EXCLUSIVE: ICAEW and three industry groups to work out SaaS/cloud standards

by admin on December 17, 2009

in Cloud Computing/SaaS

saas front page

I’ve kept away from AccountingWeb the last few days even though I get the updates on email. But this morning’s latest set require a response. In a comment to a post about discussing SaaS/cloud with clients, David Terrar says:

It is no coincidence that in the last 9 months the Intellect SaaS Group, the BASDA’s Cloud SIG and a third vendor community EuroCloud UK have all been formed.  There is obvious overlap and all three groups are trying to address the clear market demand for providing better information on SaaS and the Cloud to business in all its forms, and to demystify a topic that is too often described with technology jargon, when it should be explained in terms of the business benefits it can provide.  The 3 groups are trying to hit exactly the problem we are talking about here.  Furthermore,  Philip Wainewright, the chair of EuroCloud UK, myself as  the chair of Intellect SaaS Group, and BASDA’s Jairo Rojas met with Richard Anning , head of the ICAEW’s IT Faculty (as honest broker or independent arbiter) on Wednesday last week to discuss an excellent initiative suggested by Dennis Howlett.  The aim is for the 3 vendor groups to work together with the Institute representing their membership on the buy side of the equation to address topics like security (on various levels from data to single sign on  to APIs) to see if we can agree best practice or some form of quality mark that all of the vendors could sign up to.  What we don’t want is some complicated set of standards of the kind that OASIS and the OMG and other groups are talking about – whatever we agree has to be practical, and add value for the buyer (not the vendor).  We have a number of initiatives that we are now working on, as well as making sure each group cooperates where possible and uses their resources on complimentary things.  Expect some specific announcements soon.

This was something I hinted at in this post but didn’t feel able to say anything until someone else came forward. The initial meeting about this occurred the day prior to Business Cloud Summit between myself, David and Richard Anning at Moorgate Hall. It arose out of a confluence of things I’ve seen occurring over the last few months – some here and some elsewhere. I laid out a business case for the development of standards which made sense to the others and it went from there. The following day, I bumped into Phil Wainewright and he was immediately in favour of such a move. That only left BASDA. I also saw Dave Turner who is deputy chair of the BASDA Cloud-SIG and he also jumped at the chance of something coming out of this. That then required Richard, David, Phil and Jairo Rojas (CEO BASDA) to get around a table and hammer something out. David’s comment confirms that has happened.

As you might imagine, I am 100% in favour of this initiative because, as I outlined to both David and Richard, this achieves several important objectives:

  1. Clarity for buyers and sellers about issues that are currently causing endless and at times futile debates
  2. An opportunity for ICAEW to act as honest broker between buyers and sellers, demonstrating leadership for both members (who may have concerns) and more broadly as a body that has the public interest in mind.
  3. A requirement that all trade groups act in concert to help develop business led standards that elevate discussions around technology to a level where business decision makers can readily understand what’s going on and relate it to their business needs and concerns.

I cannot predict what success, if any, the group will have. And it is early days. As we all know, in love affairs, the early days are those when we don’t necessarily focus as well as we should. However, I do know that Richard is one of the most respected people around UK technology with the added advantage of coming from a background as a CA. If anyone can pull these groups together then he is the man to do it. Dave, David and Phil are people I respect professionally across many dimensions. I’ve recently had open and useful conversations with Jairo who I believe gets the need to collaborate. I have no formal role in the process but I would expect to be advised on progress, chipping in my buy side views from time to time.

Whatever tech people might think about this – and those of us who’ve been around this particular block know the past failures on many similar topics – I believe that the approach, which is absolutely business focused, represents a sea change in the way responsible vendors are thinking.

Those who might naysay should think for one moment: this is the first time anything of this kind has been attempted. It is also the first time I’ve ever seen three trade groups unequivocally support the ideas I laid out with no hesitation. That is rare but absolutely in keeping with the high speed world of SaaS/cloud. Each of the players should be given full credit for reaching this important milestone.

Endnote: the image comes from the companion piece I contributed to ZDNet that talks to the issues of international standards.

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Anonymous December 17, 2009 at 10:31 am

This is in the spirit of “Never knowingly under opinionated”!

I just hope that the ICAEW applies higher “quality” and “ease of use” standards to this initiative than they have to the ICAEW Accreditation scheme http://www.icaew.com/index.cfm/route/112307/icaew_ga/en/Members/Products_and_services/Accreditation_scheme_software/Helpingyousourcesoftware

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 11:17 am

@stuart – I was directly involved with the initial discussions. That topic came up. It would be inappropriate of me to say more publicly at this stage but rest assured that ICAEW fully understands what it is getting into. It also understands I am an ‘equal opportunity flamethrower.’ They have a genuine shot at doing something that changes the game across multiple dimensions. It is theirs to foul up. If I have any say at all, then I’ll be doing my level best to ensure that it is pulled off.

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:18 am

Understand where you are coming from. The vendors see this as very different in style to ICAEW’s accounting software accreditation scheme, and it should be noted that this is intended to be a “not for profit” initiative – at least that’s the thinking at the outset.

Gary Turner December 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

Great idea which will have Xero’s full support.

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:19 am

Great news!

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 2:17 pm

@stuart – I was directly involved with the initial discussions. That topic came up. It would be inappropriate of me to say more publicly at this stage but rest assured that ICAEW fully understands what it is getting into. It also understands I am an 'equal opportunity flamethrower.' They have a genuine shot at doing something that changes the game across multiple dimensions. It is theirs to foul up. If I have any say at all, then I'll be doing my level best to ensure that it is pulled off.

StuartJones December 17, 2009 at 10:31 am

This is in the spirit of “Never knowingly under opinionated”!

I just hope that the ICAEW applies higher “quality” and “ease of use” standards to this initiative than they have to the ICAEW Accreditation scheme http://www.icaew.com/index.cfm/route/112307/ica…

StuartJones December 17, 2009 at 10:31 am

This is in the spirit of “Never knowingly under opinionated”!

I just hope that the ICAEW applies higher “quality” and “ease of use” standards to this initiative than they have to the ICAEW Accreditation scheme http://www.icaew.com/index.cfm/route/112307/ica…

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 11:17 am

@stuart – I was directly involved with the initial discussions. That topic came up. It would be inappropriate of me to say more publicly at this stage but rest assured that ICAEW fully understands what it is getting into. It also understands I am an 'equal opportunity flamethrower.' They have a genuine shot at doing something that changes the game across multiple dimensions. It is theirs to foul up. If I have any say at all, then I'll be doing my level best to ensure that it is pulled off.

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:18 am

Understand where you are coming from. The vendors see this as very different in style to ICAEW's accounting software accreditation scheme, and it should be noted that this is intended to be a “not for profit” initiative – at least that's the thinking at the outset.

Gary Turner December 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

Great idea which will have Xero's full support.

Gary Turner December 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

Great idea which will have Xero's full support.

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:19 am

Great news!

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:18 am

Understand where you are coming from. The vendors see this as very different in style to ICAEW's accounting software accreditation scheme, and it should be noted that this is intended to be a “not for profit” initiative – at least that's the thinking at the outset.

David Terrar December 17, 2009 at 11:19 am

Great news!

suluclac December 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Hey Dennis,

What is it the Romans precisely understood about aqueducts, the Chinese understood about water-clocks, the British understood about canals & steam engines & global maritime trade, the Americans understood about light bulbs & oil wells & production lines, and the world today needs to precisely understand about IT ?

Therein lays the secret.

suluclac December 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Hey Dennis,What is it the Romans precisely understood about aqueducts, the Chinese understood about water-clocks, the British understood about canals & steam engines & global maritime trade, the Americans understood about light bulbs & oil wells & production lines, and the world today needs to precisely understand about IT ? Therein lays the secret.

PearlSoftware December 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

It’s important that cost for vendor is realistic, in a world where user licences may not be more than £20 a month.

I also feel that good publicity outside the industry is critical, almost none of our clients give two hoots about what the ICAEW accreditation offers (even our accountant clients). They want something that works.

It is also essential these days where it’s perhaps too easy to build and promote a product, that solid standards are put in place to ensure that buyers have a trusted stamp of pre-evaluation (particularly for legislation heavy sectors like accounting). There is a real risk of too many glossy apps out there that don’t really do anything useful. Don’t let the market get clouded…

It will be a challenge coming up with standards that are meaningful to both the owner manager buyer and also the multi-seat enterprise customers, but we’re fully behind any developments.

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm

These are points well made but I hope that what confused buyers will understand is that there is a BIG, well respected organization that is taking their interests to heart. More important, I am aware there is a genuine fear about ‘what happens when something blows up.’ At least with some sort of standards in place, buyers will have confidence they can get their data. On the cost front, I cannot speak directly to that issue but I believe elsewhere David Terrar has mentioned the need to be inclusive and therefore at realistic cost to all vendors.

I’m sure ICAEW is well aware of the challenges but the good news is that in my initial approaches to the group reps, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. That’s a good place to start.

suluclac December 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Hey Dennis,

What is it the Romans precisely understood about aqueducts, the Chinese understood about water-clocks, the British understood about canals & steam engines & global maritime trade, the Americans understood about light bulbs & oil wells & production lines, and the world today needs to precisely understand about IT ?

Therein lays the secret.

PearlSoftware December 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

It's important that cost for vendor is realistic, in a world where user licences may not be more than £20 a month.

I also feel that good publicity outside the industry is critical, almost none of our clients give two hoots about what the ICAEW accreditation offers (even our accountant clients). They want something that works.

It is also essential these days where it's perhaps too easy to build and promote a product, that solid standards are put in place to ensure that buyers have a trusted stamp of pre-evaluation (particularly for legislation heavy sectors like accounting). There is a real risk of too many glossy apps out there that don't really do anything useful. Don't let the market get clouded…

It will be a challenge coming up with standards that are meaningful to both the owner manager buyer and also the multi-seat enterprise customers, but we're fully behind any developments.

PearlSoftware December 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

It's important that cost for vendor is realistic, in a world where user licences may not be more than £20 a month.

I also feel that good publicity outside the industry is critical, almost none of our clients give two hoots about what the ICAEW accreditation offers (even our accountant clients). They want something that works.

It is also essential these days where it's perhaps too easy to build and promote a product, that solid standards are put in place to ensure that buyers have a trusted stamp of pre-evaluation (particularly for legislation heavy sectors like accounting). There is a real risk of too many glossy apps out there that don't really do anything useful. Don't let the market get clouded…

It will be a challenge coming up with standards that are meaningful to both the owner manager buyer and also the multi-seat enterprise customers, but we're fully behind any developments.

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm

These are points well made but I hope that what confused buyers will understand is that there is a BIG, well respected organization that is taking their interests to heart. More important, I am aware there is a genuine fear about 'what happens when something blows up.' At least with some sort of standards in place, buyers will have confidence they can get their data. On the cost front, I cannot speak directly to that issue but I believe elsewhere David Terrar has mentioned the need to be inclusive and therefore at realistic cost to all vendors.

I'm sure ICAEW is well aware of the challenges but the good news is that in my initial approaches to the group reps, there wasn't a moment's hesitation. That's a good place to start.

dahowlett December 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm

These are points well made but I hope that what confused buyers will understand is that there is a BIG, well respected organization that is taking their interests to heart. More important, I am aware there is a genuine fear about 'what happens when something blows up.' At least with some sort of standards in place, buyers will have confidence they can get their data. On the cost front, I cannot speak directly to that issue but I believe elsewhere David Terrar has mentioned the need to be inclusive and therefore at realistic cost to all vendors.

I'm sure ICAEW is well aware of the challenges but the good news is that in my initial approaches to the group reps, there wasn't a moment's hesitation. That's a good place to start.

Jon Reed December 18, 2009 at 6:42 am

Clearly, any vendor agreement on interoperable standards, especially with terrain as vaguely understood as the cloud, would be a huge breakthrough. In the large enterprise/ERP space, we sorely need more of this type of vendor cooperation. If a success story emerges here, it will be instructive to many, and as you say, a big win for buyers over the typical over-marketed proprietary solutions that never play as nice as they claim to.

I think where I derive real inspiration here, however, is for the idea that an analyst is not necessarily just an opinion-maker, or a reporter, but perhaps a catalyst to take debate into constructive action. Talk about shaking things up! In some ways, this reminds me of what we’re trying to do with SAP Mentors – not whine and gripe about things we don’t like, but collaborate in ways that change things for the better. That’s the higher bar. But give me this kind of constructive activity over “who can write the most controversial blog post” anyday.

Jon Reed December 18, 2009 at 9:42 am

Clearly, any vendor agreement on interoperable standards, especially with terrain as vaguely understood as the cloud, would be a huge breakthrough. In the large enterprise/ERP space, we sorely need more of this type of vendor cooperation. If a success story emerges here, it will be instructive to many, and as you say, a big win for buyers over the typical over-marketed proprietary solutions that never play as nice as they claim to. I think where I derive real inspiration here, however, is for the idea that an analyst is not necessarily just an opinion-maker, or a reporter, but perhaps a catalyst to take debate into constructive action. Talk about shaking things up! In some ways, this reminds me of what we're trying to do with SAP Mentors – not whine and gripe about things we don't like, but collaborate in ways that change things for the better. That's the higher bar. But give me this kind of constructive activity over "who can write the most controversial blog post" anyday.

Phil Richards December 18, 2009 at 7:20 am

It is good to see so many encouraging comments for this powerful initiative.

As an experienced user/buyer of SAAS I think a set of minimum standards to which vendors could subscribe to, that are common accross any vendor worth considering, would have tremendous merit.

It might well scare a few vendors, but ones that are focussed on their potential buyers, I would have thought would be first at the table.

Personally, I think an ICAEW approved badge would help greatly, I note Pearl Softwares comments that ” none of our clients give two hoots…..they want something that works” and I think that is probably true, but very blinkered. New prospects dont know it works, they would be interetsed to see an Approved Badge. It would help your sale if I was your buyer.

Given the choice between a vendor with the standards, and one without, I think I would be hard pressed to choose the one without, it would not be worth the risk.

I have already made a few mistakes, and it cost both time, money and clients when it goes wrong. I feel that a standard would have reduced those mistakes, if I had applied it.

From the ICAEW point of view I could see how the idea certainly works in their favour as a respected authority in the profession, and like with any respected authority, there will always be those that scoff. The initiave will certainly have challenges, but ICAEW is well placed to meet those head on, and they have the experience of other initiaves to build on. This is certainly a service that they would be giving to the business community, the accounting profession, and indeed the vendors.

I look forward to developments….

Jon Reed December 18, 2009 at 6:42 am

Clearly, any vendor agreement on interoperable standards, especially with terrain as vaguely understood as the cloud, would be a huge breakthrough. In the large enterprise/ERP space, we sorely need more of this type of vendor cooperation. If a success story emerges here, it will be instructive to many, and as you say, a big win for buyers over the typical over-marketed proprietary solutions that never play as nice as they claim to.

I think where I derive real inspiration here, however, is for the idea that an analyst is not necessarily just an opinion-maker, or a reporter, but perhaps a catalyst to take debate into constructive action. Talk about shaking things up! In some ways, this reminds me of what we're trying to do with SAP Mentors – not whine and gripe about things we don't like, but collaborate in ways that change things for the better. That's the higher bar. But give me this kind of constructive activity over “who can write the most controversial blog post” anyday.

PhilRichards December 18, 2009 at 7:20 am

It is good to see so many encouraging comments for this powerful initiative.

As an experienced user/buyer of SAAS I think a set of minimum standards to which vendors could subscribe to, that are common accross any vendor worth considering, would have tremendous merit.

It might well scare a few vendors, but ones that are focussed on their potential buyers, I would have thought would be first at the table.

Personally, I think an ICAEW approved badge would help greatly, I note Pearl Softwares comments that ” none of our clients give two hoots…..they want something that works” and I think that is probably true, but very blinkered. New prospects dont know it works, they would be interetsed to see an Approved Badge. It would help your sale if I was your buyer.

Given the choice between a vendor with the standards, and one without, I think I would be hard pressed to choose the one without, it would not be worth the risk.

I have already made a few mistakes, and it cost both time, money and clients when it goes wrong. I feel that a standard would have reduced those mistakes, if I had applied it.

From the ICAEW point of view I could see how the idea certainly works in their favour as a respected authority in the profession, and like with any respected authority, there will always be those that scoff. The initiave will certainly have challenges, but ICAEW is well placed to meet those head on, and they have the experience of other initiaves to build on. This is certainly a service that they would be giving to the business community, the accounting profession, and indeed the vendors.

I look forward to developments….

Phil Richards December 18, 2009 at 7:20 am

It is good to see so many encouraging comments for this powerful initiative.

As an experienced user/buyer of SAAS I think a set of minimum standards to which vendors could subscribe to, that are common accross any vendor worth considering, would have tremendous merit.

It might well scare a few vendors, but ones that are focussed on their potential buyers, I would have thought would be first at the table.

Personally, I think an ICAEW approved badge would help greatly, I note Pearl Softwares comments that ” none of our clients give two hoots…..they want something that works” and I think that is probably true, but very blinkered. New prospects dont know it works, they would be interetsed to see an Approved Badge. It would help your sale if I was your buyer.

Given the choice between a vendor with the standards, and one without, I think I would be hard pressed to choose the one without, it would not be worth the risk.

I have already made a few mistakes, and it cost both time, money and clients when it goes wrong. I feel that a standard would have reduced those mistakes, if I had applied it.

From the ICAEW point of view I could see how the idea certainly works in their favour as a respected authority in the profession, and like with any respected authority, there will always be those that scoff. The initiave will certainly have challenges, but ICAEW is well placed to meet those head on, and they have the experience of other initiaves to build on. This is certainly a service that they would be giving to the business community, the accounting profession, and indeed the vendors.

I look forward to developments….

Anonymous December 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

The post and comments make excellent reading. I believe that SME’s in particular can benefit by SaaS/cloud. Anything that gives clarity and ensures suppliers are meeting minimum requirements through sensible standards gets my vote.

Jason Holden December 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I think that any industry that wants to add real credibility needs to have some sort of standard that has to be signed up to and adhered to.

I personally would like more than only the ICAEW to be involved, as I agree with Pearl, clients really do not care, not only that, what about those accountants who qualified with another body. In this regard I would like to see more of the accounting bodies getting involved together for once, that means ACCA, AIA, CIPFA, CIMA,IFA etc.

SaaS, like the accounting profession needs to set and maintain its own, possibly higher than current, standards, with a minimum set criteria that is clear and concise.

Most concerns surround security and ‘what if they go bust’ how do I get my data etc, so this would have to be a starting point.

Regarding the costs, this really would have to be low and not allowed to become some sort of quango.

Just my initial thoughts, as a user and avid SaaS/Cloud supporter.

dahowlett December 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

@jason – you are right on many fronts and of course the nature of this is such that compromise is inevitable. My ties are with ICAEW and as the largest body with which trade groups feel happy, it makes absolute sense.

There is no reason not to include ACCA/CIMA but then it’s doubtful there would be any real value since the buyers have mostly the same concerns whereas the vendors have sometimes competing agendas.

I was not of the view the industry alone would be capable of coming to agreement without all kinds of problem emerging. It has rarely if ever worked in the past. I was very much of the view that ICAEW could articulate the needs of business users far more accurately and work through with industry.

philipwoodgate December 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

The post and comments make excellent reading. I believe that SME's in particular can benefit by SaaS/cloud. Anything that gives clarity and ensures suppliers are meeting minimum requirements through sensible standards gets my vote.

philipwoodgate December 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

The post and comments make excellent reading. I believe that SME's in particular can benefit by SaaS/cloud. Anything that gives clarity and ensures suppliers are meeting minimum requirements through sensible standards gets my vote.

Jason Holden December 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I think that any industry that wants to add real credibility needs to have some sort of standard that has to be signed up to and adhered to.

I personally would like more than only the ICAEW to be involved, as I agree with Pearl, clients really do not care, not only that, what about those accountants who qualified with another body. In this regard I would like to see more of the accounting bodies getting involved together for once, that means ACCA, AIA, CIPFA, CIMA,IFA etc.

SaaS, like the accounting profession needs to set and maintain its own, possibly higher than current, standards, with a minimum set criteria that is clear and concise.

Most concerns surround security and ‘what if they go bust’ how do I get my data etc, so this would have to be a starting point.

Regarding the costs, this really would have to be low and not allowed to become some sort of quango.

Just my initial thoughts, as a user and avid SaaS/Cloud supporter.

Jason Holden December 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I think that any industry that wants to add real credibility needs to have some sort of standard that has to be signed up to and adhered to.

I personally would like more than only the ICAEW to be involved, as I agree with Pearl, clients really do not care, not only that, what about those accountants who qualified with another body. In this regard I would like to see more of the accounting bodies getting involved together for once, that means ACCA, AIA, CIPFA, CIMA,IFA etc.

SaaS, like the accounting profession needs to set and maintain its own, possibly higher than current, standards, with a minimum set criteria that is clear and concise.

Most concerns surround security and ‘what if they go bust’ how do I get my data etc, so this would have to be a starting point.

Regarding the costs, this really would have to be low and not allowed to become some sort of quango.

Just my initial thoughts, as a user and avid SaaS/Cloud supporter.

dahowlett December 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

@jason – you are right on many fronts and of course the nature of this is such that compromise is inevitable. My ties are with ICAEW and as the largest body with which trade groups feel happy, it makes absolute sense.

There is no reason not to include ACCA/CIMA but then it's doubtful there would be any real value since the buyers have mostly the same concerns whereas the vendors have sometimes competing agendas.

I was not of the view the industry alone would be capable of coming to agreement without all kinds of problem emerging. It has rarely if ever worked in the past. I was very much of the view that ICAEW could articulate the needs of business users far more accurately and work through with industry.

dahowlett December 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

@jason – you are right on many fronts and of course the nature of this is such that compromise is inevitable. My ties are with ICAEW and as the largest body with which trade groups feel happy, it makes absolute sense.

There is no reason not to include ACCA/CIMA but then it's doubtful there would be any real value since the buyers have mostly the same concerns whereas the vendors have sometimes competing agendas.

I was not of the view the industry alone would be capable of coming to agreement without all kinds of problem emerging. It has rarely if ever worked in the past. I was very much of the view that ICAEW could articulate the needs of business users far more accurately and work through with industry.

Anonymous December 22, 2009 at 5:14 am

FreeAgent Central support this important initiative which brings constructive discussion and hopefully clarity to the key issues to the benefit of consumers and businesses globally:
Enhanced Communication and Innovation
Speed and route to market
Reduced costs and savings
Security improvements
Virtual integration
Carbon reduction
Efficiencies

There are many benefits but at the moment these are lost in a cloud that for many is decidedly hazy! We welcome and support simplicity and ease of use for the customer and standards that are understood all round.

MichGreen December 22, 2009 at 8:14 am

FreeAgent Central support this important initiative which brings constructive discussion and hopefully clarity to the key issues to the benefit of consumers and businesses globally:Enhanced Communication and InnovationSpeed and route to marketReduced costs and savingsSecurity improvementsVirtual integrationCarbon reductionEfficienciesThere are many benefits but at the moment these are lost in a cloud that for many is decidedly hazy! We welcome and support simplicity and ease of use for the customer and standards that are understood all round.

MichGreen December 22, 2009 at 5:14 am

FreeAgent Central support this important initiative which brings constructive discussion and hopefully clarity to the key issues to the benefit of consumers and businesses globally:
Enhanced Communication and Innovation
Speed and route to market
Reduced costs and savings
Security improvements
Virtual integration
Carbon reduction
Efficiencies

There are many benefits but at the moment these are lost in a cloud that for many is decidedly hazy! We welcome and support simplicity and ease of use for the customer and standards that are understood all round.

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