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Sub-£1,000 version of Exchequer a serious alternative to Sage? By David Carter

8th Sep 2007
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There’s a new competitor in the entry-level accounting software market which could give Sage a run for its money.

Exchequer Enterprise has long been a favourite accounts package in the mid-range SME market, regularly winning industry prizes. We’ve reviewed Exchequer in detail in the AccountingWEB Software Lab Tests, where it scored high ratings for its "Vursprung durch Technik" engineering quality.

Exchequer is pleasantly easy to use, and many people – me included – have thought that there should be an entry-level version for small and startup businesses. If users are successful and outgrow the entry-level version, they can then smoothly move up to the bigger enterprise version with very little disruption. This would be a big advantage over Sage, where if you outgrow Line 50 you have to upgrade to a completely different product.

Of course, many mid-range suppliers have had the same idea, and we have had cut-down entry level versions from suppliers such as Access Accounting, with its Dimensions Lite product.

But the problem with these entry-level versions is: who is going to sell it? Mid-range SME packages are sold through resellers who aren’t really interested in the small margins on low-priced products. Entry-level versions of successful mid-range products, no matter how good they are, tend to wither on the vine because there’s no-one to sell them.

The IRIS connection – end to end accounting
Enter IRIS, who purchased Exchequer in 2002. In addition to Exchequer, IRIS already has 15,000 users of its successful tax, accounts production and practice suite package, plus the payroll business it acquired from Freeway.

IRIS had a bright idea. Why not create an entry-level version of Exchequer and get its 15,000 accountants to sell it?

Recently they treated me to their grand vision of the future. There are many components of an accounting system – business accounting, accounts production, payroll and on-line filing with HMRC. At the moment accountants have to bolt together the different components from different suppliers.

Wouldn’t it be easier to buy all the components from a single supplier, who has integrated them together into one big “end-to-end” accounting system?

Since 2002 IRIS has been doing a lot of work integrating their different products. For example, the team showed me a trial balance in Iris, then double clicked on it to see the constituent transactions – in Exchequer.

And I have to say, this big idea seems to me to make a lot of sense.

Iris Accounts Office
This new entry-level version of Exchequer Enterprise is called IRIS Accounts Office. In fact, it was announced a year ago, and was reviewed by Nigel Harris, but the product branding tended to get confused with the company's IRIS Accounts Online rental product, an Exchequer variant adapted to compete against software as a service (SaaS) applications.

SaaS stirs great passion in the breasts of our technically minded readers, total apathy in everyone else. Perhaps recognising this, IRIS has now priced Accounts Office as an outright purchase comparable with Sage. Prices are:

Core Ledgers.....£450
...(includes live link to Excel, plus the Visual report writer)
Stock and Orders...£180
Purchase Orders...£180

This is for a single user, single company system.

Additional users...£180 (maximum 3 concurrent users)
Additional companies...£180

These prices seem very reasonable. IRIS points out that they include 12 months support, plus upgrades. If you are comparing with Sage, you should add a year’s maintenance to the cost of Sage, which only comes with 30 days initial support.

The key limiting factor is the number of users. If you want more than three users, you will have to upgrade to big Exchequer.

But they've got to change the name!
As a concept, I think this could all work, and that IRIS really could turn out to be a serious competitor in the entry-level marketplace to Sage. As a first step, I’ll be doing some detailed tests on this new cut-down version of Exchequer and will report back in a week or two.

But surely, if this package is going to have any chance to succeed against the mighty Sage, IRIS has got to change the name? Among business users, the Exchequer brand name is widely known and respected. None of them has ever has heard of IRIS, a package used only by accountants. Leaving out the Exchequer name and calling it IRIS Accounts Office is a guaranteed fast-track to oblivion.


Replies (3)

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By David Carter
14th Sep 2007 10:00

different product, different offices
Just to clarify last year's Payroll cockup issue, I think that Iris payroll support comes from Datchet or somewhere. However, the support for this product comes from the Exchequer offices in Bournemouth.

Bournemouth's track record is pretty good, so I think it's unfair to tar Exchequer with the same brush.

Thanks (0)
By AnonymousUser
13th Sep 2007 14:30

After the PAYE debacle in 2006 I would not touch an IRIS product with a barge pole. At a time when accountants needed to file EOY papers on line IRIS's software went pear shaped, This company proved that it just could not care less and refused to take responsibility. Their service was appalling. There were many many wasted hours trying to telephone help lines, only to be cut off after 4 hours of waiting day after day. There had been many troubles with the package during 2005/06 and I had to make many calls. Finally I was told that there were so many problems with the year's package that they were not going to sort it out because they needed to work on the next year/EOY programme which they got completely wrong anyway. They lost me as a customer after 8 or so years of Payroll, plus a great many others I understand. I shall stick to Sage and Quickbooks.

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By Paul Scholes
13th Sep 2007 16:15

A bit of balance WG
I swear I'll never talk to Barclays online help desk again, but I still use Barclays and, bless them the local manager has passed me 10 new clients in the past 2 years. Then there was that mess over my Virgin mobile top up, here I come BA.

Yes the Iris PAYE cockup last year was a shambles but they have apologised and put extra resources in and I, for one, had no problems this year. The stick with which a number of people still beat Iris over this surely must have snapped or rotted by now....or maybe WG keeps his waxed & polished ready for action?

I have used IRIS for practically everything "client" for 15 years and whilst not perfect they do take notice when things go wrong and have treated me very well.

The Exchequer suite is excellent and, even though I have yet to evaluate it, the new product discussed here leave me in no doubt that I will be moving clients to it.

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