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Accountant plans his own cloud solution

13th Nov 2013
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One enterprising AccountingWEB member sparked a minor controversy when he posted about creating his own low-cost cloud accounting solution.

Accountant SJG told our cloud discussion group he was a software novice seeking advice for the anticipated program, for which he identified a “niche in the market”. 

“I’m interested in developing some sort of simple VAT-enabled package, something like VT,” he told AccountingWEB.

Going into detail about his potential product, he said it would ideally:

  • Be Excel-based and VAT-compliant
  • Allow clients to do part of the bookkeeping, ie mainly sales/purchase
  • Keep everything in one or two other accounting software packages covered by his licence
  • Not charge for an individual licence per client.

The only technical experience SJG has is SAP implementation training from “quite a few years back”.

He found that there are many options available on the market for what he’s looking for, but full functionality versions are priced at a higher end, especially for small businesses.

The question sparked a deluge of advice from members and vendors alike, and a conversation about the cost of licences.

“I think all cloud accounting software, except possibly Kashflow, charges per client,” advised chatman, who added that the cheapest solution would be to opt for VT Transaction+ and share information with clients via the free Dropbox tool.

Another member, Paul k.2 suggested one free tool he’d tried: Wave. Although, he said he was “uncomfortable with their idea of free” as the model seemed to be built on advertising.

But cloud-orientated accountant Paul Scholes chimed in to warn that cheaper isn’t always better.

“While the idea of free or cheap software may seem great, there is usually a payback of the risk that they never have enough money to develop and enhance the facilities to keep up with others ahead of them,” he said.

In the meantime, charliecarne also had some sage advice to give to SGJ.

“For clients to log into the same system as you, there are three main options: (i) use cloud software, (ii) run a privately hosted server (where you have the desktop version of the software hosted by an ISP on a server connected to the internet) or (iii) install desktop software on everyone's machine (you, your staff and the client) and share the data via Dropbox or email, or some other method,” he wrote.

Take a cloud offering over a hosted solution, he added, as a cloud provider risks the reputation of their entire brand on ensuring their system remains live at all times.

SJG continues to search for a solution despite member feedback and is keen to talk to someone with technical experience about what options are available to him. 


Replies (4)

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By Elaine Clark
13th Nov 2013 14:26

Clear Books



My two-penneth worth ...Check out Clear Books Lite - it's a great entry level for clients who do not need bells and whistles etc. If they need ledgers then just upgrade to the full version. Tim Fouracre (MD) is an ICAEW - so he does know a bit of accounting stuff himself plus he is very approachable and his team are happy to help newbie’s to the cloud. Paul Scholes should be able to back this up as he is their accountant I believe.

Thanks (0)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
13th Nov 2013 14:54

Reinventing the wheel?

I'm sorry I didn't join in this conversation earlier in the discussion group, but it's an intriguing challenge.

To begin with, I would align myself with the Paul Scholes/Charlie Carne camp by suggesting that by expanding into software development you may be shifting the focus of your firm to an unhealthy degree - particularly as you profess not to have a lot of technical expertise.

I'd also point out that a perfectly good Excel-based accounting tool has already been invented - by VT Software.

But you wanted some solid technical advice, and I will do my best to answer that request.

I have experimented with building a shared spreadsheet database in Microsoft Excel, but gave up a few years ago because the Web services version couldn't cope with the size of the beast. They have probably overcome that restriction right now, but I didn't upgrade to the full online version. You could choose to do so, and then compile your own VAT cashbook and put it into Office365. But then how to share it?

You can't have lots of different clients signing into the same instance, so you'll have to create a bespoke version for each and give them their own log-in. You're also going to need to do some clever cell-locking to ensure that they don't interfere with the formulae or otherwise mess up the core engine. I'm pretty certain it can be done - but at the cost of a lot of Excel ingenuity and time spent getting the online access controls right.

In a recent cloud technology webinar Mark Ryan of Cynare expressed enthusiasm for Microsoft SharePoint - this is an online publishing portal that could take over some of the issues you might experience trying to host an Excel tool in Office365.

But what happens when something like the VAT rate changes, or you want to alter the underlying spreadsheet? With the multiple spreadsheet approach, you would need to manually change each one. This is the "tenancy" issue that cloud developers talk about - and because they've managed the process of giving each user access to a separate portion of the system, they only need to tweak the core program once.

I can think of at least one alternative to Microsoft Excel - Google Spreadsheets (there may well be others). I just had a look, and it now boasts more than 50 financial functions that might help you to program your application. Google makes it easy to share individual documents with different people, but the same administrative overhead would exist as on MS Office365.

If you are still keen to pursue your dream - and you're confident there's a big enough gap - you could explore the possibilities of teaming up with some open source programmers where you supply the spec and they code up a product to fit. This could give you true cloud functionality and a more robust platform for extending the product and service.

I had a quick look around Google, but couldn't identify any existing open source tools that matched your requirements.There have been a few conversations about this possibility on AccountingWEB before, but they came to nought. 

I hope this background helps - and do let us know how your plans progress.

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By Elaine Clark
13th Nov 2013 15:11

now in the good old days ....

When I started our on line accountancy practice in 2007 there wasn’t much on line software around to choose from. Clear Books started the following year, Kash Flow the same year or there abouts and as for Sage well ...

So I did write my own but then I had gone back to college a couple of years before to do a Masters in Internet Computing – so I could code in php and html using an sql database. Personally I would have never attempted to write it is excel – it just never seemed the right tool for the job for me (of course this is just my view and I am more than sure others will tell me that excel is perfectly suitable). :-)

This summer we took the decision to align our entry level bookkeeping solution with Clear Books (we have our own solution – Clear Books Entry) because we are a firm of accountants and they are a software house and I want to stick to what we are good at.

So I’m afraid that my baby (the on line software I wrote in 2007 which admittedly is now a bit clunky) is being put out to pasture and clients transferred to our new Clear Books Entry solution.

My advice would be to find a Cloud solution that suits for your clients needs but one that also allows you to add things on such as final accounts, tax software etc.

You will never find one solution that everyone likes .. life just isn’t that simple! Oh and of course they may not be as much as you think. Clear Books Lite is just £5 a month and using it as a sales tool to attract clients should more than cover the costs.


Thanks (2)
By Elaine Clark
13th Nov 2013 17:49

I stand corrected

I now understand that Paul Scholes is not the accountant at Clear Books.

I am very sorry if I have caused offence in my error.

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