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
Pearl has been building their business software solutions for a decade or so now but have only recently released their product to the market. In the time they’ve been developing they have built an incredibly comprehensive offering.Just this week Pearl release the 2.0 version as reviewed below.
Having focussed mainly on the development of the product with a few core business clients, the current customer base is smaller than perhaps one would expect. The launch of the Express version is set to bring Pearl to the wider market. Pearl is based in Bristol, UK, is privately funded with a core team of 7 staff, primarily developers.
Pearl has just updated its pricing and now starts out with a free offering which is interesting for a couple of reasons. Obviously it’s a customer introduction to the product and will encourage users to move up into the more fully-featured paid versions but more interestingly it’s a good way to get accountants on board who can use the product with their clients as a simple cashbook product with the added benefit of some basic CRM and calendaring functionality.
The user experience
Pearl has an impressive range of functionality. As detailed later it’s available, in its bells-and-whistles option, e-commerce ready, CRM enabled, calendar and email included, complex stock optimised and with pretty much any other back office functionality (other than payroll) that you can think of. Putting this much functionality into one application is always a UI challenge. Pearl’s approach is to be heavily menu driven, while colour coding distinct functional areas (a green menu bar means you’re in CRM for example) this goes some way to keeping it simple but the best way is to strip out unneeded functionality wherever possible – thankfully Pearl is pretty flexible in this regard.
What really excites me is that the latest version of Pearl will allow users to import data directly from applications such as Outlook, TAS, Sage, MYOB and EKM Powershop. In the case of the accounting applications this isn’t a simple trial balance/contact list import, rather it’s a full import down to transactional level. This is the first time I’ve seen this level of automated migration and is something that should really show results for Pearl – the on-ramp being the hardest thing for accounting applications.
I like to see a SaaS offering that includes stock and in this Pearl doesn’t let me down. Pearl includes options of using its own e-commerce and content management system and so the stock functionality is completely integrated from frontend to backend. It also allows for complex stock options such as size/colour splits and bundling – really useful for businesses making up items from various component parts. The lower level versions of the software have a more lightweight product system giving them rudimentary stock handling abilities – Express and Starter users can create product categories, add products, specify tax rates & nominals for those products, and quick add any number of products to an order in a couple of clicks.
Multi currency, Multi gateway
Pearl is fully set up for multiple currencies and also integrates with most payment gateways. Given that and the ability to integrate Pearl’s own e-commerce solution, Pearl can be seen as the one stop front and backend solution for e-tailers. I’d have like to see some integrations with other CMS/e-commerce solutions – the thought of changing both their accounting system AND their e-com/CMS is a little daunting for many businesses – notwithstanding the fact that Pearl provides some consulting services in terms of migration, implementation and training.
Pearl is fully integrated with a third party email marketing solution so from within the application users can run their email marketing campaigns – yet another feature that shows just how close is to providing a fully featured SMB ERP.
Recently I’ve seen web portals becoming more popular for SaaS accounting applications. A web portal allows the customer of a business using Pearl to log in and see their invoices, statements, make payments and track job/orders. It’s a useful little feature both in terms of cost reduction and value adding and should prove popular with businesses who sell to more web-savvy customers.
Is there no end to the featured available with Pearl? Customers can also utilise pearl’s own helpdesk feature to run their service and support fully integrated with their CRM, email and calendar.
When I first reviewed Pearl I was a little disappointed that accounts, the main accounting module, was an optional extra. I was really impressed to see that, after I told them of my concerns, Pearl have decided to include the accounts module as a free module on all but the free version of the software – now that’s awesome response to industry comments.
In what is a really smart move, Pearl have integrated their own e-commerce and content management system. This is really smart as it opens them up to a whole world of etailers who need this level of integration and it allows them to use a product from one vendor to meet all of their needs. In another nice piece of work the CMS is multilingual allowing customers to present fully localised frontends across the globe.
The security issue
The FAQs on Pearl’s site give some information, but not much. they’re hosted by Rackspace and users have easy access to CSV export of their data. It’d be nice to see a little more information about SLAs and the like – bearing in mind that Pearl is a product a level up from the small SaaS vendors – a higher level of security should be evident with it also.
APIs – connecting the dots
Pearl doesn’t have an API – they justify this by raising concerns about the hassle associated with fragmented business systems. They’re not ruling out the eventual release of an API and point to “SmartForms” which is in the final stages of development and will embed Pearl contact generation and autoresponder forms into 3rd party websites. The Pearl team have plenty of experience with integrating clients’ 3rd party accounting and product feeds, but this is on a per client bespoke basis at the moment. While I have to say that I’m against applications that don’t embrace opening themselves to the ecosystem, Pearl’s functionality is sufficiently broad that most of their potential customer may well not need anything else.
Wow – Pearl really has it all. It’s a top shelf offering and for that demands a top shelf price. Having said that the value and efficiency to be gained from one offering that includes everything from the store front to the backend accounting is a pretty valuable proposition and Pearl comes highly recommended to businesses that can leverage it’s extensive functional spec.
What really impressed me about Pearl however was their responsiveness to my suggestions. When I first begun discussions with them about this review, accounts was an add-on module and stock had no support in the lower level offerings. Both of these (in my view) mistakes were recetified after our discussions and I’m impressed to see a vendor who invites advice and, most importantly, reacts to that advice.