New IRIS leaders set controls for cloud
Accounting and business software group IRIS revamped its executive team this spring by appointing a pair of industry heavyweights to steer its cloud-based accounting product revamp.
IRIS has gone quiet in recent months as the Hg Capital-backed combine shuffled its executive deck and wrestled with visible disquiet among its user base. At the same time, it has needed to come up with an effective strategy to counteract the growing threat from more nimble cloud challengers, including Xero and its emerging tax suite.
Over the past few years, the developer’s response has been to buy up a bunch of cloud apps (Taxfiler, Senta, Staffology) and issue updates about its evolving IRIS Elements cloud platform, which has so far failed to set the market alight.
New accountancy managing director Jim Scott and group chief marketing officer David Turner came on board with a mission to regenerate the IRIS brand and re-establish its leadership in accounting software.
With extensive experience in the sector, both executives are aware how hard their task is going to be. A 20-year veteran with Sage before adventuring into other sectors, Scott said his priority “was to make the most of IRIS’s 40-year heritage” by re-engaging with his community of customers and creating a new dynamic.
As CMO, Turner has the task of getting across themes and messages to counteract the discontent that has grown up around IRIS in recent years. His track record takes in stints with mid-market accounting software companies CODA and Unit4. Having been in at the start of FinancialForce, he strengthened his cloud credentials more recently at (Oracle) NetSuite. The IRIS Group is his first venture into the practice software arena.
“Before I joined, IRIS was very open about the challenges. I knew IRIS back in the 1990s, when it was very much a player. I lost sight of IRIS after that, which is partially indicative of the issues it faces,” Turner said.
“In accountancy everyone knows IRIS, but the perception is poor – and to some extent, that’s justifiable. The new management team is determined to turn that around.”
For both Turner and Scott, their biggest challenge is to get across what IRIS has to offer accountants and get them to “fall back in love with us”, as Turner put it. “We will engage with accountants and stop doing things that damage our reputation around pricing and other stuff,” he added.
“Jim Scott’s appointment is a sign of IRIS’s commitment to the accountancy business. We’ve brought in a real industry stalwart who understands the needs of accountants. Accountancy is our core sector. He’ll be the internal champion and have a sharper focus on accountancy rather than covering different fronts.”
Scott, too, acknowledged challenges such as the rise of Xero Tax, but was ready with some well-honed responses: “The value IRIS has to offer goes way beyond the elementary, with different solutions for different parts of the market. We are the ally of the accountant, from a newbie to the top tier and have appropriate answers for both, including the Taxfiler and Senta combination for the small firm market.”
If there’s an acknowledgement that IRIS may have been drifting since it became an adventurer on the seas of private equity investment, the new IRIS leadership know they will be navigating through a period of unprecedented turmoil in the market. “Market churn is top of mind, exacerbated by Covid-19 and practice formations and exits. The practice death rate is a third up over the past year and 25% up on new births,” Scott said.
The past year has seen a clearer divide emerge between firms that were prepared and ready for the barrage of non-stop compliance changes and those that have been pushed to their limits over the past 12 months.
“Both groups have worked very hard. Demand has exceeded anything they’ve seen before. The accountant has been a constant adviser and been working very long hours to try and make sure client businesses stayed in good health,” said Scott
As Covid demands ease, they now face the move to MTD for income tax. IRIS faces “no significant challenges there from a technical perspective”, Scott said, and will be positioning itself in the months ahead to help both groups prepare for the new compliance demands and commercial opportunities.
For both Scott and Turner, IRIS Elements will be the centrepiece to that strategy, by expanding the way that accountants at all levels can plug into and work on the cloud platform. “IRIS has talked about its cloud strategy for some years and not delivered,” said Turner.
“Starting next month, we will be delivering a series of Elements cloud components for compliance, practice management and more. We’ll be going to market in a way that helps us cover the needs of each end of the market.”
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