How IRIS acquisitions fuel cloud strategy
This January IRIS Software Group has stirred things up by buying two specialist cloud developers. John Stokdyk talks to IRIS executives to find out more about their plans.
Software industry consolidation stirs up passions because users hate change. Putting it politely, the feedback to Senta’s acquisition by IRIS last week was mixed. The most frequent response from wary AccountingWEB readers was to brace for price rises and a loss of momentum on product development.
“IRIS to squash yet another great product… I forecast there will be plenty of customers wanting to move shortly,” wrote MC1 to kick off the Senta Any Answers thread.
IRIS executives pay a lot of attention to the conversations on AccountingWEB and chief product officer JF Sullivan got in touch to address some of the points raised. Staffology founder Duane Jackson, no stranger to IRIS corporate strategy, also offered his perspective on how the new additions are likely to fit into the IRIS cloud strategy.
‘This is where we’re investing’
“This is where we’re investing,” he said. “We acquired Senta so we can pour more money into this part of the portfolio and maybe accelerate things elsewhere."
Acknowledging how well Senta worked for its users, he continued: “We don’t want to interfere with that in any way. It’s not going anywhere. If anything it’s going to be heart and soul of how we roll out new products for practice management.
“The folks who built Senta are still on board. They have command of the ship. We just asked, ‘How much do you need and what can we do to help you go faster?’”
The Senta acquisition was “absolutely part and parcel of our overall cloud strategy,” he continued, setting out how the cloud products would plug into and accelerate the evolving IRIS Elements product concept.
“We’re building out a single platform that’s going to unify all our technology. IRIS may have been built from a number of applications. The way I would ask customers to think about IRIS Elements is as a means to blend all the things we have bought or developed and converging them into a superset of web microservices.”
The pricing formula
Contrary to the suggestions from some AccountingWEB members who drew parallels with the price rises that followed in the year or two after IRIS acquired Taxfiler, Sullivan responded: “Senta pricing stays the same. We’re not planning to raise prices in any way. The plan we had last year is still the one of record: if you have Elements and you want to access a new method, you get it for the licence you have. That’s your entry fee onto the platform.”
Customers who were already connected to the IRIS Elements cloud infrastructure will have access to bits of Senta “from day one”, he added, and the functionality of the application as a whole would be incorporated into Elements in the next few months.
The two cloud acquisitions prompted questions about whether the squads of IRIS programmers working on Elements were keeping up with demand for cloud functionality, particularly in response to the national switch to remote working during 2020.
IRIS maintains an advisory board of 400 accountants, 54% of whom told the company practice management was their priority earlier in the year. “We could build practice management and were already doing so. But as we looked around for people to partner with, Senta became more logical – the more we dug in, the more sense it made,” said Sullivan.
Both the Staffology and Senta acquisitions will accelerate IRIS’s efforts to meet customer demands for cloud applications, but they will also contribute to underlying Elements strategy, he continued.
“One of reasons why we liked Staffology was because [Duane Jackson] had insulated his code from the legislative rules and calculations. That’s the fundamental principle across our platform. We can ‘Elementise’ that, regardless of what we’re doing. Senta had the same concept of feature toggling, and provisioning the clients,” he said.
In Senta’s case, the specialist program was superior to what IRIS had for client communication and workflow management.
“We’ll be able to use that in CRM for larger accountancy firms. It gives us more flexibility and a richer feature set to interact with all the core components of Practice Engine, Star Practice Management, Senta and Elements. These components become the single service that all of them will be able to use.”
Duane Jackson: Back in the fold
From his vantage point as a senior technology director at IRIS, Staffology founder Duane Jackson endorsed the IRIS product strategy and explained how he would be using his know-how to accelerate the Elements project on payroll side.
“I’ve bought into what they’re doing and want to be part of it,” he said. IRIS had a cloud payroll product and a more sophisticated solution, but not a combination of the two.
“What they were trying to build over next year or two is already in Staffology.”
As with any other Elements component, Staffology would feed into the platform and its legislation engine could be used to update all the other IRIS payroll products. “Behind the scenes the codebase will change, but with the user experience, price and package, nothing changes at all.”
Since his previous experiences when IRIS bought his Kashflow app, Jackson had noticed how it had changed its behaviour and embraced cloud applications as more than just a technology shift. With the practice market now embracing cloud, the recent acquisitions put IRIS “ahead of the curve” for using APIs to link practice, payroll and bookkeeping applications, Jackson said.
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