Over on the Xero blog, co-founder Hamish Edwards is running series with the not-too-modest title “The Future of Accounting is Online”. In the first post Hamish introduces the first key theme for accountants to look for in a software solution “Access to the clients’ accounting systems and the ability to collaborate in real-time, anytime, anywhere and on the mobile”.
Hamish goes on to discuss the perils of desktop software, articulating his perspective that;
Old technology means accounting systems are installed on a PC in the office where the only people that can access important financial information is the person sitting in front of that PC. This tended to be the internal accounts person or the business owner. The inherent problem with this is that only one person can have access to the accounting system at any one time.
Now admittedly this is part one in a series, and future posts will no doubt focus on the real value that SaaS brings but still I believe the tone of the post is unfortunate. At the simplest, much of what he contends in the opening paragraph is incorrect. I’m no huge fan of desktop accounting software but it’s simply wrong to say that it always limits customers to one user access at a time. Multiuser capability for desktop accounting software has been available for years.
Similarly Hamish talks about the need for “files [to] get sent around, which means as soon as data is exported, it is out of date. One of the main problems here is the risk of data being lost. It also evokes Key Person Dependency, whereby only one person can have access to the ‘master copy’ at any one time.” Again this is generally incorrect – multiuser accounting software works across a network, doesn’t require a “master copy” and is no more reliant on a key person than any web app is with it’s admin permissions.
At the end of the post Hamish does redeem himself somewhat by touching on mobile access as a significant value-add that only web applications can deliver – but still this point is shadowed by the negative thinking of the rest of the post.
The crazy thing here is that Xero really is a joy. I run three businesses through it (as per my disclosure statement I receive Xero accounts gratis) and it’s not hyperbole to say that live bank feeds, the ability to collaborate with ones advisers, integrations with a myriad other services and all the other things that make SaaS special create what is a beautiful solution. But therein lies the rub – SaaS doesn’t need to sell itself based on the failings of desktop software, it’s way beyond that. SaaS can sell itself for those extra value things it brings – the things I call SaaS/v features.