On the morning of 26 February, users of Access aCloud software logged onto their web-based applications and encountered a new environment, the Access Workspace.
This soft launch was the first step in a significant transition taking place this spring as Access beefs up its cloud capabilities, according to Steve Berridge, sales director for the financial management systems (FMS) division at Access.
Access chief technology officer Steve Lane, picked up the story: “Though on premise is still important, we’ve always believed in moving to the cloud. More and more new customers want to buy software as a service and we’ve been taking our on premise solutions to the cloud, building and acquiring cloud solutions because that’s the way we believe we should go.”
One of the UK’s last remaining independent mid-market accounting stalwarts, Access recently received funding from the ubiquitous private equity house Hg Capital to underwrite its evolving suite strategy. As well as the core financials and HR tools, Access has a range of operational modules to support users in industries ranging from healthcare and education, through to recruitment, hospitality and not for profits.
“Our customers are typically asking for 7-10 products from us. Because it’s a one-stop shop, it makes a lot of sense to them,” said Lane. “The new cloud platform is the entry point to all of these things.”
Still room for on-premise
Part of the new generation product line is a rebranded cloud version of the Dimensions accounting engine, alongside the FocalPoint collaboration, project and expense management features. On-premise versions of these products still exist, but will be able to plug into the Access Workspace to share data and interoperate with online tools.
“On-premise Dimensions is growing organically faster than before. That market is working. We don’t want to turn it off because we’ve got new product,” said Berridge. But 30% of CFOs don’t want cloud. If you’ve got 13 existing systems that you need to integrate, that may be a very good reason not to.”
For those customers looking for a hybrid approach, Access acquired hosting specialist StratoGen in 2014 so it can offer that infrastructure option, he added.
Steve Lane said that the platform approach is there to help the software interoperate. “There’s a layer of common things that all our apps use. Over time everything we build, acquire or upgrade will use the platform for user management, chat and notifications, collaboration and document sharing, task management, analytics and so on.”
According to Lane, one of the most important features of the Access Workspace is the built-in two-factor user authentication system. Once you have entered a password and received an optional second sign-in code, the Access Workspace will sign you in to all the connected applications. “This is a big enabler of the suite approach,” he said.
Common data model
At the heart of Access Workspace is a DataHub that manages a common data model for the connected applications. Using a publish and subscribe mechanism, the hub allows users to have a mixed software environment, but to pass data securely between different product databases.
The DataHub in turn connects to a data warehouse holding pre-configured management reports and analytical tools. “If you’ve got business intelligence dashboards for earnings, headcounts and any other key measure, we can plug in the DataHub to replenish it in real time,” said Lane.
All of these features can be tailored to a particular user’s needs and tastes in the Access Workspace, which comes with a library of readymade mini-apps – not unlike those found on other cloud platforms and mobile phone marketplaces.
“These apps aren’t just telling you the weather, they are linking you into other products,” said Lane. A typical user screen could include a cut down version of the purchase invoice system, allowing a manager with lots of invoices to approve to set a threshold and approve them in single batch.
And being web-based, the Workspace and its associated features are all supported on tablets and mobile phones. Our busy manager could access their personal dashboard on an iPad or use the familiar slide-right finger movement to approve purchase invoices.
A single homescreen for the working day
“People are used to mobile apps and we have to provide the same ease of use in the business software world,” said Lane. “This is how we want to make the system easy to use and engaging.”
“My vision is that when a customer gets to work in the morning, the first thing they fire up is Access Workspace and that’s all they need to get through their working day. The infrastructure behind the scenes allows them to do that – enabling them to be more efficient, productive and to focus on what’s important to them – whatever their role or sector.”
The phrase “workspace” is something we’ve heard before on AccouningWEB – barely a week ago, in fact, when tax and practice developer Wolters Kluwer introduced its CCH OneClick workspace.
Online application platforms and workspaces are big news in the practice market this spring. And business users have been hearing about integrated suites and analytics from the enterprise software giants such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft for several years.
The difference with Access Workspace, according to Steve Lane, is Access is bringing these two software trends together to cater for a swathe of UK businesses that have been underserved by developers in recent years. “What we’re doing is unique in the mid-market,” he said.
About John Stokdyk
John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and AccountingWEB.com.