The other day, IRIS launched OpenSpace, a cloud based file repository aimed at the professional accounting market. AccountingWeb draws a direct comparison with DropBox:
IRIS OpenSpace will take on rival products on two fronts. The need for a more secure way to share files than email and the move to paperless practice processes has encouraged developers including DocuSoft, Lindenhouse, CCH, Digita and PracticeWEB to develop secure online portals – for a price.
At the other end of the market, there are a range of free tools that allow you to share and collaborate on electronic documents, such as Dropbox, iCloud & Google Docs.
“But these are consumer services and do not satisfy a professional accountant’s requirements for security and data integrity,” [Phill] Robinson argued.
Sorry to say but making the Dropbox comparison invites trouble.
The sign up process is confusing. On the announcement page there is a box to complete that says the company (i.e. a sales rep) will call. The registration page link is broken. But on the OpenSpace account creation page there is a different form that implies (near) instant access. However, that form itself is confusing because it asks for a customer reference number. If you are not an IRIS customer then you have to contact the company to get your free space. In the reported piece from AccountingWeb, the company said:
Robinson denied that the no-fee approach was an attempt to wrest the market away from rival paid-for products. “I wouldn’t say this is a land grab, but we want to make sure we get people using our Cloud products,” he said. “This is an onramp to products of the future – if people use OpenSpace, we feel they’ll continue with us in future.”
I find Robinson’s statement hard to believe. Opening the service to all comers is a land grab. But the no fee approach only applies to the storage of 1GB of data. I can chew that up very quickly. In order to be on par with other services, IRIS needs to offer a minimum of 2GB. It would be even better if there was a referral mechanism in place that rewards referrals. Pricing above 1GB is not disclosed up front so in reality, while I might wish to try the service, there are barriers and unknowns that leave me doubtful.
Much is made of the need for business services to be more like a consumer experience. IRIS is certainly trying but my own sense is that they’ve not gone far enough. In this day and age it should be enough to provide a business name and email address to gain access. I should not have to go through additional hoops in order to either access or understand what a service is offering me. If IRIS needs a customer reference number to tie back to an account then fine but to require extra steps if I am not an existing customer is a turn off.
But where IRIS has gone way off the track is in claiming that:
Unlike email and consumer cloud platforms, such as Dropbox, IRIS OpenSpace is specifically designed with accountants in mind. The system automatically alerts clients when new items, such as draft tax returns or financial statements, are ready for their review or input. Likewise, clients can use the portal to upload bank statements, payroll slips, receipt scans and trial balances.
Dropbox automatically alerts when new files are uploaded so to make the comparison and then explain in these terms is wrong. I’d be far more impressed if IRIS talked about the ways in which it helps users collaborate, how it segments folders and files for different practice groups, how documents are encrypted for secure transmission and how that’s all neatly wrapped up in a redundant and secure data center.
I give IRIS a lot of credit for launching this much needed service. However, in doing so in the way they have, IRIS has un-necessarily fallen into the void between consumer and business. The issues I raise are easily fixed but I have to wonder why they were not thought through more thoroughly prior to the launch.