IRIS unveils Darwinian path to digital future
Forty years is a long time in business software. But to hear it from group CEO Sion Lewis at the IRIS World event in London, life is only just beginning for the practice software developer.
With Making Tax Digital looming on the horizon, Lewis said compliance remained the number one focus. But he then unveiled a series of new initiatives to carry IRIS and its customers into the digital future. These announcements included:
VAT Filer – The day’s big announcement answered the clamour from accountants for bridging software that would let them funnel data from spreadsheets into HMRC’s MTD systems. Lewis announced that they giving it away for free as part of IRIS subscription.
“We recognise that one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “Some customers will use KashFlow, QuickBooks or Xero - VAT Filer gives them another option to harmonise their processes when it comes to filing VAT.”
IRIS Payments – This is a relatively simple extension to IRIS Open Space that allows accountants to raise bills with clients and get them settled immediately by credit or debit card. “We surveyed our clients and found that 30% said they weren’t getting paid, 40% said credit control was their biggest issue and 71% spent time chasing payments,” said Lewis. “Thanks to an integration with Stripe, this solves that issue for them, and it’s free,” he added.
IRIS Analytics – A collaboration with IRIS’s education software wing resulted in a Power BI-based dashboard that extracts key performance figures from the IRIS Accountancy Suite database. The system comes ready-configured with KPIs for fee income (by earner), work in progress, lockup and debt, but the option is there for users to filter data the way they want to see it, or to bring in data from other tables and systems.
IRIS AI – The recent alliance with Mindbridge is taking IRIS and its customers into the world of AI audit. “The Mindbridge partnership will accelerate AI adoption in audit among the top 100 firms, but that is just a bridgehead. Why not use it as a platform for advisory services?” said Lewis, adding that the company was investing significantly in its IRIS Advisory service. In time, he seemed to be hinting, the two developments could converge.
Project Darwin – Proclaiming “a new accounting era” at the event, IRIS chief product strategist Nick Gregory said the idea behind this evolutionary initiative was to “centralise all your practice data in the cloud so you will have anytime, anywhere access”.
A working prototype was demonstrated that featured an online hub allowing the user to make corrections that synched back to the desktop database. Project Darwin will evolve with additional IRIS products such as Open Space and IRIS Analytics, plus other applications via IRIS Connect and application programming interfaces (APIs).
Project Darwin represented the underlying tensions within the IRIS stable. Having built up a loyal heartland of mid-size practices, IRIS has spent its 40th year investing in ambitious, long-term projects like Darwin and buying up new kids on the block such as Star Payroll and Taxfiler.
Perhaps alert to concerns among longstanding customers of the IRIS Accountancy Suite, Gregory took the time to assure them, “We have no plans to retire the IRIS suite. We have thousands of happy customers so why would we?”
Darwin was deliberately chosen to emphasise the evolutionary nature of the project, which would ultimately see the new generation of online IRIS applications achieve “70% feature parity” with the existing suite by 2024.
“This strategy enables you to migrate to the cloud at your own pace. You can go app by app and take your time to get there,” Gregory said.
MTD tops the agenda
Returning to the day’s main topic for discussion, the IRIS event included a look at HMRC’s in-house technology strategy and a step-by-step demonstration of how the MTD filing processes for VAT and income tax worked, and how IRIS was supporting them.There was also a lively panel session where ICAEW Tax Faculty manager Anita Monteith voiced some of the underlying frustrations with HMRC’s lack of communication over MTD and the continuing uncertainties over the pilot scheme and timetable.
The conference also heard from IRIS users who were embracing MTD. Accountant Chris Bailey told the audience, “I love it. I think it’s an opportunity for accountants. Unless you grab it, you’ll die – and you can’t do it without an integrated suite that links all the processes together.
“How do you do four times the work without charging four times the fees? The only way we can get around that is with a non-human solution.”
To be truthful, Bailey’s solution has a human face, in the shape of Stan and his MTD scan van. Stan visits the firm's MTD clients on a regular basis to scan their receipts and load them remotely into KashFlow with IRIS Snap. It’s all in the hands of the practice before he gets back at base, Bailey said.
This was an interesting example of modern technology blending with an old-fashioned emphasis on client service. Clients loved it, Bailey said, and he loved the efficiency – even if it came at a premium price from IRIS.
That 40-year heritage hovers around IRIS. With the addition of more than 6,500 Taxfiler users, IRIS now serves 21,000 practices and accounts for 44% of HMRC’s submissions, Lewis claimed.
Another figure quoted was the number of 20-year customers, with another 166 added to IRIS's role of honour, taking the total to more than 800. This is due to hit 1,000 in 2020. That spike is a legacy of the transition to self assessment and a reminder of just how dramatic tax compliance shifts can be for practitioners.
No one will be more aware of that potential than IRIS. Self assessment was the making of the company and its integrated suite model. To the credit of Lewis and his team, they’re doing everything they can think of to ensure that IRIS isn’t left behind and manages to grow its market share as the profession goes through another generational change.
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