). I concluded that we ought to continue to just focus on delivering the best software and tools for finance professionals that represent good value and provide good utility (irrespective of whether they are delivered via the Cloud or not) .

As in the past, products with critical mass will lead accountants as opposed to other way around. 

 

Stupid Clients

chatman | | Permalink

These damn stupid accountants/clients are the problem. Why can't they just believe that SaaS/cloud is the best without continually needing to be convinced.

John Stokdyk's picture

One more thing..

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

Thanks all for the posts so far and apologies if I sounded a sour note - I just felt that some of the things we have been doing on AccountingWEB have not been represented accurately.

Speaking of which, one oversight I made in the report above was to document the impact that Sage particularly has had on the profession's culture through it's involvement with education and training. My notes weren't particularly good at this point in the conversation because I was the one talking...

Education & training
Sage's marketing masterstroke was to infiltrate the bookkeeping/accounting training industry and shower it with free and low cost copies (much as Microsoft has done with its software in UK schools). While it retains this hold, newcomers will continue to struggle to make a dent among professional software users, most of whom "learned" to keep books by learning their way round Sage applications. Try to remember what it was like swapping from Word Perfect to Word, or switching operating systems and you will recognise how deeply your habits are formed by your early software experiences. The Sage generation is a massive presence within the UK profession and will remain so for at least 10 years by my rough estimate.

The most obvious route around this obstacle is to recruite new users from start-ups and microbusinesses that have not yet fallen into Sage's clutches. Accountants and developers at our session acknowledged this point. Given the prominence of this factor to the overall market inertia, I wonder how many Cloud accounting developers are talking to training organisations?

daveforbes's picture

Easing the movement

daveforbes | | Permalink

@jstokdyk

There are software routes to ease the movement from one package to another - I still remember the "Lotus menus" option in early versions of excel to make easier for users to migrate from the then market leader.

david_terrar's picture

A few more thoughts

david_terrar | | Permalink

@bryanrichter - As I've said in the other thread, I found the "fringe" event useful, I just think it could have been better and that its positioning has been misunderstood by some.  I'll say it one more time - let's have another event with a more representative sample. 

@Alan Wright -  Our views differ on the browser, and the user experience that good web 2.0 development can deliver with good performance, but I agree 100% with your concluding 2 sentences.

@dennis - same hymn sheet mate.  :)

@chatman - as far as I can see nobody is saying that accountants should just accept what we SaaS/Cloud evangelists say.  If we can't make a compelling business case in jargon free English we should go do something else, and I agree that some of the current crop of Cloud vendors aren't doing well enough. 

Dennis put this directory of SaaS apps (using Alan Wright's list as a starting point) up 4 days ago:
http://saasapps.pbworks.com/FrontPage
It has already had over 2,500 page views without any significant marketing effort to push it.  That tells me there is an unsatisfied  demand for more information on the SaaS topic.  The associated wiki pages around this list could grow in to a a very useful resource of case studies and how tos.   Very interesting to see how this develops.

David Terrar
D2C, Business Two Zero
 

garyturner's picture

Congratulations

garyturner | | Permalink

chatman, you've finally seen the light - I knew it would only be a matter of time. Congrats. 

Seeing the light

chatman | | Permalink

@david_terrar - I know no-one would consciously say that, but it does come across very much that way (to me at least).

I am always looking for ways to make my life easier. I use yousendit, Skype, Logmein, Crossloop, reconciliation software and everything Google; I am virtually completely paperless; I have automated on-site and off-site backups, and I have one client (a Mac user) who uses Kashflow (at my suggestion) to manage his invoicing, but refuses to do any other inputting (so I import his bank statement downloads to QuickBooks). I always want to be convinced of the benefits of new technology. I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but apart from that I am an ideal target for conversion.

One thing I have noticed is that some of the people in this debate really seem to be debating whereas others appear to be selling, and when you feel you are being sold to, you are automatically less receptive.

Born Again

chatman | | Permalink

 @garyturner - LOL

david_terrar's picture

Good user of technology

david_terrar | | Permalink

@chatman - it sounds like you are making good use of the available technology. I understand where you are coming from on our collective messaging.  Two things to chip in:

Richard Messik puts the argument across eloquently on his post about the dreadful (actually you are right @chatman, it wasn't dreadful, just much too full of jargon) Cloud panel that John mentioned above somewhere:

The advantages of Cloud computing are really very simple and can be summed up thus:

1. It is more flexible
2. It enables 24/7 access – anytime anywhere.
3. It is generally cheaper
4. It reduces internal infrastructure costs and requirements
5. It facilitates collaboration and
6. It’s greener.

I would add that the "light bulb" moment often comes when I'm pitching to accountants in practice when they realize they can analyze their whole client base and start to target different types of advisory work in a way that they never could with 10, 20, 50+ different instances of Sage or QB.

The other thing is this Business Case for Software as a Service (for download, 24 pages) created by Intellect, that should help explain the advantages of the Cloud approach.  However, at the end of the day we need the right mix of functionality and performance, whatever the delivery mechanism/technology approach.

David Terrar
D2C, Business Two Zero
 

Dreadful Cloud Panel

chatman | | Permalink

A little harsh I think. It didn't sound dreadful to me. 

David Terrar

chatman | | Permalink

David,

Aren't these arguments that have been made before, and have been accused of not being accompanied by a supporting argument?

1. It is more flexible. Is it? What makes you say that?
2. It enables 24/7 access – anytime anywhere. Not unless you have fast, reliable internet access.
3. It is generally cheaper. Again, I have no idea how you have reached this conclusion. You may be correct, but how would I know when no evidence is provided? I think I used the example of VT Transaction in response to this claim previously.
4. It reduces internal infrastructure costs and requirements. How? I still need a PC, and in fact for SaaS/cloud I need an internet connection too.
5. It facilitates collaboration. Accepted.
6. It’s greener. Again, you may well be right, but where is the evidence?

Regarding the "cheaper" claim, one of the panel even gave his reasons for believing that QuickBooks is cheaper for him, but I have not see his reasons addressed by the SaaS salesmen. I merely see the "cloud is cheaper claim repeated".

I will not list the reasons why I am not yet completely converted to SaaS/cloud accounting as I am sure I have done so before.

By the way, if you compare your product to Sage, it is always going to come out favourably, even if you are selling an abacus.

Best regards

daveforbes's picture

The pros and cons of cloud versus on premises

daveforbes | | Permalink

Cloud is better than on premise because......

1. It is more flexible
2. It enables 24/7 access – anytime anywhere.
3. It is generally cheaper
4. It reduces internal infrastructure costs and requirements
5. It facilitates collaboration and
6. It’s greener.

On premise is better than cloud because.....

1. It is more flexible
2. It enables 24/7 access without need for the internet.
3. It is generally cheaper
4. It reduces internet infrastructure costs and requirements
5. It is more secure and

6. It’s greener.

 

 

 

 

DuaneJAckson's picture

More secure?

DuaneJAckson | | Permalink

I disagree that on-premise is more secure
see comparisons here: http://blog.kashflow.com/2009/06/08/pc-vs-saas/

dahowlett's picture

Garbage

dahowlett | | Permalink

 @daveforbes - now you're descending into the ridiculous but with no factual basis. Check uptime for SaaS. Duane Jackson told me the other day he got grumpy because his service had 3 minutes of unplanned downtime in January. Intacct has 99.98% availability. Can you HONESTLY say that about on-prem? And that's just for starters.

andrewmulvenna's picture

Accounting + CRM = Better advisor & growth

andrewmulvenna | | Permalink

David (Watson),

I agree with your comment:

"Cloud is not just accounting, for many businesses the benefits to be gained from Web based CRM, and Document Management totally outweigh the number crunching"

When preparing a case study last month, I called a client to ask how Pearl has helped his accounting practice and was surprised that top of of his list was that Pearl CRM had transformed how the business operates.

"All Client Information is in Pearl - contact details, reference numbers, key dates, notes, etc - and everything is quick and easy to access. It has speeded up and simplified how we work. I don't know how firms can operate without even a basic CRM system".

Steve has 12 staff, most work from home so finding a web based Accounting solution for remote access to replace Tas was his first priority but once comfotable with Pearl Accounting he noticed Pearl CRM (comes integrated with Pearl Accounting) and started creating new custom data fields to capture specific information.

We believe that using an integrated CRM & Accounting package is the simplest way to provide better service, improve growth and streamline business processes. We are about to publish new case studies for accountants that will unpack and quanitify these benefits - click here to let me know if you would like a copy when available.

Andrew Mulvenna
Pearl

daveforbes's picture

Pros and cons of cloud vs on premises (revised)

daveforbes | | Permalink

Cloud is better than on premise because......

1. It is more flexible
2. It enables 24/7 access – anytime anywhere.
3. It is generally cheaper
4. It reduces internal infrastructure costs and requirements
5. It facilitates collaboration and
6. It’s greener.

7. Data security is in the hands of your software supplier

On premise is better than cloud because.....

1. It is more flexible
2. It enables 24/7 access without need for the internet.
3. It is generally cheaper
4. It reduces internet infrastructure costs and requirements
5. Staff are already familiar with package

6. its greener

7. Data security is not in the hands of your software supplier.

daveforbes's picture

ridiculous - which bit

daveforbes | | Permalink

@dahowlett

Which bit - the unsubtantiated points 1...6 (now 7) about cloud or the unsubtantiated points 1...6 (now 7) about on premises. I have tried to be as balanced as possible.

david_terrar's picture

Some answers

david_terrar | | Permalink

@chatman - First, let me say I was quoting Richard Messik, a partner in practice (at Vantis) so these words are from a customer who has made the switch, not a sales guy for a SaaS company.  It would be really great to get him to chip in and explain himself.

@daveforbes - don't agree you can say the same both sides - please take a look at the Intellect Business Case for SaaS document, and the answers for @chatman below (and all of the below can be substantiated with evidence).

@dahowlett + @duane - great stuff

We might suggest to John that we move this discussion out to a separate thread, but here are a few thoughts (my answers after -> in each case).

 1. It is more flexible. Is it? What makes you say that? -> Easier access for customers, partners, suppliers - all anyone needs is the Internet.  I can add (or subtract) users much more easily.  If I want to test out a new application, I can usually sign up free, or for a single user and test it out.  If it works, I carry on subscribing and roll out more users.  If it doesn't work I've made minimal investment.  
 2. It enables 24/7 access – anytime anywhere. Not unless you have fast, reliable internet access. -> Absolutely!  With on premise I need to be physically connected with a piece of wire or a company network.  With SaaS I can access it from anywhere broadband is available.  With phone/cable broadband or 3G mobile broadband that covers an awful lot of the country.  For me the only place I can't get access is when I'm on the Tube.
 3. It is generally cheaper. Again, I have no idea how you have reached this conclusion. You may be correct, but how would I know when no evidence is provided? I think I used the example of VT Transaction in response to this claim previously. -> Lots to say but 2 main things - first I get economies of scale by providing my service to many customers both in terms of hardware capacity and support resource.  Some of the economic benefits of that sharing gets passed on to the customer.  Second, from our experience of 25 years of on premise plus 5 years of SaaS implementations, we believe the implementation costs for SaaS vs on premise are somewhere between 50% and 10% of an equivalent conventional on premise solution.  Very happy to explain why in more detail, but TCO for SaaS is generally cheaper.
 4. It reduces internal infrastructure costs and requirements. How? I still need a PC, and in fact for SaaS/cloud I need an internet connection too. -> All you need is a basic PC and an Internet connection for each user.  With conventional software I have to buy all of the hardware and software and network to cater for my peak load of users and transactions, as well as paying for whatever backup, redundancy, resilience I need to mitigate the risk of something going wrong.  Typically SaaS providers offer a MUCH more secure set up than the typical SME's IT set up.  
 5. It facilitates collaboration. Accepted. -> Ace!
 6. It’s greener. Again, you may well be right, but where is the evidence? -> We can provide evidence, but it's also common sense.  Sharing resources across a large community of users, and putting green IT principles in place will be better than lots of individual IT set ups doing their own thing.

One of the key differences between the SaaS approach and the conventional on-premise approach is that the balance of risk moves away from the customer to the supplier.  With conventional software the customer pays for a licence up front, and buys hardware to support it.  It either works or it doesn't, but there is significant investment up front.  With SaaS you might try it with 1 or a few users.  If it's successful you continue to pay subscription fees and add more users.  Suddenly the supplier has a vested interest in making sure it's a success (rather than being good at demos and proposals - a bit harsh, but you know what I mean), and carries on being a success every month, or you'll switch off the service and move to an alternate supplier.  The risk has swung over to the supplier.  Now obviously it's not black and white, and I'm not suggesting there aren't excellent quality on-premise solutions out there, with organisations that provide good on-going service.  The point is, the business model for a SaaS company is very different in all aspects of the way they do business compared to a conventional software company. 

We need more success stories from the practices that have tried e-conomic, Kashflow, Twinfield, Liberty Accounts, Xero, Liquid Accounts the others to provide more hard evidence to support the case. 

David Terrar

D2C, Business Two Zero

david_terrar's picture

Data security

david_terrar | | Permalink

@daveforbes - I just saw you added item 7 on data security.

One of the SaaS solutions I promote is provided from a secure data centre in Europe.  All of the processor and disk hardware is duplicated and set up for continuous operation.  If a disk or a processor fails, the system carries on for all users, but with some sort of degradation of overall performance as some of the capacity has just gone down.  However, whatever fails, no data is lost.  The data centre itself has military style security of access and the computer room has all of the latest fire protection and fancy stuff you'd expect to see in a Bank's computer room.  When backup's (for all customers) are done each night they are stored in a fireproof safe on site.  In addition, the data is encrypted and sent to be stored in a USA East coast location and a USA West coast location - so 3 physical sets in 3 different parts of the world every night.  An individual 1 user customer of this service gets the same solution as a customer with 1000 users.   All of the this is provided so the end customer doesn't have the hassle of managing all that IT infrastructure and disaster recovery planning. 

Sorry mate, you're wrong - most SaaS providers I know provide a much more secure solution for a company's data compared to the backup plans in place at the typical SME. 

David Terrar

D2C, Business Two Zero

daveforbes's picture

Greener, cheaper ?

daveforbes | | Permalink

So, hypothetically - I have a buying decision this afternoon do my bookeeping on my laptop.

VT transactions or Xero say

1. Which is more flexible - don't really know what it means.

2. I would expect both to work whenever I click on them assuming I had an internet connection (for the latter).

3. Which one is cheaper - don't know yet haven't checked the prices yet. How do I factor in "hidden" costs ?

4. Already have the laptop and internet connection.

5. That will be nice.

6. Will my laptop use less electricity running internet explorer rather than VT transactions ? If so will that saving be offset by my tiny slice of some big server running somewhere.

7. I think my data is pretty darn safe (I meant from prying eyes) either way.

 

Summary of pros and cons of cloud

Pros, don't need to install software, easier collaboration

Cons, need a reliable internet connection

 price, flexibility, green, security credentials - unconvinced by claims either way.

 

 

 

ddruker's picture

Productivity and profitability, not cost savings...

ddruker | | Permalink

My experience is that when speaking of the cloud accounting, "cheaper" is not a good argument when trying to unseat QuickBooks or another entry level product with a practitioner.  Those products are effectively free.  It's very hard to make a compelling TCO argument against free.

I'd suggest shifting the argument to "be more productive/make more money."  After all, time is money for these folks - we need to show them how cloud computing will help them deliver more billable hours, higher rates, and less wasted time.

We make the case that with cloud accounting an average mid-size accounting firm can see up to a 50% increase in productivity for their client accounting services practices vs. using old on-premises accounting software.  We've built an ROI calculator and business value framework around this with examples and quotes from real-world firms that show them, in their words, where the improved productivity and profitability comes from.

The framework we use for this discussion goes along the lines of: 

Spend more hours in high-value, proactive consultation – you can be a "real-time" advisor because you always have your clients' current financial information - so you can pick up the phone and call them when you can see they need advisory services.

Serve more clients with the same staff by reducing travel time, reducing data management issues and leveraging automation and standardization.  This is a compelling argument for the larger firms - they can run the business case and see huge return here.

Return wasted hours to your bookkeepers by reducing the time it takes to fix data errors, reconcile books and travel to the client to audit.

Get out of the no-value-added IT business.  Don't waste time on non-billable activities like keeping your systems current and up and running.

With the larger firms, you can also make an argument about place shifting - cloud accounting let's them apply lower-cost labor to lower value added tasks or higher cost regions of the country, and lets their high value specialists work on clients anywhere. 

About the only argument along these lines people haven't really responded to that I thought would be compelling is one about using cloud accounting to keep smart women active in the profession by letting them be able to work from home and part time after they reach an age where they begin to have families.

The net of all this is we've found it vastly more effective to talk with he firms in terms of how cloud accounting will help them make more money rather than going over the technology and cost arguments in the last few posts. 

david_terrar's picture

Data security

david_terrar | | Permalink

@daveforbes - the particular service I was on about above was audited for security of data by Enst & Young, before BDO committed to use it for all of their customers from all 35 of their Dutch offices.  Checking how secure the data is from prying eyes, as well as backup/recovery is part of the due dilligence you need to do on the SaaS provider.  All of the providers who are contributing to this thread have a good story on this. 

David Terrar

D2C, Business Two Zero

daveforbes's picture

@ddruker

daveforbes | | Permalink

Much more sensible.

Cloud gives you easy collaborationand easy installation. If you can come up with some solid case studies of this easy collaboration producing increased fee income and/or decreased costs then you are away. I could probably point you to a good example accountancy practice.

Then you can get away from the unconvincing price and flexibility arguments.

Meanwhile ....

Macs are better than PCs because...

1. They are better value for money

2. The software is better

3. They are more powerful

PCs are better than Macs because...

1. They are better value for money

2. The software is better

3. They are more powerful
 
 

daveforbes's picture

security might be an issue for some

daveforbes | | Permalink

 the particular service I was on about above was audited for security of data by Enst & Young, before BDO committed to use it

The majority of our customers are small accountancy firms, however we supply trust and estate tax software to a top 10 accountancy firm and 3 of the top 10 law firms, other tax software to a couple of FTSE100s and are talking to a dozen FTSE100s regarding XBRL accounts filing. Not one of our customers has ever mentioned data security or comissioned an audit. Data security may be very high at cloud suppliers but customers will need convincing.

DuaneJAckson's picture

Downtime and Success Stories

DuaneJAckson | | Permalink

Duane Jackson told me the other day he got grumpy because his service had 9 minutes of unplanned downtime in January.

@dahowlett, check your notes. It was 3 minutes. I know because I've not stopped ribbing my CTO about it since.

We need more success stories from the practices that have tried e-conomic, Kashflow, [etc]

No shortage of those. We have a number of case studies here. We should sort them into categories

- those that have made a healthy extra revenue stream
- those that can now service more clients in less time
- those that are more willing to deal with small businesses because they can now extract a profit from them
- those that are winning clients from less forward-thinking practices
- those that have seen an improvement in their own client retention rates
- those that can now concentrate on more enjoyable/profitable aspects of their practice (Advice, tax planning ,etc)
- those that feel they're helping to shape a new product the way they want it to be

We'd have plenty for each category amongst our 220+ partners.

I was in the pub with one of our best sales people earlier in the week. He says the thing he finds most frustrating is that virtually every accountant that buys from him has their own unique reason for buying, so it takes a fair amount of needs analysis before he can pitch the software to them as no two practices are the same.

That translates into the problem we're all experiencing here: it's not easy to communicate the benefits in a way that instantly "clicks" with a large number of practices.

 

 

DuaneJAckson's picture

Clouding the issue

DuaneJAckson | | Permalink

 The green argument is bunk and clouds (boom boom!) the issue. In reality of the difference in CO2 emissions of SaaS vs on premise software is very little. I guess you could factor in CD/manual/box production, but even still I don't think the argument weighs up. Then again, factor in the travel to all the Sage training course and you might be getting somewhere!

It's better to focus on easily provable benefits.

daveforbes's picture

3 minutes, 9 minutes

daveforbes | | Permalink

I would expect and am not  surprised that Kashflow is available to all intents and purposes 100% of the time. Similarily I would not be surprised to find them 100% secure. However the fact it crosses peoples minds will affect purchases for a while at least. No one thinks "will my excel be available all the time, will it be secure".

Also it is not just about say, Kashflow's reliability - out here in Bedfordshire, though but a stone's throw from MK, broadband is via a BT exchange with a comical propensity to flooding*.

Whilst I am looking for problems, in the privacy of this forum, I thought I might bring up the issue of historical data. In the land of tax software that I predominantly inhabit, all software is supplied as an annual subscription (as such I suppose I have been involved in SaaS since 1992). A small and ever reducing number of vendors have the policy that when you stop subscribing that is that. However, due to accountants' need to go back up to 6 years, most suppliers provide at least read only access to historical data even if the user chooses to move to pastures new.

Is there a consensus amongst cloud vendors regarding accessing historical data in the event of a split ?

* though the area of road that used to get waterlogged now drains away nicely since they laid the new fibreoptics.

p.s. punchtape/floppy disk/CD/manual/box - not that big in the non-cloud world anymore.

DuaneJAckson's picture

Consensus

DuaneJAckson | | Permalink

 Is there a consensus amongst cloud vendors regarding accessing historical data in the event of a split ?

Probably, but not formally. I'd expect most do what we do or a variation of it: give you the option to access the account to extract the data into another system for ongoing analysis.

Perhaps there's a need for some sort of charter/guidelines on stuff like this (as well as data ownership, etc) that SaaS providers can sign up to. Something for one of the 17 or so SaaS interest groups to do : )

daveforbes's picture

clarification

daveforbes | | Permalink

... access to the software on a view only basis ... but easy access to the data is as good if not better alternative.

benkepes's picture

So bloody depressing....

benkepes | | Permalink

Far be it from me to agree wholeheartedly with Dennis but I will... These are old and tired arguments and do much to continue the perspective that accountants are luddites and do much to avoid allowing their clients to experience the benefits that new technology can bring. While I agree that due diligence needs to occur and functionality, security, portability etc etc need to be assessed, Cloud Computing generally and SaaS accounting specifically have a whole host of benefits that are simply not doable with on-premises. Witness what FreshBooks is doing with it's benchmarking reports - giving SMEs the ability to achieve something formerly only available to much larger organisation. Witness the exciting things happening with the small business web, a bunch of SaaS vendors tying their products together to create a virtual best-of-breed solution to suit a particular businesses needs. Witness what Intuit is doing (yeah yeah, see disclosure here) with the partner platform, a way for users of "traditional" desktop software to leverage the benefits of a host of cloud based offerings.

There's a very good reason that businesses are moving to the clouds - and it's not for the cost savings. As pointed out elsewhere in this thread, many businesses will pay MORE for a cloud business solution than for an on-premise one. But they'll be happy to, secure in the knowledge that the efficiency and productivity gains will more than make up for the added expenditure....

That was helpful!

chatman | | Permalink

daveforbes's picture

Simplified version

daveforbes | | Permalink

In summary then, as they may or may not be cheaper, greener etc.

Cloud is better than on premisis because .....

1. The are some really great cloud apps out there (despite or because of being cloud based)

however

on premises is better than cloud because ....

1. The are some really great on premises apps out there (despite of or because of being on premises)

david_terrar's picture

Methinks he dost protest too much

david_terrar | | Permalink

@daveforbes - I'm beginning to think "he dost protest too much?"  As a software vendor yourself I would have thought you would be shifting/redeveloping your product set to a Cloud model so you could offer your customers the choice of either.  Is there a problem with that?

David Terrar

D2C, Business Two Zero

Cost is not a good argument

cjtrevor | | Permalink

I can fully see some of the benefits of using a hosted solution such as Kashflow, and indeed we have been keeping an eye out for something like a hosted bookkeeping system which clients could use instead of spreadsheets or manual records or bags of muddled receipts.

However, it isn't just familiarity with Sage etc which is a barrier.

The cost argument I see keeps being raised, and from my observations this isn't a valid factor.  Indeed quite the opposite, it is a reason for not adopting a hosted solution.

This would be a typical client decision that we would see -

a) Buy Sage Instant from amazon for £86 incl VAT and delivery.  Our typical client wouldn't buy support and would perhaps not upgrade to a new version of Sage for 3 to 5 years.  Cost per year £20 to £30.

b) Taking Kashflow as an example as it is referred to in this thread - £192 per year.

The hosted solution is therefore significantly more expensive.  Trying to sell this to our typical client is a waste of time.  They have heard of and respect the Sage brand name.   When they think that £86 will see them through for 3 years they jump at it.

For our typical client they need the same laptop and printer whether they go for Sage or hosted.   Yes there is the backup consideration etc, but you have to be realistic, clients don't spend £192 per year instead of £30 per year because we tell them about the data being automatically backed up.

Indeed most small clients don't have 3G data dongles and probably would view the requirement of internet access to use their software as a negative. 

When Iris launched their iCash product which is a hosted bookkeeping cashbook solution (now not actively marketed) we really thought that would take off and be attractive to our clients.   It was attractive to us, but we soon found that clients for whatever reason preferred Excel or Sage on their own computer.   That was a few years back and I think internet acceptance is a lot higher now, people use gmail, hotmail etc.   But because of the cost comparison I set out above, I don't see any big takeup of the hosted solution amongst our client base.

daveforbes's picture

cloud versions of our software

daveforbes | | Permalink

@DT

From 1999-2001 www.tax.co.uk was browser based tax return completion but we reverted to downloaded "on premises" in 2002. The HMRC CT product was web based from 2000 until November 23rd 2009 when they changed to a downloaded implementation.

We may in future offer browser based versions, but we have quite a lot of bits - tax, final accounts, payroll, company secretarial, practice management, time and fees. Also, providing a "both" rather than "either/or" solution - we have had to address the issues of consistency of user interface and of synchronising data between the on premisis and browser based versions as our customers would use a mix.

Some our customers already work in quite a distributed manner using Citrix to remote their desktops, or use vpns to implement wans. Is browser based software another choice they need ?  

I don't think the cloud versions will be cheaper, greener etc.

p.s. and there is not as far as I am aware, with the exception of the HMRC's website any browser based tax software or final accounts software out there. I know there is payroll, time and fees and some company secretarial browser based software out there, but our primary market is tax and final accounts - so it is not that we have any cloud based competitors.

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