Largely as a result of a general thumbs down by the SaaS vendor community for its pay to play effort, AccountingWeb organized a ‘fringe’ event at the Business Cloud Summit. John Stokdyk provides his interpretation of proceedings. There are some interesting observations:
Whatever other commentators say, accounting software functionality is still important to practitioners. If they are going to shift themselves and clients from tried and tested programs, they will demand mature applications that match up on features and functionality right down to mundane things such as data entry.
This is nonsense. If it were true then we’d never see any innovation. It is a convenient backstop for sloppy thinking. I accept this may be what AW hears but it doesn’t prevent it being rubbish. Or – as one attendee told me: “Accountants are not very bright.” What AW misses time and again is the simple fact that it is NOT accountants who are leading the charge but clients. If those same clients were unhappy with SaaS offerings then the industry would shrivel and die. The reverse is happening. It is roaring ahead. However, that’s not to say the profession should be avoided. Far from it. In the right circumstances they are marvellous advocates.
Having learned a particular accounting system – often recommended to them by their accountant – clients are reluctant to consider newer alternatives. Cloud accounting developers would grow more quickly by concentrating on start-up accountancy firms and new businesses than by trying to convert existing desktop software users from their current systems, the accountants advised.
[My emphasis added.] One attendee complained to me that invited practitioners were not particularly amenable to a ‘cloud’ story. Over the years I’ve consistently said that the profession is at risk. It is often out of step with business reality, reluctant to change while living in the deluded belief that clients don’t know what’s best for them. Contrast that with the ongoing desire for professionals to have a dialogue with clients. But on what basis?
The attitude expressed in the above paragraph is exactly that which will get professionals fired. And rightly so. It’s already happening. Equally, it is indicative of a mindset that has lost touch with the fact there are choices today that barely existed three years ago. However, professionals express specific concerns the industry is quietly addressing. When they get certain issues straight for everyone then we will see a very different landscape. Check back in six months.
On those occasions when I’ve been asked my view about approaching professionals I’ve always said the same thing: tell them two things:
- Your clients are going to make choices for you
- We will help you provide a better and differentiated service
When a professional is convinced of those two messages, great things happen. It is no co-incidence that Xero has managed to go from almost nothing to 4,000+ paying customers in the UK the last year. Another comment:
To a man, none of the four accountants who participated in AccountingWEB’s fringe meeting at the Business Cloud Summit reported that clients were pushing for “Cloud” functionality.
I’m not surprised. It’s not long ago that some vendors were less than happy with me for ‘inventing’ SaaS/On-demand/Cloud or SOC. Tech is a fashion game and right now the nom du jour is ‘cloud.’ It’s a wonderful piece of invented marketing pioneered by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, the SaaS industry’s PT Barnum and master of press manipulation. Its fluffy, cuddly ‘feel’ works well for the industry. Today, every man and his dog wants a piece out of it as they see the hysterical hype translating into money that can be extracted from every actor in the game. AccountingWeb is no different and neither are the vendors who believe it represents a good opportunity to pitch a better gilded message.
Unfortunately, the hype is hitting road blocks. Scratch below the surface and you could easily be forgiven for thinking anything that moves can be shoved into the Internet cloud. Maybe in my lifetime. Just. In the meantime, potential users at every level are confused and bemused.
There is no question in my mind that the SaaS industry holds the potential to deliver breakthrough value. It is way beyond a cost argument. However, the industry has been and remains poor at understanding how to match marketing to customer (and here I include professionals) needs.
As a closer, if SaaS is in the implied trouble the fringe meeting report suggests then what the heck was I witnessing at the same building where 400+ attendees packed out the Business Cloud Summit venue? Oh yes – not many accountants in THAT audience.