New Horizons, A Blog Partner Needed

Hello dear blog readers

After 20 years as a committed freelancer and self-employed small business owner, I’ve decided to Get Serious About My Life. I’ve now signed up to be a wage slave, for a while at least, with a wonderful company in Sydney. I’ll be working with books and words and business still, but in a different capacity.

I’m aware that soon I’ll be too busy to do anything other than intermittent posts on this blog but it seems a shame to let the whole thing flounder. So I was wondering if any of my readers or subscribers would be interested in participating. The brief? To add a blog post on a semi-regular basis (once or twice a month) about a topic related to cloud accounting and your own direct experiences. You’ll also need to be as unbiased as possible, and offer a bit of humour at the same as being incredibly serious about what is actually a rather dry topic.

Money? There is none. Not one brazz razoo. This is social media, after all.

Anyway, if you think you’d like to be involved, do send me an email: veechi@veechicurtis.com.au

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Cloud Accounting Review of MYOB, QuickBooks, Xero and Saasu

This week I came across an excellent roundup of cloud accounting products written by Margaret Carey of businessEEz. So good that I thought I’d do a special post with links to the topics that Margaret covers.

Each one of these cloud accounting reviews looks at MYOB LiveAccounts, QuickBooks Hosted, Xero and Saasu. Click any one of these links for the details:

Comparative review of customer management features

Comparative review of supplier management features

Comparative review of GST and BAS features

Comparative review of reporting features

Comparative review of account management and budgets

Comparative review of payroll

A final round up and overall review of the whole bunch

I found Margaret’s review to be thoughtful and detailed. To add to her comments, I’d say that when choosing software, it’s vital that you match the rider to the horse. For micro businesses, the most vital characteristics are surely excellent online support, simplicity of use and clear navigation. For the next step up, customer invoicing features, easy-to-understand payroll and jargon-free GST reporting come into play.

I’d even go so far to say that limited functionality can be an asset. A product that has a relatively small feature range such as Xero may be the perfect fit for a tradesperson who hates bookkeeping, doesn’t understand GST and wants to bill clients on the move.

In addition, I believe that bank feeds combined with bank rules are a deal-breaker for micro and small businesses (LiveAccounts, Xero and Saasu provide bank feeds; QuickBooks Hosted doesn’t), but are not nearly so consequential for larger businesses who tend to generate electronic batch files using their accounting software.

If any of the readers of this blog have direct experience with two or more cloud accounting products, please add your comments. I’d love to know how others feel the products compare.

Posted in Cloud Accounting, MYOB LiveAccounts, QuickBooks Online, Saasu, Xero | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Review of QuickBooks Hosted

So far in my blog posts, I’ve only mentioned QuickBooks Hosted in passing. But this week, after my not-so-illustrious adventures with CashBook Online, I thought I’d give QuickBooks Hosted a run for its money.

And I’m glad to say, I’m quietly impressed.

QuickBooks Hosted isn’t a browser-based cloud solution like LiveAccounts or Xero. However (similar to what MYOB are foreshadowing with their cloud accounting model), QuickBooks Hosted lets me store my company data ‘in the cloud’, meaning that more than one person can work on my accounts at the same time, and that I can access my accounts from wherever I am.

Today I trialled QuickBooks Hosted both from my PC and from my shiny, sleek, new iPad (so beautiful, thanks Steve Jobs). Here’s what I found:

Although a little slow to load my data upon logging on, recording transactions seemed reasonably swift. There’s a slight lag (a fraction of a second) that I don’t get when working with QuickBooks on my desktop, but nothing that bothered me.

I was impressed that both printing to my local printer and sending emails direct from QuickBooks via my Outlook outbox was seamless and required no configuration. (In contrast, if you’re working on a QuickBooks file that lives on a remote server, and you connect using a Remote Desktop Connection, stuff like printing and emailing locally can be a real hassle.)

I liked the fact that I could backup my data onto my own PC so that I can toggle between working offline and online.  I can imagine the situation where I might keep my accounts on my PC most of the time, but decide to shift my QuickBooks data into the cloud when I’m travelling. (Although I must admit that I’m getting used to the luxury of being able to access my accounts online from wherever I am, at any time, and I think I’m getting less and less inclined to work offline.)

The pricing is very competitive. QuickBooks Hosted Standard  (accessible for PCs only) costs a slim $24.60 per month, and QuickBooks Hosted Premium (accessible via PC, iPad, Macintosh, or Android device) costs $34.60 per month.

In contrast to other cloud products reviewed in other postings on this blog, QuickBooks Hosted has the full range of features you expect from premium accounting software: full payroll, inventory, purchasing, progress invoicing, extensive reporting and so on.

Because I’m familiar with QuickBooks, I didn’t have any learning curve switching to QuickBooks Hosted: the software is exactly the same. (The iPad was maybe a little more fiddly, and I had a blonde moment trying to figure out how the hell to get the keyboard to appear, but it all went pretty well after 20 minutes or so.)

On a slightly less upbeat note, I did spend some time trawling the online community question board and I could see that some people had gotten pretty cranky with QuickBooks Hosted in the past (such as getting logged out when the Internet had a glitch, and then being unable to log back in because QuickBooks Hosted thinks you’re already logged on; being forced to change passwords every month; problems getting access from Macintosh computers, difficulties moving files around, and so on). However, without spending many more hours on this project, it’s hard for me to tell which of these problems have since been fixed, and which haven’t.

The main feature that QuickBooks Hosted doesn’t have, when compared to cloud accounting products such as LiveAccounts or Xero, is bank feeds. Bank feeds are such a huge timesaver for micro or small businesses that not having them is, in my opinion, a real deal breaker for micro to small business. For example, I currently do the books for my holiday house business using Xero, and I wouldn’t switch to QuickBooks Hosted even though it’s $15 a month cheaper. Why? Because I save at least $15 a month in bookkeeping fees because of the efficiencies that bank feeds bring.

However, if I had a business with complex payroll or inventory, and I wanted the other benefits of cloud accounting (access from any machine, including Macs and iPads; secure online data storage; access from any location; easy transfer of data to the accountant’s system, and so on), then I’d probably be swayed towards QuickBooks Hosted.

If anyone reading this blog has personal experiences using QuickBooks Hosted, I’d love if you could add your comments. It would be very interesting.

Posted in QuickBooks Online, SAAS, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A Candid Review of Reckon CashBook Online

When I was in my twenties, I used to write lots of accounting software reviews for magazines and newspapers. I found reviews to be a bit of a mug’s game, because really getting the dirt on a bit of a software isn’t something you can do in a couple of hours.

Like a new relationship, getting to know a bit of software takes some time and it can take many weeks before the cracks truly show. Going out on a first date doesn’t tell you much.

However, sometimes a first impression is enough to know whether you want more, or whether you wish you’d never signed up for that Internet dating service in the first place.

And so it was today, when I had my first date with CashBook Online, the latest Aussie cloud accounting offering.

CashBook Online is a Reckon Online product, distributed by the mob that supplies QuickBooks in Australia and New Zealand. (This range also includes QuickBooks Hosted, which I’ve talked about in earlier posts.)

Using my holiday house business as a test bunny, I logged onto CashBook Online and started to record the last couple of months’ transactions. It’s after lunch now, and although a morning isn’t long enough to deliver an in-depth verdict, my first impression is very mixed indeed.

On a positive note, CashBook Online delivers the basics: a simple cashbook where you can record expenses and receipts, generate a Profit & Loss report and produce a Business Activity Statement. And because CashBook Online uses cloud technology, you can do your accounts from anywhere in the world, using your favourite Macintosh or PC browser. If you’re already familiar with QuickBooks, some of the functionality is similar, such as the structure of tax codes and the way you reconcile your bank account.

The price is also attractive — at only $18.15 per month CashBook Online is a tad cheaper than LiveAccounts and quite a lot cheaper than Xero.

But yin needs yang, man needs woman (sometimes at any rate) and with positives also come negatives:

  • There’s no invoicing features: I can’t use CashBook Online for invoicing. Sure, this is a step up from storing my receipts in a shoebox, but even for my simple business, I want to be able to send the occasional invoice.
  • Limited choice of banks for bank feeds: Although I can sign up for bank feeds — something I believe to be a crucial component of cloud accounting for any micro or small business — the only banks currently available are the ANZ and St George (although NAB is apparently in the pipeline, and discussions are being held with the CommBank and Westpac).
  • Bank feeds cost extra: When I read the fine print, I discover that bank feeds are only free up until 31 October. After that, I have to pay extra and guess what? According to the website: ‘Full pricing, terms and conditions will be published in the near future’. If I’m going to start a new relationship, I want the initial conversation to be a little more open than this.
  • The import process is a shocker: I couldn’t sign up for bank feeds, so I chose to import the last eight weeks of transactions for my business instead. However, I discovered that if I close the import screen before I finished allocating every transaction to an account, all the transactions I hadn’t coded yet disappeared. I then had to do the import again to pick up the remaining transactions and at this point, CashBook Online displayed the whole import batch again. I lost track of where I was up to and ended up with duplicate transactions for the second week of July.
  • The logic of attaching tax codes to accounts, rather than to transactions, will probably trip up beginners: With CashBook Online, you attach tax codes to accounts, rather than transactions. For example, when I set up Repairs & Maintenance as an expense account, I linked it to NCG as the tax code. However, when I was coding a payment to the guy who mows our lawns, I wanted to change the tax code, because this supplier isn’t registered for GST. However, CashBook Online doesn’t provide an option to override the tax code for a single transaction. The workaround of course is to create two accounts (one for Repairs with GST, and another for Repairs without GST) but I can’t help feeling that this may be overly complex for some non-bookkeeper business owners.
  • It’s glitchy: I’d only been working for 10 minutes before I got one of those horrible windows saying Arguments NotFound. Debugging resource strings are unavailable. Don’t know about you, but this kind of pillow talk doesn’t do much for me.
  • Error Message with CashBook Online

    Fun and games with CashBook Online

  • The security has holes:  When I went to log back into CashBook Online, it remembered my Username and Password. I certainly wouldn’t want this happening if I was using a computer that others shared, or logging on to view my accounts from an Internet café somewhere. I don’t want my new partner spreading my innermost secrets all around town. (After speaking to Reckon, I tested this problem further. Google Chrome automatically remembered by login but Internet Explorer didn’t. And I couldn’t log on at all using my iPad.)

So the conclusion for my candid camera moment with CashBook Online?

When it comes to a partner (whether in life or in cloud accounting) I want someone that’s good looking, fun to have around, and excellent at what he does.

In contrast, I feel like I’ve just been on a first date with CashBook Online and found my new love to be rather spotty, unreliable and a poor conversationalist to boot. And I don’t care how cheap he is to maintain.

Now can you see now why reviewing accounting software is such a wretched pursuit?

Posted in Cloud Accounting, QuickBooks Online | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remote hosting, remote platforms, cloud accounting and more technobabble

In my recent post, MYOB Heads for the Clouds, I talk about remote hosting versus remote platforms.

A tedious distinction perhaps, but one that is of consequence.

In the context of MYOB’s cloud solution, a remote platform means a network of computers in some anonymous location accompanied by an extra layer of software that enables other people or other computers to interact. (And you thought that interaction was all about using deodorant and lots of eye contact.)

With MYOB’s cloud solution, the idea is you’re going to run this little app from your desktop to access the remote platform. Your data is going to live up in the cloud (on that platform) and when you work with your data, most of the processing grunt is going to take place up in the cloud, but some of the processing (caching of lists, screen redraws and so on) is going to happen on your local computer.

This remote platform is designed so that other people or computers can access your data too. How that person or computer views your data depends on what they’re up to: A bank may access your data to upload bank feeds; a mobile phone app may access your data so you can record sales while on the move; your accountant could access your data, using their own software as the interface, to do their end-of-year shenanigans.

In contrast to this remote platform concept, a simple remote hosting arrangement typically uses Terminal Server. Your data lives in the cloud ready for you or others to access, and everybody views this data in the same way. For example, with QuickBooks Hosted (which uses a remote hosting arrangement) whether you log onto your QuickBooks  file or your accountant does, you both see the same thing.

With remote hosting, there typically isn’t that flexibility for devices such as iPhones or tablets to access and manipulate the data, or for banks to upload daily automated bank feeds. In short, there isn’t that same touchy-feely connectedness with the outside world.

Clear as mud? Have sympathy for me trying to convert this unholy technobabble into something that remotely sounds like English. If you think you can clarify anything that I’ve written here, please go right ahead (or is it write ahead?) and add your comments.

Posted in Cloud Accounting, QuickBooks Online | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

MYOB Heads for the Clouds

Finally back from a couple of months overseas. Hiking in the Scottish highlands, festival going in Edinburgh, family feasting in Wales and cycling through Helsinki under the midnight sun. Followed by that disconnected experience of arriving back home after time away, that fleeting sensation of viewing one’s own life as if through the eyes of a stranger.

I fell straight back into things though, scooting up to Brisbane for the annual MYOB shindig, where over 700 consultants, along with a whole mob of MYOB staff wearing very dubious bright purple polo shirts, gathered together.

The most interesting thing about the conference (bar the excellent wine at the Ernst & Young Gala Dinner that I attended while briefly under the misapprehension that I was actually at the MYOB Gala Dinner), was the stuff about MYOB in the cloud.

Receiving an appreciation award at the MYOB Gala Dinner (no, I'm not the one wearing a yellow tie)

For newcomers to this blog: The cloud typically means any location other than your own computer or local network. This location is usually a remote computer or network of computers in some other city or country and you access this location via the Internet. Cloud computing is the idea of delivering software as service, rather than as a product. It’s all got nothing whatsoever to do with trumpet-bearing cherubs.

I’ve talked before on this blog about how accounting software falls into three categories, and the cloud is a crucial part of my definition:

  • Traditional desktop accounting software: Software that you load onto your PC or Mac such as the main range of MYOB or QuickBooks products. (Nothing whatsoever to do with the cloud.)
  • Browser-based cloud accounting: Where you do your accounts using the Internet and a browser. Examples include Xero, LiveAccounts or SaaSu. (Your accounting data lives in a remote location, and you typically access your accounts via the Internet using a browser. You may also be able to access your accounts using other methods, such as mobile phone apps. These solutions are all about the cloud.)
  • Remote hosting: Where you go onto a remote computer using a secure login and password, and run your accounting application on that computer.  Examples include QuickBooks Hosted, a product that’s  identical to the desktop version of QuickBooks Enterprise but with the difference that your accounting data lives in a remote location. (You’re working remotely using the Internet, so your data is in the ‘cloud’.)

Latest news from the conference is that MYOB plan to use a different approach again to cloud accounting, one that takes the speed of remote hosting but adds the open interface you expect with cloud solutions. To achieve this, both the MYOB application and your company accounts are going to sit in the cloud on a remote platform.

The benefit of a remote platform, as opposed to remote hosting, is that you can connect your data with other applications or interfaces such as banks, iPhones, tablets or your accountant’s practice software. (If this distinction between remote platforms and remote hosts is doing your head in, visit What’s the difference between a remote platform in the clouds and a remote host? for more info.)

This platform also enables another pretty clever element within MYOB’s cloud concept: if it tickles your fancy, you can store your data on your local machine as well as in the cloud. If you choose to work in this way, the cloud copy of your data updates your local copy with any new transactions every 30 seconds or so, meaning you also have an up-to-date copy of your data in both locations.

In theory, this solution offers the benefits of cloud accounting (easy access from any location or device; multiple users can view or work in the company file at the same time; data always backed up) as well as many benefits of desktop accounting (fast data entry of transactions; ability to create archival copies of your data; access to your accounts if the Internet goes down; control over your own backups).

The copy that lives locally is a read-only one, so according to MYOB, you can’t get a situation where someone accidentally works on the cloud copy of a file while another person works on a local copy. If a business decides for whatever reason that they don’t want their data to live in the cloud anymore, they can switch back from the cloud to a local copy.

So what’s my verdict?

First, I agree with Tim Reed, CEO and general bigwig at MYOB, when he poo-poos the argument that cloud technology isn’t really the ‘cloud’ unless it’s browser based. He correctly says that the cloud isn’t about a particular type of technology, rather it’s about what opportunities and capabilities the cloud offers to business. So the fact that MYOB’s offering isn’t browser based doesn’t perturb me much.

However, I did have some concerns regarding performance given that the conference demo was as slow as a wet week. I appreciate that this was only a demo and that we were assured speed wasn’t going to be an issue in the final release, but I do wonder about the technical limitations in regards to speed when updating local data every 30 seconds, especially if a business has a high volume of transactions.

I also think there’ll be an in-between stage, where products such as Xero and even LiveAccounts will retain a significant edge because they include bank feeds and auto-coding via bank rules. However, apparently bank feeds are going to be included in the cloud version of MYOB, although just when and which banks remains to be announced. But that’s another story.

On the other hand, I like MYOB’s concept because it delivers most of the benefits of browser-based cloud accounting without losing a heap of features (currently, software such as Xero and LiveAccounts don’t have the same depth as their desktop counterparts). I also think the idea is clever from a marketing perspective: Business people hesitant to shift all their data online are going to be reassured by the fact they can keep a local copy, ready to access should the Internet fail.

Posted in Cloud Accounting, MYOB LiveAccounts, QuickBooks Online, SAAS, Xero | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Just How Interesting are Your Accounts?

I was chatting to someone at a business networking meeting last night who said he’d thought about shifting his books to the cloud, but had decided against it. He felt that the cloud wasn’t secure enough, and he was worried about someone hacking into his data and trawling through his private information.

This guy is a gardener. A lovely gardener, with his hands in the soil and his head quite far from the clouds. I could have raved on about how Xero and LiveAccounts have security similar to the banks, with multiple firewalls, anti-terrorist protection, 24/7 video security, and so on. However, I wondered if I’d be missing the point.

So I asked this guy two questions:

Are your accounts really THAT interesting?

Maybe your ex-wife/ex-husband/best friend/main competitor might have a fleeting interest in how much you earned last year, in a voyeuristic kind of way. However, would your business really come crashing to the ground just because someone hacks into a computer somewhere and looks through your books? (Not that this is likely, etc, etc — I’m just posing the question.)

I mean, just how much interest lies in a set of hairdresser’s/musician’s/gardener’s accounts when viewed through the eyes of a Siberian hacker?

(Of course, if the Siberian hacker wants to figure out why my petty cash was out of balance while he’s there and send me an email, that’s fine by me.)

I had another question:

Be honest: Are your backup systems foolproof?

In my experience, the average small business owner may have great intentions about backing up, but they usually have systems that aren’t worth a pinch of parrot poo.

Try this simple test:

  1. When did you last backup? (score 10 for within the last day, 5 for within the last week, 0 for so long ago you can’t remember)
  2. What did you backup? Did this include emails, word documents and accounting data? (score 10 for everything, 5 for emails and accounting data, 0 if you what you backed up fitted onto a memory stick or a single CD)
  3. Where did you store your backup?  (score 10 if you took your backup away from the office,  or 0 if the backup hasn’t left the premises).

How did you score? Most small business owners I come across would score less than 20, and that’s if they’re conscientious.

My point is …

Why the insecurity about cloud accounting not being safe? After all, what’s so scary about your data (fascinating insight into your psyche that it is) being backed up to the latest minute,  mirrored in multiple different locations around the world with 24/7 security, and protected by the very latest in technology?

Posted in MYOB LiveAccounts, QuickBooks Online, SAAS, Xero | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment