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AccountingWEB Live Expo software demo
AccountingWEB Live Expo_Demo_Aidan Synnott

The joy of software demos

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AccountingWEB editor-in-chief Joanne Birtwistle recently got to grips with four accounting software demos. Was it paradise by the dashboard or a demo-lition?

13th Oct 2022
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Accounting software is an emotive topic on AccountingWEB, with good reason. Software vendors provide the tools that you professionals use day in and day out. If their products make your job easier, faster and help you provide a better service – or on the flip side frustrate that – it’s going to evoke strong feelings.

Time and again we see that reflected in the comments and discussions at the bottom of tech editor Tom Herbert’s articles and columns.

For some, a positive emotive response to a brand helps that vendor to build a community, which in turn brings enhanced benefits for all parties. In this respect, the dynamics of the relationships between the software provider, the accountant as client and user and the end user as a client of both the accountant and the software vendor are fascinating.

But for the most part, while you might use this software every day, it’s probably not something you want to think about on a daily basis. More likely, you want to give your tech stack some serious consideration once or twice a year – looking  at what’s working, frustrating, changed for better or worse and what’s new. Then you can decide what needs changing, make a choice, implement it and get back to the day job. We hope that our tech coverage helps to keep you informed and does some of that work for you. 

Up close and personal

I’ve worked on building my knowledge and understanding of the different software vendors and their platforms over the year but, crucially, what I haven’t had is first-hand experience of how these programs work or what they look and feel like for the accountant and the business client using them every day.

This week I set about changing that. I’m at the very start of that journey, having now had software demos from four different vendors who walked me through their functionality and usability as if I were the accountant in practice.

I’m not sharing which vendors because I’ve still got a lot of learning to do in this space and a 30-45 minute whistle-stop tour for each is not comprehensive enough for my observations to necessarily be fair.

It’s personal preference but for me, some had better dashboards and they seemed focused on being end-user or business friendly. Others seemed to focus on the accountant first with apps and bolt-ons that increased functionality and flexibility, but also made the product more complex to use.

The pricing structures were straightforward enough for each individual vendor, but their approaches varied with special offers, points systems and licenses priced by client numbers that made it hard to compare costs on a like-for-like basis.

And, I felt, there was sometimes a degree of misinformation about competitor’s products. In no way am I suggesting that this was deliberate – it’s probably symptomatic of the pace of change within the industry. I was told a couple of times about what a rival product couldn’t do, when in fact I’d had a demo earlier showing me how a recent update had addressed that issue.

All in all, there was a lot of information to take in, making it hard to discern competitive differences… and I’m only four vendors down. 

It must be difficult for you to navigate too, trying to work out which software will work best for the make-up of your client base, give you the best functionality while being easy for staff and clients to learn. Alongside all this, you have to keep an eye on costs.

Go compare

That is the real benefit of being able to see multiple demos in person to compare and contrast in real time. A colleague likened it to when he bought a TV and found himself bouncing from John Lewis to Currys and back again to discern which model had the better picture quality.

I shall be continuing this journey and asking for in-person demos at our AccountingWEB Live Expo on 30 November and 1 December at the Coventry Building Society Arena. This is where I take the opportunity to invite you to come along and do the same!

But how do you ensure you get the most out of your demo? As a software newbie, I want to know your strategies for intelligence gathering before you decide which product to buy? What are the killer questions you ask every vendor? Please do share in the comments below.

Replies (3)

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By NotAnAccountant2
14th Oct 2022 10:53

There are two different sorts of software demo, there's customer to client, and then there's salesperson to customer.

I really only have experience of the former (although I've had to deal with fallout of the latter: 'could we support X?', 'yes', 'that's good because I've already sold it, how long will it take to implement')

It's really easy to demo 'impressive' software. Only 20% of the work needs to be done to have something that looks finished in a demo. In fact, one of the 'tricks' I was taught was to always have a button that lead to a catastrophic crash in early demos - so that the customer didn't get the impression that it was nearly done.

A second issue is that 'fancy dashboards' are easy (I find the work of building them tedious and avoid it) but often the people choosing the software are only interested in the dashboard. So you end up with companies paying hundreds of millions for software that is of little benefit because the people who actually have to enter the data have to battle the system to do their jobs.

MTDITSA is going to suffer the same fate, the problem isn't getting data in, it's getting good data in, and most people will do the minimum possible to let them get on with their jobs. But the software will be sold on the reports it can provide.

Thanks (2)
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By CJaneH
14th Oct 2022 15:14

I found demo's useless and find the best software is produced by people who allow you to down load the software for a limited period and obviously not linked to HMRC or Co house the best.
If you can have a go and find your way around by yourself you know it works. You can check aspects that your practice needs.
I also have had demo's given by people with very little experience in tax or accounts, as appropriate to the software and so unable to answer questions, only able to follow the script.

Thanks (2)
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By Paul Crowley
15th Oct 2022 19:18

Never yet had a demo from a seller that could imagine what it is like to be a user or someone looking to use the users reports.
They tend to be employees that did not create the system and have never needed to prepare the VAT or the accounts of a real business
And I annoy them everytime by wanting at the start to see the six reports that I will use as an accountant
Often they do not know how to print what I want from the numerous options available and have only been taught how to process transactions.
They also think that the only report an accountant wants is the 'audit' report
If sellers understood the terms used by accountants, esp detailed nominal ledger (for the accounting year only, and not current balance), it would help.

Thanks (2)