IRIS Accountancy Solutions has staked its claim for a share of the online client portal market with the launch of a free OpenSpace facility.
The aggressive launch tactic is part of a wider strategy to draw more accountants to the company’s online and Cloud-based systems, said managing director Phill Robinson.
“It’s an important product for us. At IRIS World last year we talked about the IRIS Open platform as the base for lots of products. IRIS OpenSpace is one of those products - we’re creating a platform for document collaboration for accounts and their clients,” Robinson told AccountingWEB.
IRIS OpenSpace will take on rival products on two fronts. The need for a more secure way to share files than email and the move to paperless practice processes has encouraged developers including DocuSoft, Lindenhouse, CCH, Digita and PracticeWEB to develop secure online portals - for a price.
At the other end of the market, there are a range of free tools that allow you to share and collaborate on electronic documents, such as Dropbox, iCloud & Google Docs.
But these are consumer services and do not satisfy a professional accountant’s requirements for security and data integrity, Robinson argued.
“We’ve seen these services cropping up on the net, but they’re not centred on the needs of business. Some accountancy firms do use Dropbox, but every time you want to send information to clients, you’ve got to manually upload it to each client’s account. IRIS OpenSpace automatically creates an account for each client and can automatically upload a file to them,” he said.
IRIS OpenSpace supports transfers in both directions and is available free for any accountancy firm - not just IRIS customers. Some elements already integrate with the IRIS practice suite, and work will continue in this direction.
Robinson denied that the no-fee approach was an attempt to wrest the market away from rival paid-for products. “I wouldn’t say this is a land grab, but we want to make sure we get people using our Cloud products,” he said. “This is an onramp to products of the future - if people use OpenSpace, we feel they’ll continue with us in future.”
[Update - 17 Sept] Alison Jackson, a director at Lindenhouse, noted that the IRIS offer extended to 1GB of space, and questioned the level of functionality users would get from the service in terms of collaborating with clients, managing authorisations and searching stored files. Nevertheless, she added, “I think it’s great IRIS is doing something innovative and encouraging all accountants to use the latest technology.
“It is the way the whole market is going. It’s good to get people to understand what portal technology can do. It’s secure - unlike email - but I don’t see it as a great benefit if you can’t comment on documents, sign them off or collaborate.” I think their clients will use it, but others won’t. There’s not enough benefit.”
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.