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.
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.