SSA13 analysis: Small business accounts

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The 2013 Software Satisfaction Awards showed a shift in favour of cloud-based small-to-medium-sized business accounting applications, with a near even split between desktop and online. Rachael Power examines the findings of the survey in more detail and provides insight and analysis.

Over the last year on AccountingWEB, there has been a lot of buzz about the uptake of cloud accounting software, and ratings in the small-to-medium business accounts category prove that it’s not just speculation - at 47% of the vote share.

And larger vendors such as...

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About Rachael Power

Your friendly, neighbourhood community editor. 

Twitter: @rachpower10 


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21st Nov 2013 11:34

Cloud Accounting Software

Cloud really is the in-word at the moment - a year or so ago we would have said something was web-based if it existed as a web site or web application as opposed to a desktop application.

It does make sense though that users will move more and more away from traditional desktop applications in favour of cloud / web-based applications because of the enormous advantages that cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) offers over traditional solutions.

In today's multi-device world, people want the convenience of being able to access their software and data from any device, be it a mobile phone, table, laptop, or desktop computer.

John Dixon

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21st Nov 2013 12:28

Desktop packages and the cloud

Desktop packages can store all their data in the cloud for free using Skydrive, Google Drive, Dropbox or similar.

Desktop (with data in the cloud) can deliver a better user experience than web browser based applications. For instance, given the choice I do not think you would use Excel Web App if you had access to desktop Excel.

To me, the great advantage of web browser based applications is that it gives you true multi-user access. That works well with bookkeeping, especially where the accountant and client both want access to the data. Time will tell whether the model works well for other applications. After all, all those lovely apps on your smartphone and tablet don't run in a web browser, do they? And even the most ardent cloud fans use one piece of desktop software - the browser itself!

Philip Hodgson
VT Software

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21st Nov 2013 12:28

Profile of the companies sampled and sample size

These are interesting results, but it is really difficult to infer much from them without understanding more about the profile of the companies sampled and the overall sample size.

For a micro business with low volume simple transactions, I would expect the online offerings to score very well in terms of ease of use etc..

If however, your job is to create a post a large batch of invoices I might expect a desktop product to be easier to use (albeit perhaps by a more experienced user with more training).

I assume that the "recommend" % refers to a propensity to recommend the software to a friend or colleague.  If so - it looks very bad for Sage 50 and Quickbooks.

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21st Nov 2013 12:32

@ vtsoftware

I use VT, Moneysoft and BTC all with the data in the cloud using Dropbox. Works perfectly. The major stumbling block for me with going totally cloud based or hosted desktop etc is that when I'm on the train to London or up north for an hour or two I wouldn't be able to access my software and when I'm at a clients premises if there's no phone signal (which I find is more common than it should be due to metal structures, thick walls, being out in the countryside or just bad coverage by my mobile phone provider - 3) then I wouldn't be able to do any productive work, same can be said for when I'm abroad and want to do some work without seeking out an internet café, incurring significant data costs or paying hotel Wi-Fi rates). I can't always rely on a client having Wi-Fi. If I required multi-user access then that would definitely change things but until then I choose to enjoy best of both worlds. Having just entered 1,400 transactions on VT transaction+ I can't believe just how quick it was, unless I had a superfast broadband connection (I only have about 6-8mb currently) then cloud based software could never compete on speed.

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21st Nov 2013 12:59

Why all this fascination with 'The Cloud'?  To me its major flaw is its reliance on broadband, which is fallible.  For instance:

A couple of years ago we lost our office phone line and hence broadband for several days through no fault of our own (a contractor working in the street stuck his digger through the cable).  As we use deskbound software it was inconvenient but it didn't prevent us working.

More recently (2nd November) the phones and broadband failed for a large part of one road in Camberley (hardly in the sticks).  Still 19 days later the fault has not been fixed.  Can you imagine that happening to you if you were reliant on 'The Cloud'?

I prefer to sleep at night.

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By jotimms
22nd Nov 2013 08:27

Totally agree with Stephen Guy!

We lost our broadband connection for THREE WEEKS in October (something to do with "external interference" that nobody has really satsifactorily explained - or properly fixed!) and that has put me right off relying on cloud-based applications.

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21st Nov 2013 16:37

Some time ago I changed to moneysoft's Payroll Manager for payroll processing, largely as a result of the SSA rankings, and it was streets ahead of the software I was previously using. Surveys like these really do help in choosing. I'm glad to see that the two bookkeeping systems we generally recommend (one for cloud, one not) are both up there. VT is simply fabulous for the price, and Kashflow has always provided excellent customer service.

We are looking at an additional cloud offering and my somewhat negative initial reaction to the one we are currently trialling seems borne out by the relatively poor net promoter score. It looks like we will have to consider Freeagent instead as an alternative to KF.

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By chatman
21st Nov 2013 16:50

Need Web/Cloud Hybrids

I am extremely reliant on the cloud. I have lost my internet connection for a few hours a couple of times over the last week, and it is a nightmare. I wish we could have cloud programmes with a desktop interface that sync your work with the data on the web when an internet connection is available.

Recently, I was in a remote part of South America and had to do a payroll (yes, yes, bad planning, I know). I had access to an internet-connected computer, but no administrator rights to install Payroll Manager. The client's internet connection was down, so I had to log into my mums laptop in London, download the data from Dropbox, download and install Payroll Manager, do the payroll, upload the data file to dropbox and delete everything from my mum's computer.

That is why I wish we had programmes with desktop and web functionality combined.

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22nd Nov 2013 12:17

Further insights

While preparing benchmark reports for vendors in this category, a more detailed analysis of the figures has uncovered some interesting trends and quirks.

I’m posting a quick overview of these here to give readers a more rounded view of the results, and as a reminder that it’s not always the best approach to try and find the “best” software product in a particular category. A software purchase should be more about finding the best fit for your needs.

That said, we also think it's useful for both vendors and users to celebrate companies that achieve good satisfaction ratings from their users - the willingness of customers to recommend a product is one of the key measures that many leading software houses use internally.

Here are some of the factors influencing the SSA13 results that you should bear in mind:

Overall satisfaction levels are down in 2013 - this is probably because we focused the awards on AccountingWEB this year, rather than including members of our sister communities such as Business Zone, HR Zone and

Accountants are more critical of their accounts software than business users - This insight may be obvious to anyone who scrolls through Any Answers, but only emerged from a detailed comparison of user populations within the SME software category. Those companies that were rated the highest also had the highest concentrations of business users, while programs like QuickBooks, IRIS OpenBooks, Sage 50, Twinfield and Xero where accountants were in the majority typically gained ratings that were 15-20% lower. As well as having the biggest business user population, FreeAgent also had the biggest concentration among sub-£250k turnover respondents. FreeAgent clearly benefits from focusing its efforts on this distinctive customer group. Many accounting software vendors rely on accountants to get their software into the hands of small businesses, but those doing so have to accept that professional users are much more alert to any product or customer service weaknesses.

Cloud adoption levels are down by 20% - this finding does not chime with our anecdotal experiences during the year, but again stems from the shift in our sampling strategy this year. We think the statistical drop confirms the widely held view that accountants lag behind the wider business community in embracing the cloud - particularly when compared to cloud-friendly areas such as HR and CRM.

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02nd Dec 2013 16:07

Cloud Vs On Premise

Great article and also very interesting comments. 

The cloud vs on premise is a debate we are always having at PK Group. There are definitely times where the cloud can be an absolute life saver (chatman's comment shows this), but external influences can result in your entire cloud based operation shutting down. A hybrid system where Cloud software covers On Premise software's weaknesses (and vice versa) is something to strive for.

I am quite surprised to read that 'cloud adoption levels are down by 20%', I would've thought with all the progression in this industry that this would not be the case.

Thanks all,

PK Group

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