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
Earlier this week a post of mine generated some very heated exchanges, both public and private. As I mentioned in that post (which was a quick comment on some PR material rather than a product review), I wanted to review the product in question as soon as practicable. In that light here follows my review, completely untarnished by the aforementioned exchanges.
Ubikwiti is built by a company, AccTrak21, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. AccTrak21 has a 17 year pedigree of integrated small to mid-market software creation. Previously AccTrak21 sold a white labelled client-server system in the US through a reseller – their 12000 office, 20 million client success there (albeit through a third party) gives some indication of the scale that the company has experience implementing.
Ubikwiti is their new offering and it is touted as an easy-to-use on demand business accounting and management software that enables rapid and simple customisation of look and the modification and addition of business functionality.
Ubikwiti is both a SaaS solution and a PaaS solution. They’re trying to build a marketplace for add on applications (iTunes for SMB applications?) where other vendors can sell their products, all integratable on the Ubikwiti platform. They call their own marketplace U-KwikShop. At this stage it seems primarily populated by Ubikwiti’s own applications but hopefully with time it’ll fill out more.
Normally I need a chart to detail pricing for the products I review. Ubikwiti does things differently with a super simple USD4.99 per month charge per user per company. That price gets the full functionality available. Obviously thrd party vendors selling applications on the Ubikwiti platofrm are able to charge for those applications sperately to the base charge.
The user experience
Ubikwiti has quite a novel user interface. They hold it up as one of their unique propositions, its readily customisable by the end user. In many ways it will feel very familiar to users of traditional installed business software. Below is an invoice entry screen which is much like it’s installed software brethren.
I was reviewing Ubikwiti from New Zealand on an average dsl connection (around 1.5Mbps). At that speed the loading of individual components was quite slow – however Ubikwiti is hosted on Amazon servers in the US and I’d assume the experience would be better for customers geographically closer to the app itself.
Ubikwiti wants to make the on-ramp for new users as easy as possible. To this end they have a number of pre configured “templates” for example a sales business or a manufacturing business. This allows new users to specify their industry and start with an application that is tailored somewhat to their particular use case.
I had a play with DIY-GUI, the Ubikwiti feature that allows for screen customization. It’s very comprehensive, allowing various fields to be turned on or off, boxes resized and moves and the like. I can imagine it’s a useful feature for those wanting a fine level of customisation. Usefulness or not it is indicative of Ubikwiti putting much more control into the hands of the users.
Ubikwiti is all about customisation. It is not surprising then that the reports are customisable and can be saved in PDF format for easy printing or sending via email.
I really like that Ubikwiti enables mashups, as an example of using third party services, a user could add a GoogleMap button to the sales order screen to provide quick access to search for a customer’s location. Or perhaps an RSS feed of a particular customers twitter/blog stream. Ubikiwiti report that ther service objects in the pipeline include FedEx, Skype and WebEx.
At this stage Ubikwiti’s functionality is limited to account receiveable and payable, cash management, general ledger, invoicing/purchasing, timesheets, banking and a modifiable chart of accounts. The list of components that they claim is son to be released is long however and includes;
- Financials – Customized GL reports, multilevel analysis codes, restructurable chart of accounts, flexible financial periods, multiple budget and fixed assets
- Multi Currency – Auto forex gain / loss computation, AP, AR, CM
- Multilevel tax codes for complex tax jurisdictions
- Practice Management – Document manager, Reporting tool & OLAP, Billing, Client write-up, Working Trial Balance, Quick write-up
- CRM – Customer/vendor analysis, Business intelligence, User defined properties, Integrate with MS Office
- Online Banking
- Manufacturing – Bill of materials, Materials requirements planning, Capacity requirements planning, Shop floor control, Scheduling, Routing, Planning
- Distribution – Inventory, Price book, Multiple warehouses, Profit margin, Multiple UOM
- POS – Cash drawer, Deposits, Serialized item, Promotion discount, Multiple payment types, Customer info, Cashier module, Barcode
- Health of My Business – Email, Red Flag, Accessible through internet, User defined formula, Key performance indicators
- Barcode – Fixed assets, Scanning, Printing, Inventory, Point of sale
- Payroll – Employee center, Live update on tax table, Time & Expense from Practice Mgmt, Integrate with tax software, After the fact payroll, Live payroll
- e-Bridge – Caseware, XML, XBRL, Plug-ins, US Payroll, Import, Export, Migration, Third party software
- Business Intelligence – CRM cube, Practice management cube, Manufacturing cube, Purchase analysis, Sales analysis, Financial analysis
That’s a massive list, especially when looked at in comparison to the existing functionality. I have no way of knowing the timescale for this development or in fact the imperatives Ubikwiti needs to meet in order to create it, suffice it to say that if and when the application has that breadth of function it will be a very compelling offering indeed. The proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating – Ubikwiti tell me that these components already exist but within the parent companies cleint-server offering. As such it is a migration exercise more than a software creation one that needs to occur.
Ubikwiti states that
most upcoming functionalities will be built as business components. Ubikwiti’s definition-based dynamic engine (DDE) and its application development life cycle (ADLC) methodology reportdly enable additional business components to be developed
very quickly. As an example of component development speed, Ubikwiti cited its development
of the PayCycle import component by one business modeler in 4 working days.
The security issue
Ubikiwiti is hosted on Amazon EC2 with standard SSL channel encryption. The security model is to tie user to company by role, and the various access rights are granted to the role. Component customisation using DIY-GUI can be controlled by company, role or user level. (see diagram below)
APIs – connecting the dots
Not surprisingly given it’s PaaS play, Ubikwiti is very open to third party integrations. They allow for web service and connectivity to multiple data sources and are SOA compliant.
Ubikwiti says it will be providing an Application Development Kit (ADK) for third parties to develop new components, templates/applications, and service objects for integrating to other web services. Ubikwiti claims it can connect to any database by simply changing the business object of the business component. As Ubikwiti’s DDE is SOA compliant, each of the business components is accessible by third party web service clients, subject to security control.
To illustrate how open Ubikwiti is, and how easy a third party integration can be, Ubikwiti plans to release its first free Facebook Platform Application, Personal Expenses, by 6th March, 2009. The Facebook widget is used as the user interface, interacting with the personal expenses application in Ubikwiti via standard SOAP web services. Ubikwiti claims the Facebook-based personal expenses application will be easily upgradeable to a personal cash management application within a few minutes by getting the “Upgrade package for Personal Expenses” package from its U-KwikShop. I haven’t tested the widget – but the concept sounds promising and I’m looking forward to seeing it in action.
I’m a strong proponent of both integrating discrete business applications and platform plays for SMB software. Ubikwiti has a vision of enabling just this sort of functionality. I dream of the day when I can have on my personal business home screen my iBanking widget, some financial data from different businesses, some RSS feeds etc etc. Ubikwiti has a vision of enabling this very ability, it will be interesting to see how their offering develops.
It’s interesting that they’ve published a "coming functionality" list, while it gives potential customers some surety around the technology that is coming, it also encourage comparisons between the existing offering and the total package – at the moment the "stuff t come" far exceeds the current functionality – having said that the underlying platform and accounting engine is the biggest job in these situations and one assume that Ubikwiti have built that with extensibility and scale in mind.