Accounting 2.0 at CloudAve
In an ongoing series of reviews and analysis pieces, CloudAve will be taking a deep look into accounting software for the new world.
See the other posts at this tag
Introduction & Background
Fusion Accounts is another product borne out of necessity. A bunch of developers needing an accounting solution on which to run their business decided to create their own.
The parent company Stiona Software was formed 5 years ago by three people working in the banking industry. Initially concentrating on providing consultancy and bespoke development for high performance and high security applications, they later wrote their own invoice management software – which grew into Fusion Accounts.
Fusion is built by a team of 10 people – 5 technical, 2 sales, 1 administrative, 1 support and 1 test.
Fusion has two offerings – the free “lite” version and the full Fusion accounts. The lite version drops supplier invoicing, VAT returns, foregin currency and multiuser from the mix, making it, in effect, a simple invoicing application to go up against the many other offerings out there in this space.
The user experience
Fusion is an accountant-centric product. It’s primarily geared towards allowing accountants to manage their clients and this comes through in the user interface they have. Coming in from the accountants page we see a list of all the different entities the practice has under it’s control. The user then selects whichever business they want to log on to.
Fusion looks like it’s written by a team of developers and not aesthetes. Almost every part of the application looks like a Windows explorer page – with tabs and rows aplenty. Perhaps it’s simple and intuitive for accountants but I can’t help thinking that all but the most austere customer will be turned off at first glance.
The fact that it didn’t work in Firefox for me is another factor that points in the direction of Fusion not having a significant realistic user-centric focus. Large traditional vendors can (perhaps) force customers to use one particular browser or operating system, new start-ups cannot.
On the upside Fusion shows a high level of granular control of user permissions – almost every functional area can be turned on, or off, to different user roles – that’s something that is lacking in many SaaS accounting products.
Fusion has rudimentary stock control – a positive feature given the dearth of accounting applications that actually do this, however the stock level does not feed through to the balance sheet – in a true accounting application stock should ideally be valued and appear as an asset on the balance sheet. Having said that a number of traditional desktop software accounting applications also take this approach of disconnecting stock from the asset register.
One Feature that Fusion is most proud of is the multiple VAT registration. This allows a business to be VAT registered in multiple European locations and report individual VAT returns for those countries. With other applications, businesses having multiple registrations had to run separate instances of the application for each area, making reporting troublesome.
Fusion does not currently support the importation of bank statements (it’s coming – see below). By my mind this is a deal breaker, something I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of applications. The pain involved in manually entering every single transaction is such that personally I’d bypass an application until such time as it allowed at least a manual import of bank data. The reconciliation windows follows the Stiona approach towards user interface and provides a functional, if somewhat stark window.
The aged debtors report shows just how much control Fusion gives to the users – individual reporting periods can be set, along with the reporting date – I do however believe that this amount of control brings an unneeded complexity to the product – it’s yet another thing to work through in order to achieve a result.
The security issue
Not surprisingly given the banking background of the Fusion creators, security is front and centre on their application. Specifics they gave me included;
- Username and random further question authentication
- Account lockout
- Prevention of DOS attacks
- 128 bit SSL
- Data segregation
- Multiple physical application layers
- Encryption of sensitive data
It was pleasing to see an excel export option at almost every step along the Fusion path – they’re obviously aware that freedom to export a user’s own data is important. From the Transaction Audit Trail report users can access all of their transactional history and export it to excel.
The Fusion website indicates that Stiona offers a migration service from Sage and other applications – no details are given around the cost or detail level involved with this.
APIs – connecting the dots
Fusion doesn’t currently have a public API however they tell me they’re in the process of creating some integrations which would indicate the existence of one – albeit not public facing at this stage.
Major integration developments planned for this year are:
- Exposing Business layer as web services
- PayPal integration
- Integration with online banking to allow automatic reconciliation and payment processing
- CRM integration (probably SalesForce)
This doesn’t inspire me with confidence – there are a million functional areas a small business needs to cover, arguably CRM is one of them but I’m not sure if salesforce should be the offering of choice for a product at Fusion’s level.
In my mind there are three critical elements for an accounting application targeting small business – a deep understanding of accounting itself, an unrelenting approach towards user experience, and a smart go to market strategy. Stiona would appear to have the first element signed off, and they tell me they have experienced good success partnering with accountant firms as a market entry strategy – that only leave the middle, and perhaps most important element – that of user experience.
While some see it as mere window dressing, UX is the critical element that drives efficiency when using software – Stiona don’t cover this element and in my mind that’s a critical failing.