Dim witted cloud confusion

by admin on December 3, 2009

in Cloud Computing/SaaS

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

David Terrar December 3, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Dennis,
As you know I was one of the vendors in the room. I just cannot see how John can draw his conclusions for 2 reasons:

1. There were 4 specifically invitd accountants. No practice that has converted from Sage or QuickBooks to one of the new SaaS accounting players were invited. In addition no ultra conservative practice who wouldn’t touch the cloud with a barge pole was there to give the contrarian view.

2. We vendors weren’t allowed to sell in the discussion – those were the rules of engagement. There was lot that could have been said to all of the points raised by the accountants yesterday. See my comments over on John’s post

I definitely disagree with the vendor who told us both that “accounatants are not very bright”. There are plenty of smart and innovative accountants and practices. However, most are very conservative, take the line of least resistance and stick with the status quo. We vendors need to articulate the value they get from SaaS in simple business terms, but spend more time explaining how a SaaS approach can help them work with and collaborate with their clients in a different way. It comes down to cost and value a always.

One of the really ironic things about yesterday was several of the accountants bemoaning the effort they put in to training their clients on Sage and QuickBooks on a regular basis, and then they still get it wrong and have to deal with all of the transaction errors. Maybe sticking with something tried and trusted isn’t such good idea after all?

David Terrar December 3, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Dennis,As you know I was one of the vendors in the room. I just cannot see how John can draw his conclusions for 2 reasons:1. There were 4 specifically invitd accountants. No practice that has converted from Sage or QuickBooks to one of the new SaaS accounting players were invited. In addition no ultra conservative practice who wouldn't touch the cloud with a barge pole was there to give the contrarian view.2. We vendors weren't allowed to sell in the discussion – those were the rules of engagement. There was lot that could have been said to all of the points raised by the accountants yesterday. See my comments over on John's postI definitely disagree with the vendor who told us both that "accounatants are not very bright". There are plenty of smart and innovative accountants and practices. However, most are very conservative, take the line of least resistance and stick with the status quo. We vendors need to articulate the value they get from SaaS in simple business terms, but spend more time explaining how a SaaS approach can help them work with and collaborate with their clients in a different way. It comes down to cost and value a always. One of the really ironic things about yesterday was several of the accountants bemoaning the effort they put in to training their clients on Sage and QuickBooks on a regular basis, and then they still get it wrong and have to deal with all of the transaction errors. Maybe sticking with something tried and trusted isn't such good idea after all?

Anonymous December 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I am beginning to wonder if AccountingWeb have stopped reporting the news and have now moved into “reporting” what they have created. To base anything on such small numbers is misleading at best.

StuartJones December 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I am beginning to wonder if AccountingWeb have stopped reporting the news and have now moved into "reporting" what they have created. To base anything on such small numbers is misleading at best.

Julian Shaw December 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I was one of the vendors. I have to say I’m falling in between the two camps here.

DT is correct in what he’s saying. But I’m not quite so down on John’s conclusions. Which is me equivocating I know.

The conclusions John makes are pretty good taken from the actual session itself. Of course functionality is important. That’s a given as far as I’m concerned. And it is hard to get clients to change.

Where it is wrong in giving the impression that this is the be-all and end-all. And of course that’s very misleading. It will create a discussion of course!

DT raised the point in the session that “converted” accountants were not present. To be fair this was conceded by Andy from Sift at the time, and the original point was to have accountants who were not pro-cloud (not anti-).

However, what DT says is absolutely spot on. Having a broader range would have been better. I reckon it would have been really interesting to hear a discussion between a convert and one of the accountants present. In a way that would have been even better than allowing us to put our hands up and say “we do that”.

Julian Shaw December 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

I was one of the vendors. I have to say I'm falling in between the two camps here. DT is correct in what he's saying. But I'm not quite so down on John's conclusions. Which is me equivocating I know. The conclusions John makes are pretty good taken from the actual session itself. Of course functionality is important. That's a given as far as I'm concerned. And it is hard to get clients to change. Where it is wrong in giving the impression that this is the be-all and end-all. And of course that's very misleading. It will create a discussion of course!DT raised the point in the session that "converted" accountants were not present. To be fair this was conceded by Andy from Sift at the time, and the original point was to have accountants who were not pro-cloud (not anti-). However, what DT says is absolutely spot on. Having a broader range would have been better. I reckon it would have been really interesting to hear a discussion between a convert and one of the accountants present. In a way that would have been even better than allowing us to put our hands up and say "we do that".

Alan Wright December 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Whoever said “Accountants are not very bright.” can’t be the sharpest knife in the draw themselves to make such a sweeping generalisation (Go on Dennis spill the beans). I suggest you start a rollcall of accountants who are clearly bright – I propose Pacioli for his contribution to part of the prerequisite toolset for a modern capitalist economy, only bettered by the person who came up with tokens of value we like to call money.

Alan Wright December 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Whoever said “Accountants are not very bright.” can't be the sharpest knife in the draw themselves to make such a sweeping generalisation (Go on Dennis spill the beans). I suggest you start a rollcall of accountants who are clearly bright – I propose Pacioli for his contribution to part of the prerequisite toolset for a modern capitalist economy, only bettered by the person who came up with tokens of value we like to call money.

David Terrar December 3, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Dennis,
As you know I was one of the vendors in the room. I just cannot see how John can draw his conclusions for 2 reasons:

1. There were 4 specifically invitd accountants. No practice that has converted from Sage or QuickBooks to one of the new SaaS accounting players were invited. In addition no ultra conservative practice who wouldn't touch the cloud with a barge pole was there to give the contrarian view.

2. We vendors weren't allowed to sell in the discussion – those were the rules of engagement. There was lot that could have been said to all of the points raised by the accountants yesterday. See my comments over on John's post

I definitely disagree with the vendor who told us both that “accounatants are not very bright”. There are plenty of smart and innovative accountants and practices. However, most are very conservative, take the line of least resistance and stick with the status quo. We vendors need to articulate the value they get from SaaS in simple business terms, but spend more time explaining how a SaaS approach can help them work with and collaborate with their clients in a different way. It comes down to cost and value a always.

One of the really ironic things about yesterday was several of the accountants bemoaning the effort they put in to training their clients on Sage and QuickBooks on a regular basis, and then they still get it wrong and have to deal with all of the transaction errors. Maybe sticking with something tried and trusted isn't such good idea after all?

StuartJones December 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I am beginning to wonder if AccountingWeb have stopped reporting the news and have now moved into “reporting” what they have created. To base anything on such small numbers is misleading at best.

Julian Shaw December 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I was one of the vendors. I have to say I'm falling in between the two camps here.

DT is correct in what he's saying. But I'm not quite so down on John's conclusions. Which is me equivocating I know.

The conclusions John makes are pretty good taken from the actual session itself. Of course functionality is important. That's a given as far as I'm concerned. And it is hard to get clients to change.

Where it is wrong in giving the impression that this is the be-all and end-all. And of course that's very misleading. It will create a discussion of course!

DT raised the point in the session that “converted” accountants were not present. To be fair this was conceded by Andy from Sift at the time, and the original point was to have accountants who were not pro-cloud (not anti-).

However, what DT says is absolutely spot on. Having a broader range would have been better. I reckon it would have been really interesting to hear a discussion between a convert and one of the accountants present. In a way that would have been even better than allowing us to put our hands up and say “we do that”.

Alan Wright December 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Whoever said “Accountants are not very bright.” can't be the sharpest knife in the draw themselves to make such a sweeping generalisation (Go on Dennis spill the beans). I suggest you start a rollcall of accountants who are clearly bright – I propose Pacioli for his contribution to part of the prerequisite toolset for a modern capitalist economy, only bettered by the person who came up with tokens of value we like to call money.

Geoff December 4, 2009 at 5:50 am

Unbelievable! I reference PT Barnum in my post tomorrow! I did not see this post before I wrote it! He’s the man.

Geoff December 4, 2009 at 8:50 am

Unbelievable! I reference PT Barnum in my post tomorrow! I did not see this post before I wrote it! He's the man.

christanner December 4, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Valid comments on the lack of powerful and fast data entry screens in SaaS apps though, an issue we've been working on behind the scenes for a while now. Web based accounting software still has a way to go if you have a large pile of invoices to rattle through on behalf of a client (a very different need from the business owner who needs a very simple step by step operation).

Anonymous December 4, 2009 at 10:00 am

Valid comments on the lack of powerful and fast data entry screens in SaaS apps though, an issue we’ve been working on behind the scenes for a while now. Web based accounting software still has a way to go if you have a large pile of invoices to rattle through on behalf of a client (a very different need from the business owner who needs a very simple step by step operation).

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Chris,
Some of the SaaS vendors sitting around the Fringe meeting table who deal with larger customers, or practices who use online accounting to provide a bureaux/shoebox style sevice to their customers have addressed that point – to provide fast multi line transaction entry where you skip through the fields using tab and return keys like you would on a desktop application (with no use of mouse or buttons). It can be done, but you have to design for it.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm

There’s a company out of Vancouver BC called Bean Services you may want to check out. They have automated data entry for A/P services using optical character recognition software combined with workflow mgt. It could be something you could use.

Their point is that most invoices in a business are recurring. Therefore, the software can learn and understand the majority of your invoices (for form and content) right out of the gate.

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I think Mr Donut is a very good name for you. It’s a shame you want to turn this discussion in to a sales opportunity quite so overtly.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I don’t work for, and have no affiliation with, Bean Services. I DO have an affiliation with Vancouver.

I’m a bit surprised by your reaction though. Weren’t you recently lamenting the constraints around capitalizing on these ‘teachable moments’ regarding specific Saas solutions during your recent forum at AccountingWEB?

I realize the baggage that Sales carries after years of Enterprise software selling shenanigans, but in my view, for Saas to succeed Sales has to stop being considered a dirty word.

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I think you’ve misunderstood me somewhat. I’ve considered myself a professional sales and marketing guy for over 30 years, and sales is definitely not a dirty word – no commercial business, or even 1 person band contractor can survive without it. Would love to know who you are, but anonymous postings like this one always raise a bit of suspicion with me?

Geoff December 4, 2009 at 5:50 am

Unbelievable! I reference PT Barnum in my post tomorrow! I did not see this post before I wrote it! He's the man.

christanner December 4, 2009 at 10:00 am

Valid comments on the lack of powerful and fast data entry screens in SaaS apps though, an issue we've been working on behind the scenes for a while now. Web based accounting software still has a way to go if you have a large pile of invoices to rattle through on behalf of a client (a very different need from the business owner who needs a very simple step by step operation).

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Chris,
Some of the SaaS vendors sitting around the Fringe meeting table who deal with larger customers, or practices who use online accounting to provide a bureaux/shoebox style sevice to their customers have addressed that point – to provide fast multi line transaction entry where you skip through the fields using tab and return keys like you would on a desktop application (with no use of mouse or buttons). It can be done, but you have to design for it.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm

There's a company out of Vancouver BC called Bean Services you may want to check out. They have automated data entry for A/P services using optical character recognition software combined with workflow mgt. It could be something you could use.

Their point is that most invoices in a business are recurring. Therefore, the software can learn and understand the majority of your invoices (for form and content) right out of the gate.

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I think Mr Donut is a very good name for you. It's a shame you want to turn this discussion in to a sales opportunity quite so overtly.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I don't work for, and have no affiliation with, Bean Services. I DO have an affiliation with Vancouver.

I'm a bit surprised by your reaction though. Weren't you recently lamenting the constraints around capitalizing on these 'teachable moments' regarding specific Saas solutions during your recent forum at AccountingWEB?

I realize the baggage that Sales carries after years of Enterprise software selling shenanigans, but in my view, for Saas to succeed Sales has to stop being considered a dirty word.

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I think you've misunderstood me somewhat. I've considered myself a professional sales and marketing guy for over 30 years, and sales is definitely not a dirty word – no commercial business, or even 1 person band contractor can survive without it. Would love to know who you are, but anonymous postings like this one always raise a bit of suspicion with me?

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Chris,Some of the SaaS vendors sitting around the Fringe meeting table who deal with larger customers, or practices who use online accounting to provide a bureaux/shoebox style sevice to their customers have addressed that point – to provide fast multi line transaction entry where you skip through the fields using tab and return keys like you would on a desktop application (with no use of mouse or buttons). It can be done, but you have to design for it.

Mr_Donut December 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm

There's a company out of Vancouver BC called Bean Services you may want to check out. They have automated data entry for A/P services using optical character recognition software combined with workflow mgt. It could be something you could use.Their point is that most invoices in a business are recurring. Therefore, the software can learn and understand the majority of your invoices (for form and content) right out of the gate.

David Terrar December 4, 2009 at 10:41 pm

I think Mr Donut is a very good name for you. It's a shame you want to turn this discussion in to a sales opportunity quite so overtly.

Mr_Donut December 4, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I don't work for, and have no affiliation with, Bean Services. I DO have an affiliation with Vancouver.I'm a bit surprised by your reaction though. Weren't you recently lamenting the constraints around capitalizing on these 'teachable moments' regarding specific Saas solutions during your recent forum at AccountingWEB? I realize the baggage that Sales carries after years of Enterprise software selling shenanigans, but in my view, for Saas to succeed Sales has to stop being considered a dirty word.

David Terrar December 5, 2009 at 12:28 am

I think you've misunderstood me somewhat. I've considered myself a professional sales and marketing guy for over 30 years, and sales is definitely not a dirty word – no commercial business, or even 1 man band contractor can survive without it. Would love to know who you are?

Geoff D. December 5, 2009 at 1:06 am

whoops

David Terrar December 5, 2009 at 9:40 am

Cheers Geoff – now I know who you are, I'm very happy to check out Bean Services of Vancouver to see what they do (and indicee.com looks interesting too).

Geoff D. December 9, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Thanks David. Let me know if you have any questions you'd like answered.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 10:06 pm

whoops. Updated my profile, but may not take effect right away.

Geoff D. December 4, 2009 at 10:06 pm

whoops. Updated my profile, but may not take effect right away.

David Terrar December 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

Cheers Geoff – now I know who you are, I’m very happy to check out Bean Services of Vancouver to see what they do (and indicee.com looks interesting too).

David Terrar December 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

Cheers Geoff – now I know who you are, I'm very happy to check out Bean Services of Vancouver to see what they do (and indicee.com looks interesting too).

Geoff D. December 9, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Thanks David. Let me know if you have any questions you’d like answered.

Geoff D. December 9, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Thanks David. Let me know if you have any questions you'd like answered.

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