Look – no wires

I recall a visit some years ago to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert. As we passed the sound desk with cables snaking out in all directions looking like a reject from an early Dr Who set, my wife commented that it reminded her of our living room – at which point the sound operator – who had obviously overhead her remark – replied “you must have installed Sky TV!”

He was not wrong – we had. And the back of our tv cabinet didn’t look a lot different from the multi-tentacled sound desk. This was 20 or so years ago and with the addition of multi speaker cinema surround sound system, the cables emanating from my tv cabinet would do credit to a major tv outside broadcast set up.

Which in this age of cloud computing, smart technology and remote working is somewhat surprising. It was therefore great to try out the new Sonos Soundbar and supporting wireless speakers.

I had already been using Sonos to stream radio and my Ipad music and was keen to see how the system worked as a TV surround sound setup. The key word in this is “wireless” which apart from a digital connection to the tv set and the power cables, it is.

The rear speakers are connected wirelessly as is the optional sub-woofer. The sound quality is superb and whilst I am in no way claiming to be a hi-fi expert, I would have thought that it would be sufficient for most TV viewers.

Its not cheap- a full set up including sub could cost in excess of £1,500 – bit the build quality, sound and wireless convenience make it a justifiable luxury.


Forecast Cloudy for 2014

It has been some time since I updated my blog – due in no small part to pressures of work and other life incidents getting in the way. But I am glad to say that my muse has found me again and encouraged me to return to my keyboard.

During this enforced “sabbatical” from writing about matters Cloud, I have, however, been busy speaking at a number of events – Accountex back in June and more recently at the Iris World forums – more of which later. I have also been watching with fascination how this wonderful world of Cloud has been developing and taking on a life of its own. The developments over the last 6 months alone have been fascinating and begs the question what will 2014 bring.

The Cloud scene generally in the accounting world has transformed almost( and I emphasise almost) beyond recognition. Xero has moved ahead in leaps and bounds and full credit to Gary Turner and his team for establishing Xero as the defacto product for cloud users entering the market place. There is however a nagging doubt as to whether there is a danger in becoming the monopoly product in what is still a new market place at such at an early stage. The problem with having such a large hold on a particular sector is that after a period of time the only way to go is down – Sage is discovering this rather belatedly.

Back in 2011 (is it really 2 years?) there was a great deal of excitement over the news that Wolters Kluwer – the parent company of CCH – had acquired Twinfield. Surely this would vitalise the market place as other desktop providers hurried to secure their place in the cloud scramble by in turn acquiring other Cloud providers. Disappointingly very little actually happened after that. Although there is much talk about CCH and Twinfield product integration, not a lot appears to have happened as yet and I am waiting with interest to see what will transpire.

And then in the last two months there has been a seismic shift in the space. Firstly Iris have made a big play by announcing the launch of a number of cloud versions of their standard desk top offerings. They have launched over the past 12 months or so a number of products under their “open” brand including “Open Tax” which is probably the first mainstream tax product to be put into the cloud. The whole theme of their World Forum conference was their Cloud launch and they are surely setting a new standard for other desk top providers to follow.

And if that wasn’t enough there followed two further announcements – firstly the acquisition by Iris of Kashflow and in a stroke the two top providers of desktop software have each an established Cloud provider in their stable. Unlike CCH, it is obvious that Iris with their Cloud strategy are going to make much of this acquisition and it will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few months.

At virtually the same time – and not receiving quite as much publicity – came the announcement that HgCapital had acquired E-conomic. What make this so interesting is that HgCapital are the parent company of Iris which means that they now have in their stable two of the leading cloud products covering the whole SME spectrum from the micro to the macro. And what this also does is firmly establish the Cloud as a mainstream operating paradigm and takes it finally out of the specialist arena.

What will 2014 bring —- what is certain is that it will be fascinating.


England ….oh England!

I should state from the outset that my knowledge of sport is less than minimal and… usually…my interest therein is non -existant. When colleagues go into rapture about the latest football match, when to listen to them, one would think that they actually had taken part themselves, sends me to sleep quicker then the strongest valium.

And yet, there is something about the Test match and the Ashes series which grabs my interest and turns me into a nervous wreck…looking at the results every 5 minutes with trepidation and cursing out loud when England bat in a style that would disgrace my grandson’s nursery. But the joy and excitement when they win is something I can’t explain.

The opportunities for taking pride in one’s country are, unfortunately, few and far between. So any success is something to celebrate.

The fact that it is Cricket and the Ashes makes it that much sweeter.

Well done England!

The Cloud – a silver lining?

When I first became involved with Cloud Computing about 9 years ago (I didn’t realise it was called Cloud Computing then let alone SaaS!), Easycounting was one of the only internet accounting models arround.

The major issue then was convincing practitioners that the concept was valid and how it would increase efficiencies and improve client service by working more closely with live data etc. A difficult task which, after all this time, has not really become that much easier.

What is interesting is that there is now a plethora of SaaS providers with a variety of excellent and increasingly sophisticated products. The market has really opened up and the end user is spoilt for choice – if only he realised it.

Whilst this is excellent news for Cloud Computing and a major step to its acceptance as mainstream, it has exacerbated the sales problems for the providers – now, not only do they have to convince the end user of the validity of the concept they also have to prove the superiority of their own product.

A natural result of the increase in popularity perhaps – but double the work!

Cloud Computing – becoming mainstream?

A four page spread on Cloud Computing in last week’s Sunday Times magazine was an interesting event. The fact that a major piece of coverage was given to the concept was interesting in itself, but has Cloud Computing become sufficiently mainstream that a major newspaper is writing about it? Or is this the start of a process that will see more major coverage and thus more major take up as the bandwagon gains momentum (forgive any mixed metaphors which may have crept in there!)

Apart from pointing out the major advantages of working in the cloud, the article – to be fairly balanced, I am sure – also points out the perceived negatives; the principal one of which being the danger of the service provider going down and thus the enduser loosing data etc.

This is, of course, a valid point and one which is highlighted by the principal critics of cloud computing. The answer, in my view, is very straight forward – apart from the obvious that anyone embarking on a SaaS route needs to thouroughly research the market place and be satisfied with the credentials of the provider.

No – the answer to which I am referring is  comparing the position with the alternative. Take a typical SME that has half a dozen PC’s in the office – a server of sorts and possibly someone in the office with the grand title of IT manager whose main role is turning things on and off and ensuring that backups are taken every evening before the office shuts.

A familiar scenario, I am sure. How many times does it happen that either the backup doesnt work or – more seriously – noone notices that it hasn’t worked. It is sods law that the next time the server goes down it will be just after a failed backup (..that after all is one of the first rules of computing – disaster strikes when you are least prepared for it).

Doesn’t happen very often I hear you say – I bet it does. But the point is that the chances of that scenario becoming reality are a lot stronger than a wellfunded and organised Cloud provider going down with the loss of all data.

I appreciate that the above is an over simplication – but the point is that when critics point out possible negatives of Cloud Computing they should also compare with the alternatives.

ITV – not keeping up with the times

The news that ITV has sufferred from a loss in advertising revenues is not really surpriisng. Obviously, the current recession will have been a major factor but so would the change in in peoples viewing habits.

With an increase in the use of systems such as Sky +, viewers can now choose what to watch and when – and more importantly, skip through the numerous and somewhat annoying advert breaks. I am an unashamedly ardent tv viewer and I would estimate that 85% of my viewing is now at my time specification from programmes I have recordedon Sky+.

ITV and other commercial broadcasters need to change their financial model as “shift” viewing increases in popularity. I am not suggesting what that model should be – cleverer minds than mind need to address that – but change they must.

Online viewing will increase in popularity – viewers  have been enfranchised and can now decide what to watch and when to watch it – and TV providers need to adapt to survive.

Technology – then and now.

Looking back at over 30+years in the profession, it is fascinating to see how the technology has evolved over that time.

I remember when I was under articles (as it was quaintly called) that we weren’t allowed to use the one armed bandit type adding machines until we had passed our intermediate exams (no one seemed to be too concerned about costings and efficiancies in those days!). Whilst it might take longer to add up a column of figures – at least we learned how to add up a column of figures!.

I was on audit when I came accross, at a client, my first electronic calculator – big thing it was, about the size of DAB radio – and my colleagues and I spent many a happy hour seeing how it divided and multiplied (time budgets – what were those?).

It was in 1982 that I introduced our first computer to my fathers practice. This was after much heated discussion on why we should actually need one of these contraptions – I honestly can’t recall what my justification was at the time – and the result was my father saying that I could get one but he wanted nothing to do with it.

It was an Olivetti 3030 – the size of a desk and with a floppy disk as big as a dinner plate – but it did the job and we were soon producing our first sets of accounts – avoiding the need for accounts typists and all the other, now antiquated processes involved in compiling a set of accounts.

Our first PC’s had a massive capacity of 20 megabytes and very happily operated on Microsoft DOS (which is a shortened acronym for “Quick and Dirty Operating System”) and we used Word Perfect for our word processing and Lotus 123 for spreadsheets.

I remember the discussions at the time about the move to Windows and what that would involve. I had someone working for me who dealt with our Payrolls and administration and who had been a comptometer operator. Her keyboard speeds were so quick that the Windows operating system couldn’t keep up with her and there were many occasions that the system crashed as a result.

And from then on the growth has been exponential. The technology that we take for granted today would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. The extraordinary (and in some respects slightly frighteneing) growth in Internet use has changed the face of accounting beyond belief.

I suppose the arguments about cloud computing are not disismilar with the discussions I had with my now late Father when I first suggested getting a computer. I knew it would be more efficient but how do you prove that to someone who couldnt grasp the concept in the first place.

I wonder what the next 30 years will bring?

The "Why" of SaaS

I received a comment to a post that I had made on another site regarding the factors that would persuade someone to adopt SaaS as opposed to a standard onpremise solution.

The comment came from Charles Verrier and his comments so succinctly explain the “Why” of SaaS that they could almost be the definitive justification of the concept.

He starts off by explaining the reasons he chose an SaaS solution for his business:

Responsive supplier
SaaS providers tend to be the ‘new generation’, willing to be much more responsive and open with clients. If I have a question or issue with my software, I can email the developer and usually get a response the same day – not just a call back, but an actual change to the product.

Of course – as with most things – not all suppliers will be responsive but the ease with which amendments can be made is a plus.

He goes on:

Frequency of updates
With the traditional model (which is where I used to work), the release of a new version was a HUGE deal because it was so expensive and time consuming. Duplication and manufacture of CDs, new manuals, new packaging, vast amounts of testing on different versions of Windows, and checking how the new version interacted with our other products on all those different versions of Windows.

From the clients perspective – the upgrade was also expensive – deploying the new software to dozens of PCs across the office. All this meant we didn’t do an update until we had a ‘critical mass’ of fixes and changes that would justify all the hassle – and THAT meant months between updates.

With an on-line model – you don’t have to test operating system or other interaction issues, you don’t have distribution costs, and the client gets the update instantly with no effort. So updates can happen much faster and more frequently.

Speaks for itself really.

He continues:

Improved communication with my accountant
I give my accountant a direct login to my books. They can see what’s going on in my books in real time, from their desks, via a web-browser. No more “send your dataset on a CD please, and don’t do any more journals until I say so”.

excerpt from a phone conversation with an accounts senior recently during my year-end festivities..
Him: “Can you print me a report of how you came to that depreciation figure in the P&L?”
Me: “Why don’t you login and have a look yourself now? – here’s the link”
Him: (pause) “ooh – that’s nice..”

Of course and

Accessible from anywhere
I can update my timesheet, generate and email bills, update my expenses, and reconcile my bank account from any computer – at the client, at the office, or from home.

A major factor and one which the critics of SaaS seem to overlook.

Backups and Security
The SaaS provider is using a ‘proper’ IT infrastructure with good kit in secure data-centres. Most small businesses have a bunch of assorted servers in an old broom cupboard (actually, sometimes it still IS the broom cupboard!)

My data is backed up and secured in ways I could never hope to match, and someone else has the job of managing it all.

I don’t think there is anything else to add!

Saas – the problem with new concepts.

Nothing changes – the reason why we don’t like to try anything new!


SaaS – The green shoots of acceptance?

Three apparently disparate items caught my attention this week which makes me wonder whether, at long last  the inevitable acceptance of Online Accounting may just have started.

The first was Dennis Howlett’s interview with Andre K of Twinfield. It was an enlightening review of Twinfield’s experience in rolling out the product in the Netherlands. What he said was not new to the exponents of SaaS but it was interesting to hear him emphasise the advantages and importance of accountants being able to interact with their clients over live monthly data – and being on top of the figures and reporting so that planning can be done with up to date live information.

The second was an article in this weeks Accountancy Age, with “experts” discussing what firms can do to improve services to clients. One of the highlighted comments was from Ian Stumbler, a partner in Morris Owen. I quote: “No more should we be having to drive accross the country to sit in front a set of records for half an hour. It is far more efficient to look at the same data over the internet, talk over the phone and see what each other is doing.”

This comment, coming as it does from a practicing accountant, sums up the benefits of SaaS and taken in conjunction with Twinfield’s Netherland experience gives me hope that, albeit slowly, attitudes may be changing and accountants are starting to see the light.

The third, apparently unconnected, item was a report that Microsoft are discontinuing their Microsoft Money product. The quote from their offical blog says, in part, ” …“With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed.”

Is this the start of a process which will see the acceptance of SaaS as the norm…I certainly hope so.