Editor in Chief (interim) AccountingWEB
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IRIS bags Senta in January acquisition spree

Cloud practice management pioneer and Accounting Excellence Award winner Senta has become a part of IRIS as the software group continues to snap up niche developers.

14th Jan 2021
Editor in Chief (interim) AccountingWEB
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Senta - 2019 Accounting Excellence Award winner for practice management software of the year
Senta - 2019 Accounting Excellence Award winner for practice management software of the year

Senta emailed customers emails this morning announcing that IRIS had bought the practice management software supplier. The deal came just days after a similar deal to acquire Staffology was announced.

The general direction of IRIS’s acquisition strategy is clear. Having struggled to stop cloud tax and practice cloud software developers from eating into its market, IRIS acquired Taxfiler in 2018 to close off that threat.

Taxfiler took care of accounts production and tax returns but didn’t offer much functionality to manage a small firm. Senta and rivals including AccountancyManager, Uku and Glide continued to gain customers – especially when accounting firms had to switch quickly to remote working in March 2020.

Taxfiler did release a practice management module early in 2020, but the response from customers was lukewarm, to say the least. “You can’t say Taxfiler's attempt at practice management is in any way ‘development’,” commented AccountingWEB member ccaspell earlier this morning.

Leading contender

Alongside AccountancyManager, Senta emerged over the past 3-4 years as one of the leading developers of specialist, cloud-based practice management tools, winning AccountingWEB’s award for practice management software in 2019.

Founded in 2014 by software engineer James Kilford (pictured above with 2019 award) and backed with £100,000 in crowdsourced funding, Senta delivers cutting-edge workflow scheduling capabilities alongside basic CRM and marketing tools that plug into the practice’s existing email programs.

In the announcement release, Kilford vowed, “With the incredible IRIS resources and working with an amazing IRIS team we’ll be able to take our solution to the next level.”

IRIS Software Group executive chairman Kevin Dady linked Senta directly to the company’s strategy to create a cloud-based integration hub called Elements.

Rather than continuing to invest in building its own cloud solutions, IRIS has run its rule across some of the leading specialist players in the accounting and payroll markets and brought them inhouse to accelerate its broader transition to cloud products.

In its announcement, IRIS indicated that Senta will be integrated into IRIS Elements, allowing users to use Senta to co-ordinate and track work carried out in their existing tax and accounts tools.

Dady explained: “IRIS Elements was conceived as customers told us they needed to simply and instantly access the relevant business tools to transform their firms. Senta joining the IRIS family allows us to revolutionise the cloud practice management market, delivering the functionality they require today, regardless of location.”

Product complications

The overall strategy may be very evident, but what is less clear is how Senta and Staffology will fit into the IRIS accountancy and tax product portfolio, which already includes IRIS Accountancy Suite, PTP, Keytime, Kashflow, Taxfiler and more than half a dozen payroll products. IRIS Elements may open the door to the cloud future for IRIS customers, but as rival Sage has proved, legacy products acquired for quick growth can ultimately slow a developer’s progress.

Acquisitive software groups either have to continue developing and supporting all the varied codebases or force-march customers onto new products – another process fraught with risks.

As has happened with some of the previous IRIS acquisitions, the comments from Senta users on AccountingWEB included a few portents of doom, citing price rises and loss of momentum for Taxfiler, Kashflow and Drummohr.

AccountingWEB member burrafir, a Taxfiler/AccountancyManager user, was more even-handed: “Senta is well respected in the industry and acquisitions happen. IRIS bought out Taxfiler, an awesome cheap tax and accounts preparation package, a few years ago.

“The price went up, but not a lot and we still have the same terms with no lock-in. They have improved the software with dates and deadlines and digital signing option so that helps, but they have pretty much left the software alone.”

Stay tuned for further analysis when AccountingWEB gets an opportunity to talk to the executives involved in the acquisition.

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