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
e-conomic is a Danish software vendor that offers both a Scandinavian, and a UK customised SaaS accounting application. e-conomic has been in existence since 2003 and has built up over 15000 customers and 1000 accounting practice partners across 60 countries since that time. Early in 2007 e-conomic partnered with UK accounting firm Vantis to localise the e-conomic product for the UK market. e-conomic was founded by Danish accountant Jacob Wandt.
There are two tiers for the standard e-conomic product. Functionality is the same between the tiers, the only difference being the number of transactions allowable. There are some add on module which incur extra charges – these are discussed later.
The user experience
e-conomic looks like it was built by an accountant! That’s not a criticism, rather a reflection on the somewhat industrial user-interface it has. Not surprisingly e-conomic is accounting practice friendly – each accounting practice receives a their own Administrator Module, giving access to all clients belonging to that practice and all functions in the system. This is a free value-add for accountants and is geared towards the practices on-selling the software. In referring to their UI, e-conomic states that they;
…aim to strike a balance between speed of use (based on the ability to accomplish lots of things from one screen) and ease of use (simple processes and easy learning with the help of the hotline and user guides).
Client invoicing is also controlled via the Administrator Module, allowing the accountant to decide whether the client has to pay a subscription to e-conomic or not.
The basic functionality
e-conomic is fully featured out of the box (a misnomer for a SaaS product I know). It has a default chart of accounts but also allows users to import their own chart of accounts from other applications. It is multi-currency ready and automatically allows for the calculation and assignment of exchange rate losses and gains. It’s accounts receivable and accounts payable areas allow for standard or customised invoices, the importation of customer and supplier lists and automatic emailing of invoices, statements and reminders.
Sales invoicing takes place on the Sales tab. The invoice screens have been designed to require no accounting knowledge at all, the user simply adds lines to the invoice before sending it off to the customer. Invoices are e-mailed automatically, but can also be printed if preferred.
The value adds
Automatic bank reconciliation
Bank statements from any bank can be imported into the system and then processed using the auto-reconcile facility – a nice feature that other vendors also use. It brings an element of "game playing" into accounting and goes a long way to humanising the experience. Automatic bank feeds (ie not requiring a manual import) are the holy grail in this area but as yet no one has had real success getting banks on board outside of some smaller countries.
e-conomic has an interesting approach towards it’s add-on modules. Users can "plug and play" extra modules from their control panel. The extra modules currently available are details below.
e-conomic’s API is an add-on (but free) module. It is unclear how many API projects have already been undertaken but e-conomic are very confident that their product will allow for quick and easy integration with and service that can work with xml data. When prompted for more information regarding the breadth of the API integrations enables thus far, e-conomic replied that;
A number of integrations are listed on our various country web sites. We have no idea of the total number because we have no way of telling how many integrations each customer has. In most cases they simply integrate using the published specifications and don’t need to refer to us. What we can say with certainty is that over 10% of our customers have switched on the API module.
So around 1500 users have APIs enabled and, one assumes, are using them.
For an extra GBP4.50 a month users can add dimension, a feature that allows for individual departments within a business. An unlimited number of departments can be created which then allows for departmental budgeting and profit reporting. It also allows for the automated distribution of parts of a transaction across different departments – as an example a utility bill can be automatically apportioned across the different departments to generate an accurate departmental report.
This module allows for individual projects and the linking of time and expenses to those projects. It gives a trackable record of revenues and costs related to projects. The additional charge for a project manager is GBP13.50 while individual time loggers are charged at GBP4.50.
For the low sum of GBP4.50 per month, businesses can use e-conomic as a document repository service. Scanned bills and other documents can be uploaded and viewed by users and advisors providing for a seamless audit trail from document to accounting system.
Scanned invoices can be e-mailed into the client’s accounts. They are then presented in the bookkeeping screen so that the source information is visible to the user. The image is automatically attached to the bookkeeping entry as a permanent audit trail. e-conomic has some pending changes involving OCR that one assumes would mean that scanned invoices could be automatically populated into their relevant entry fields – this would be a pretty exciting time saver.
Many SaaS accounting packages lack a stock control system – it seems most vendors are targeting design and knowledge businesses and not traditional commerce. For an extra GBP9.00 per month, e-conomic gives users full stock control that s integrated with the general ledger, AP and AR modules. It also allows for multiple warehouse locations, specific pricing for different customers and discount lists. I would be useful if e-conomic extended this functionality to work with raw materials and bills of manufacture so that raw material inventories could be reduced when goods are manufactured – with this addition e-conomic would become a true mini-ERP system.
Subscription is a module that allows for what is essentially recurring invoices and payments. The example e-conomic gives is for the receipt of regular rental payments for a rental business. However regular invoicing for a contractor would fall under this category. Subscription costs GBP4.50 per month and it’s hard to see the extra benefit that it gives beyond the standard recurring entries feature in e-conomic.
Update – I received this justification from Mark Davies, UK country manager for e-conomic;
This module is a big time saver for businesses that send invoices to lots of customers on a regular basis for the repeated products/services. The benefits are:
- Being able to set up and manage all of your product/service combinations for all subscribers/customers
- Being able to generate all of the invoices with one click rather invoicing each customer one at a time
The module enables the up-to-date invoices for all subscriptions to be generated as a batch and e-mailed to each customer at the same time. This makes mass-invoicing very quick and easy.
Some other systems have fully automated this process so that the invoices are dispatched automatically by the system at a given frequency without further user intervention. In e-conomic, the invoice run us user-driven as we feel that businesses need to be fully in control of what’s being invoiced and have the opportunity to review each batch before letting the invoices go out to customers.
I’ll leave it to readers to make their own judgement on the value of the upgrade.
The security issue
e-conomic’s security pages details 128bit encryption and a robust backup system. With regards uptime e-conomic uses a hosting partner that guarantees 99.9% uptime. This isn’t to say that e-conomic themselves have an SLA (which would actually be meaningful) but rather puts a gloss over no real guarantee for the end users. When I put this to e-conomic, they responded that they;
have grown by being responsive to customers’ queries and needs, but it is tricky to put a truly meaningful SLA around the handling of those. We commit to providing a hotline support service with regular hours at no extra cost. The hosting provider’s SLA relates to their responsibility in ensuring that the system is available. We add that any maintenance requiring downtime will be done out of business hours.
I guess for a start passing on the hosting provider’s SLA and giving an assurance of supply with some sort of credit system if this SLA wasn’t met would be a transparent way of building trust.
e-conomic do have an interesting operation guarantee that gives users some certainty over there data in the event that e-conomic folds. The guarantee states that;
An agreement has been entered into between E-conomic and UNI2, guaranteeing that E-conomic’s customers can obtain data from the e-conomic application at all times, even if Economic fails to make payments. If E-conomic fails to meet its payment obligations to UNI2, UNI2 will send an e mail to all of E-conomic’s customers informing them that UNI2 has not received payment on time from E-conomic. In this situation UNI2 guarantees that operation of the application will continue for the next three months from the date on which the e-mail is sent out.
It’s a great way to ease customers concerns and I’m imagining quite a simple agreement to put in place. Definitely something for other vendors to investigate.
e-conomic is a thorough and robust offering. It has been designed for accounting best-practice and, while functionally it’ll make accountants happy, the UI was a little industrial for my liking. That said accounting software is all about features and e-conomic shapes up well in this regard.