Cloud breaks cover at Softworld

Mid-market business software group Access unveiled its Cloud computing strategy at Softworld in London this week.

While the exhibition at the ExCel centre in London Docklands served as the launch platform for the AccessCloud platform, its web-based applications will follow in the coming months, explained Access head of technology Stuart Allsopp.

The first to appear will be a Cloud document management facility, developed in-house by Access rather than by a specialist third party. “We have had a similar tool that has been serving us on premise over a number of years, but we have created a new system as a completely multi-tenanted Cloud offering,” Allsopp said. The Cloud paperless office system will come on stream by the end of the first quarter in 2011. Customers can use it as a standalone system, or it will integrate with their Dimensions accounting and web-based FocalPoint project management portals.

The next product, scheduled for the middle of next year, will be an HR product based on Access’s exsiting tools but adapted for the Cloud.

The priority, according to Access, is to deliver the Cloud offerings people are demanding. Further applications are in the pipeline, but at Softworld the company focused on its customers’ most immediate needs.

“Our strategy is to follow customer trends rather than create technology for technology’s sake,” said Access managing director Chris Bayne. “We are supplying services that that they are requesting. Document management is fairly straightforward, because it’s already accepted practice. Adding that to our on premise portfolio is a logical next step and will enable volume traction into our installed base.”

Bayne added that the company’s flagship accounting program Dimensions won’t be converted into a Cloud application. “It’s not designed as such,” he said. “We will have a finance application in the Cloud, but it will not be Dimensions.”
 

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Aqilla offering wider data and management tools
Until recently, the generational struggle between client/server and web-based business software has bypassed the mid-market and involved enterprise software suppliers at one end and small Cloud bookkeeping applications like FreeAgent Central and KashFlow at the other. But with Microsoft and Access now moving towards Cloud - and SAP Business ByDesign targeting NetSuite at the upper end of the middle sector - this could become an increasingly lively segment over the next year.

One of the companies that has already staked out its claim with a Cloud application targeted at the "M" sector is Aqilla, which used Softworld to introduce a new Report Designer module. The program gives users the ability to create and modify financial reports directly from within the web application. In most cases, a user will specify a selection of accounts to include as rows in their report, and report profiles that will define what columns are displayed. Multiple Report Profiles can be defined for the same report, to deliver multiple analyses based on the same report structure. An upgraded Attribute Configuration Wizard has been added to streamline the process of defining the information for analysis within Aqilla, managing key performance indicators from document capture to final management report.

One of the key marketing points for Aqilla is the Report Designer's compatability with Excel. "Using a web-based accounting solution doesn't mean leaving the tools you use everyday behind!" the company said.

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On-premise vendors fight back: IRIS Exchequer LIVE
IRIS Exchequer remains proudly committed to what it calls a “rich internet application” environment as opposed to the Cloud. The business accounting wing of the IRIS Group used the London event to introduce Exchequer LIVE, a range of modules designed to connect remote users into IRIS Exchequer data.

IRIS Exchequer LIVE is based around the browser portal idea, where the application interface is tailored for each individual and their job functions. A visual panel presents them with a snapshot view of their activities, and the system is governed by an approval and authorisation system that stops employee seeing things they should not, while delivering a clear picture of outgoings and financial status for senior executives.

“IRIS remains committed to responding to our customer demands and our independent research clearly demonstrated that remote access is becoming ever more critical to everyday business functionality.  IRIS Exchequer LIVE provides a versatile new environment by pushing previous browser boundaries and enhancing the customer experience,” said Paul Sparkes, product director of IRIS Accounting & Business Solutions.

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Data on the menu for Advanced Business Solutions
Better access to executive data was also the theme for Advanced Business Solutions (formerly COA), which introduced its Visualiser data presentation tool at Softworld. Linking into ABS’s OpenAccounts financial management system, the Visualiser provides user-friendly graphical dashboards to deliver KPIs and visual alerts to financial directors.

“At a time of economic uncertainty, it is critical that organisations fully understand their financial figures. Visualiser transforms spreadsheet data into clear and real-time dashboard information, delivering financial transparency to aid decision making,” said ABS managing director Dean Dickinson.

Also on show on the ABS HR stand was Clearview for HCM, an analytical tool that helps HR and payroll managers forecast and budget their people costs by giving analytical views of everything from recruitment fees through to salaries, bonuses and training costs.

Comments

Not all positive news

Kev79 | | Permalink

It's worth mentioning that not everybody was in praise of cloud computing. One re-seller mentioned to me it was just the latest buzz word for technological trends that have evolved over time. And one of the presenters pointed out that cloud computing, with large servers and 'dumb terminals' is just like the 60s and 70s all over again, (only this time the dumb-terminals are hugely powerful processors not being used to their full potential, despite their expense and the energy required to power them).

An aquaitance of mine at Accenture (who install cloud computing systems as part of the SAP range, I believe?) is of the opinion that the virtualisation of company infrastructures actually minmises many of the benefits of cloud computing anyway. Frankly, it's all too technicaly for me to fully understand, although I try, so I'm happy to take on board the views of the experts rather than the salesmen....

cverrier's picture

only superficial similarities

cverrier | | Permalink

It's possible to draw parallels between today's "Cloud" systems and the mainframe systems of the 60's and 70's, but only at a superficial level...

The mainframes of the 60's and 70's were hugely expensive and fragile compared to modern data-centres, so 'normal' people couldn't afford to buy processor time.  (And would usually be turned away even if they could afford it).

In the absence of the Internet - actually connecting to the mainframe needed specialised (and expensive) point-to-point communications links - whereas now, high speed communication is available to every home at low, flat-rates.

Mainframes are monolithic - a single computer.  Modern cloud systems are large clusters of relatively inexpensive servers that can be extended almost indefinitely.  Mainframes could NEVER have scaled to support the millions of users that routinely use big cloud applications.

So... many of today's SaaS applications simply couldn't have existed on the old mainframe time-sharing approach - they would have been too expensive to be viable.   The underlying architecture is RADICALLY different, and this difference is the only way that remote computing resources can be commoditised to the degree needed to make the whole thing work.

By the way...

I think you'll find that a modern PC is cheaper AND more power-efficient than the dumb terminals of the 60's and 70's.  An LCD display alone uses one fifth the power of a CRT monitor, and as for a teletype machine.....

chrisjoynes's picture

Cloud systems have their place but not for everyone

chrisjoynes | | Permalink

We have looked into numerous cloud accounting systems for our clients and came to the conclusion that it was going to cost them a great deal.  £15.00 per month at least is more than buying a basic sage license over the year and you can continue to use Sage for years without having to pay.  Don't get my wrong - I love everything cloud - we use cloud CRM and I am a registered and certificated Xero Partner. I have a number of clients using Xero and I run our accounts for the practice in Xero. I also find the customer service is second to none. However when it came to the main bulk of our clients we looked into rolling out Iris Openbooks and realised it would cost us £18,000 per year (we could not add this to our client fee or at least we would not want to). And on top of this our clients would have to learn to use it, and they are not accountants or bookkeepers.  So we asked our clients - 96% said they were more than happy with our current excel based system and they had no desire to move to something else that they had not used before.  I think the cloud is great but it is not perfect for everyone - or maybe I have already found a system that works with my clients - if it ain’t broke don't fix it!

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