Category: Accounting Software

5th Annual Accounting Firm Ops and Tech Survey Awards Announced

April 05, 2018, Hutchinson KS and Minneapolis, MN – Randy Johnston, CEO, Network Management Group, Inc. and Dr. Leslie Garrett, CEO of Insight Research Group are pleased to announce the winners of the 5th Annual Accounting Firm Operations and Technology (AFOT) Survey Awards. Survey respondents identify the software used in their accounting firm that has the greatest impact on their firm in three separate categories: Profitability, Risk Mitigation and Productivity.  The 5th Annual AFOT Survey results book will be released in May 2018.  Respondents selected award-winners in each category from a list of 87 accounting firm software products.

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Cloud Accounting User Counts

I’ve been tracking the user counts of cloud accounting tools for microbusinesses from publically available sources for about seven years now.  My latest cloud accounting user counts appear below.  Note that Intacct probably shouldn’t be in this list (especially since we also didn’t include other mid-market apps like Oracle NetSuite, as they’re both a little “up market” for most users of this.  As you know, FreshBooks and Wave are private, and don’t have to report anything publically, and with Kashoo doing more as a bookkeeping service instead of as a software company, the user counts there (which were hard to get anyway) are a little less relevant here.  We expect to have new data from Intuit, Xero, and Sage sometime in late April/early May.

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P.S. Tipsters who have good public (non-confidential) data sources for user counts (e.g. court filings, press releases, etc.) which are more detailed or more current than this (as I write this on March 27, 2018), I share Starbucks cards with those who point new things out – I’m @BFTCPA on twitter.

P.P.S. If any software publishers want to be included in this list on a going forward basis (or want any of the analysis which goes along with this), including some work on cloud vs. on premises for user counts, reach out to me and we can discuss.

Who Will Be The Profession’s Digital Plumber?

I’ve been using, supporting, and following accounting software developments since the 1990’s, and there’s a common problem which still needs to be solved:

“How will I get (my)(my client’s) data from (application one) into (specialized application two) so I can perform (task)?”

There have been a wide range of people who have taken on solving this problem, and almost every family of solutions (e.g. Intuit, CCH, Thomson Reuters, Sage, etc.) has solved the problem for their stack of solutions.  One can easily go from most of the major client bookkeeping products into that publishers tax application, and with a little more difficulty, one can pull data from QuickBooks desktop into the tax software.  All bets are off, however, when you step outside of your tax software’s family of solutions.

If you look at e-mail in the 1980’s, we had services like Prodigy and Compuserve, which in their early iterations had closed e-mail systems – like those run by many companies.  In fact, I have had professional jobs in my career where I didn’t have internet-based e-mail – because it was a closed system.  Once these systems opened up, I had internet e-mail from Prodigy (fmpm09d@prodigy.com).

My friend Randy Johnston has often compared the “my tools only” integration strategy as a nationalist strategy – that is, you’re picking winners and losers in a war (e.g. NATO/Warsaw Pact).  Some of this is because of benign neglect, some due to economics, but part of this is an intentional strategy.  That’s OK – providers have no obligation to support competing solutions – but it’s still frustrating.

What we haven’t seen in the US is someone who will be the accounting data version of Switzerland for practitioners– a company which will put in tight integrations to everything.  The closest company to that strategy seems to be Caseware, which exports to most practitioner tax solutions – but their relatively small US market share diminishes their effectiveness in this role.  QuickBooks is probably as close as any app here – but that’s primarily due to its marketshare in the US.  Without good cross-platform integrations and effective/automated import/exports between the different provider cloud offerings, adopters are just trading an on-premises cloud island for a provider-hosted island.  If there’s no easy way to move traffic between islands, you’re just a castaway.

I will point out that Avalara does this successfully with hundreds of accounting/ERP solutions on the sales tax side, so it’s definitely possible, and I think their strategy will pay off in the long run.

I did a session on Digital Plumbing at the Sleeter Accounting Solutions Conference last year, and some companies are out there which do different tasks associated with this for general accounting solutions.  Leaders are ITDuzzit (now part of Intuit, no longer commercially sold), Zapier, and OneSaaS, but there are many nascent competitors in this space, and I haven’t seen anyone reach scale yet in the practitioner market.

Chris Keall of the National Business Review in New Zealand points out today (link requires subscription) in a paid article that Kiwi company Common Ledger has received a relatively small amount of funding ($1MM NZD) to develop solutions in Australia/New Zealand.  What a pity that we don’t have anyone taking on this task in the US.  VC’s seem to be throwing money like crazy at cloud products, but nobody seems to be helping the various data clouds automatically talk to each other.  What a pity.

If any of you readers are aware of anyone who is solving this problem, please let me know.  If accounting is going to become more automated, we have to move past 1980’s solutions like manual import of CSV files and transition into real solutions which are less of a pain to implement.  We’ve seen this change radically with bank feeds in the cloud accounting solutions– when will we see it with other accounting data flowing between various best in breed practitioner solutions?

 

Recent Reading and Writing, March News Update

I’ve been quite busy over the last couple of months, but unfortunately, I don’t have a lot which I can show you, the gentle reader of this blog.  A listing of some of the writings I’ve worked on in the last few weeks is as follows:

I also have been meeting with software publishers and reading voraciously preparing for this year’s tech conferences and seminars, which start for me next week in Philadelphia, and take me around much of the continental US this year.

I hope you’ll plan to attend the 2015 @AICPA Practitioners/TECH+ Conference in Orlando June 7-June 10th. You can save an extra $100 w/code TAC http://pstech.cpa2biz.com/

I share articles which I find interesting on Twitter – I’m @BFTCPA.  Some of the stories I’ve been following include:

I’m sad to see that The Sleeter Group has sold to Diversified Communications, but I know it was an offer which Doug and Sherrill couldn’t refuse.  Congratulations, and we hope to continue to work with you in the future.

Be careful out there, people.  I look forward to seeing many of you on this year’s journey.

 

Recent Software Company M&A Activity

As readers of this blog know, the only constant in the accounting technology space is change itself.  With that in mind, I wanted to let you know about some recent acquisition announcements in the accounting space.

SAP to Acquire Concur– Enterprise software giant SAP announced after the market closed last Friday that they have an agreement in principle to acquire the outstanding shares of Bellevue, Washington based Concur Technologies.  Concur provides tools for managing the expense reimbursement process in small companies (with a SaaS offering) and with an on-premises expense management toolkit for enterprises.  (Source: @WSJ)

Sage to Acquire PayChoice  – Small and mid-sized business management company Sage has announced an agreement to purchase PayChoice, a provider of payroll and HR services for small businesses over a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.  Sage’s press release described PayChoice as follows:

Founded in 1990, PayChoice is headquartered in New Jersey with 260 employees and 16 offices across the US.  PayChoice provides full-service and self-service payroll and HR services to more than 100,000 SMBs in the US, through a direct sales force and third-party licensee channel.  PayChoice’s revenue for FY13 was US$38.9m.

PayChoice has developed a next generation, cloud-based payroll and reporting platform called ENCORE.  The platform, which was launched in September 2011, encompasses both mobile and web-based payroll applications, operating from a single codebase for both its direct and licensee clients.  ENCORE supports the needs of businesses with self-service solutions through to more complex full-service solutions on the same platform, supporting the needs of SMBs as they grow.

The release also disclosed that consideration for the purchase was approximately $157.8M (converted from GPB at a rate of 1:$1.628)

From the release:

“PayChoice is an excellent business, with a strong management team, attractive cloud platform and a proven business model based on supporting the needs of small and medium-sized businesses and licensees,” said Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America.  “We are excited about the growth opportunity that the combination of Sage and PayChoice creates in this market and delighted to welcome the management and staff of PayChoice to Sage.”

Payroll and compliance with constantly changing employer regulations are two consistent challenges for SMBs.  This acquisition will enable Sage to provide intuitive payroll solutions as well as integrated ancillary services such as tax filing and direct deposit as part of the company’s core offerings, making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to consolidate and review business data, manage relationships, and simplify day-to-day operations.

Infor Completes Acquisition of SalesLogix – Infor announced earlier this month that they have completed their acquisition of the assets of the SalesLogix CRM application from Swiftpage.  Readers may recall that Sage spun off both SalesLogix and Act! to Swiftpage in early 2013. as part of a series of deals which included spinning off Sage Non-Profit Solutions (now called Abila) to a private equity group run by KKR-Accel.

Consideration was not disclosed by either party, but Infor did mention that SalesLogix is used by 70,000 customers at 1,700 organizations who use SalesLogix.  300 of these companies use both SalesLogix as well as one of Infor’s solutions.  Infor plans to incorporate the product into Infor CloudSuite, a set of cloud applications which run on Amazon to meet the needs of specialized industries.

 

It’s Time for Two Factor Authentication, SaaS Vendors. NOW, not later.

You’ve heard about the security issues at a number of organizations in the last few weeks.  Thankfully, there haven’t been any breaches at software companies who serve professional accountants (except maybe for Evernote – although I don’t know that I would put HIPAA or taxpayer data in that service).  One of the important things that is coming out of this is that major software vendors like Evernote and Google are planning to implement a security approach called “Two Factor Authentication”.  While I won’t go into much detail on how it works (although there’s a good Wikipedia article here), the basics are as follows:

Security tokens, like the RSA SecurID above, have a formula which generates a new six digit code every minute that is used as a one time password.

There are three basic ways to validate someone’s identity

  • Something they know (username, password, PIN, etc.)
  • Something they have (cell phone, RSA token, USB key, etc.)
  • Something they are (biometric identification like fingerprinting, face identification, or iris scans).

Historically, we’ve used only one factor of authentication – a username and password – to access most online systems.  While this is adequate for some information types, the sophistication of phishing attacks and other techniques used by the “bad guys” requires a more sophisticated approach to security.  Two factor authentication normally requires users to validate their credentials to two servers – one which controls the username and password, and a second which validates that they have a particular device or item through a one time password.

I’ve used a number of two factor authentication devices in my career, including:

All of the devices worked well, and I still use some of them to authenticate to many services.

One important point is that the use of factors other than passwords (something you know) is not a panacea.  Use of any of the items listed above in lieu of a password doesn’t accomplish anything.  The real benefit comes from using these tools in ADDITION to a username and a password.  Even if a person with bad intent knew your username and password, they would be screened out by the second factor, whether it is biometrics (fingerprint, iris, or face) or a device you have (token, cell phone, smart card, USB key).  Just like high security installations have more than one layer of security, you want the same layers of security verifying that you are really you online.

The ugly reality of the accounting profession is that a significant breach would undermine the confidence that others have in the profession, and could send us back to the ‘90s with some technologies used in business today.  It’s hard enough to be a small business in our economy without having to deal with concerns about security of data.

It’s time for two factor authentication with online services, people.  Ask your vendors about their support for it, and look for opportunities to protect your data with these types of authentication regimes.  It’s time for this technology – we can’t wait for some practitioner to lose their house over an online information breach to deal with this significant issue.

 

Xero to Simplify Accountants Work by Building Out Export Capabilities

Online accounting software publisher Xero announced today that they have created a direct interface to two applications commonly used to work on business tax data – Intuit’s Lacerte Tax and ProSystem fx Engagement. This is the Company’s first foray into exporting data from Xero into U.S. tax and accounting applications, although the local versions of Xero for Australia and New Zealand have already created integrations with acquired products like Spotlight Workpapers which automate work for accounting professionals.

Xero’s US President, Jamie Sutherland, said, “We know our accounting and bookkeeping partners who prepare tax returns are looking to get data from Xero into tax software this tax season. We worked hard to create an easy export from Xero to Lacerte Tax and CCH ProSystem fx Engagement. Accounting and tax professionals will spend less time worrying about getting the data and writing up tax forms and more time advising and guiding clients on tax issues.” “We recognized that ProSystems fx and Lacerte Tax are the major players in the tax space but we’ll be looking at other tax software as their SaaS solutions come to market to make the accounting and tax workflow even more seamless.”

Xero partner and accountant Steve Chaney, CPA, owner of Chaney and Associates, a Roseville, California accounting and consulting firm is excited about the new feature and its immediate impact on his practice this tax season. Chaney said, “When you are managing tax filings for hundreds of clients, these efficiency gains add up and go straight to the bottom line.” Chaney’s firm was established in 2002, serves clients in six states, and positions itself as a leader in the effective use of new technologies by accounting firms.

Online accounting software Xero has a strategy of reducing and eliminating data entry for accountants and clients where possible by importing transactions from financial institutions and using user-defined rules to assign accounts to the transactions. Last month, the Company announced an integration with time tracking and invoicing application Harvest, and in 2012, the company launched a proprietary tool (the Xero Practice Manager) for its US accounting partners.

 

The Passing of Newt Becker

As many of you know, I’ve taught the Becker CPA Review for the last 15 years.  I learned this morning of Newt’s passing in the following e-mail from the Becker organization, which I am publishing in its entirety.

It is with sadness that I’m sending you this message. Newt Becker, the founder of Becker Professional Education, died Monday evening in Los Angeles after being ill for quite a while. Newt was 83 years old.

Newt started Becker CPA Review in 1957 in Cleveland, his home town. From humble beginnings and with a handful of students, he found a successful formula for dedicated CPA candidates to pass the difficult CPA exam. He was a pioneer in interactive learning for exam preparation, engaging his students in every facet of mastering the curriculum – through lectures, mnemonics, homework, etc. Most importantly, he truly cared about each student who selected the review course that bears his name. His goal was fulfilling their dream to earn the CPA credential and to ultimately enrich their lives.

All of us at Becker owe Newt our gratitude for the painstaking effort that he and his early team of colleagues expended to produce the best product for CPA exam preparation. His legacy of putting the student first resulted in the Becker culture that thrives today. We care about our students and we care about each other.

Newt devoted his life to making the world a better place. When he handed over the CPA Review reins to DeVry in 1996, he immersed himself in charitable and altruistic social endeavors, including the exploration of clean air alternative energy resources. He was truly a generous and good man.

So let’s remember Newt Becker for what he gave to us… A thriving business for sure, but also a commitment to excellence and caring about student success. We honor his legacy.

John P. Roselli

President, Becker Professional Education

At the CPA Tech Blog, all of our thoughts and prayers are with Newt’s family in this difficult time.  Many CPA’s I know are very grateful to Newt and the Becker organization for helping them pass the CPA exam, and I am thankful to have worked in his organization.

 

Analysis on the Cheap

I often remind participants in my seminars that every accountant I’ve ever met shares a common favorite four letter word.

Seriously.

That word is, of course, FREE.

With that in mind, I’ve run across some tools over the last few months that I haven’t blogged about, and wanted to pass these along to you all.  The tools are available for the low, low price of….. wait for it…. FREE.

Analyzing and manipulating large data sets has long been the job of accountants, auditors, and analysts, and the classic tools for these tasks like CaseWare IDEA, ACL, and others have always been very expensive and required a week or so of training so that you can be proficient with them.  With the general availability of quad core processors, workstations with 8 GB+ of RAM, fast 1 TB hard disks, end users no longer need to wait on someone to create a report for them.  Get the right tools, get access to the data, and get to work.

Basic Tools: Microsoft Query and Excel PivotTables

Although they aren’t technically “free” since you need to purchase Microsoft Office to get them, Microsoft offers a couple of tools which are just as useful to analysts as an adjustable wrench (a Crescent wrench) and a claw hammer are to those doing home repair.

  • Microsoft Query is a tool for selecting, joining, sorting, filtering, and extracting data from databases.  Query is one of those “helper” applications which is hidden from most users – I have only executed MS Query from within the Data tab of the Excel 2007/2010 Ribbon (Data, Get External Data Group, From Other Sources, Microsoft Query), but it is invaluable for entry level work with databases, and is compatible with any ODBC compliant database which you can use on your PC, including MS Access, MS SQL, and many, many other formats.  Queries can be created, edited, saved, and executed from a simple menu structure, and a wizard makes the hard task of writing SQL statements into child’s play.
  • Excel Pivot Tables make it possible to summarize large data sets into interactive tables.  Although a full discussion of Pivot Tables would take all day (I actually own entire volumes written on Pivot Tables, and teach TWO half day classes on them (1) (2) through K2 Enterprises), suffice it to say that Pivot Tables will change your life, and do just about anything you want except make your teeth whiter and make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex.  Seriously – they’re that good.

ActiveData For Office

My friends over at InformationActive.com have a couple of nice products which meet the needs of accountants, engineers, and other professionals who need to perform sophisticated analysis on large data sets.  While my favorite one, ActiveData for Excel, is still a pay application, there is a version of this powerful tool called ActiveData for Office, which is now available for the low, low, price of FREE.  ActiveData for Office (also referred to as “ActiveData for SQL”) uses standard ODBC connections to talk to large databases, and will perform routine calculations like verifying the accuracy of an A/R aging report based on the dates in an open item listing, stratifying a sample, and evaluating sample results.  I’ve been somewhat confused by the move to give away this product, as I think it’s more powerful than the Excel tool – but pricing decisions are above my pay grade.  For more information, visit InformationActive.com’s page on ActiveData for Office.

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ActiveData for Office is a FREE data analysis tool which is invaluable for Accountants and other information professionals who need to slice and dice large data sets.

PowerPivot for Office 2010

With the release of Microsoft Office 2010, our friends at Microsoft have come to the table with one of the best tools for summarizing huge (100K+ records) data sets.  While the tool does require that you become an early adopter of Office 2010, the price is definitely right, and the tool has been used to analyze data sets with hundreds of millions of records.  PowerPivot (free from www.powerpivot.com) is a self-service business intelligence tool designed to let end users create their own business intelligence (BI) solutions which combine data from disparate sources using an Excel add-in.  For seasoned BI professionals, PowerPivot creates pre-summarized tables which are periodically updated and can be queried similar to cubes for almost instant calculations on data sets with millions of records.

While you can do many of the same things using MS Access, update queries, dummy databases, ODBC connections, and pivot tables, PowerPIvot is both more powerful (smarter) and easier to use (better looking) than the alternatives, and it’s free.

If you haven’t tried it, PowerPivot is available from www.powerpivot.com.

 

Got Tick Marks?

One of the more common things I am asked from people who are implementing a document management system is how they can include their “tick marks” in their documents.  My usual responses are to look at PDFlyer or Tick, Tie & Calculate in Acrobat (or alternatively, create your own stamps), and to either use graphics or a symbol font like wingdings in Word, Excel, and everything else.

My wife and I recently started using SendOutCards to send some of her follow up correspondence as part of her work as a mortgage loan officer.  One of the things you get with SendOutCards is the ability to create a custom font based on your handwriting.  I have sent mine off, and am somewhat anxious about what it’s going to look like when it is complete (my handwriting really, really stinks).  This effort, however, has opened my eyes to how easy it is to create your own, personalized font to do things like tick marks and other symbols.  While you can purchase applications for $50 to do this, the geniuses over at LifeHacker had a great post in February which mentioned YourFonts, a web service which does this for you for free.  You fill out a form, scan it, and it encodes the stuff you wrote as images in a Windows-compatible TrueType font.

CustomFont

If you needed to create a font for tick marks, you could simply create your own font using this tool, and instead of making the letters correctly, you could assign a tick mark to each character on your keyboard.  And it’s free.  You will need to share your tick mark files with anyone who would print out your documents, and will probably want to render the final versions to PDF (and embed the tick mark font in the PDF files), but if you do this, it’s a fairly elegant solution to one of the more vexing problems associated with annotating documents.