Back in the eighties a new and exciting accounting package for the PC market, called CBA, was introduced. Its developers in New Zealand, Cowan Bowman and Associates (hence CBA), were one of the first in the PC world to utilise a 4GL database (DataFlex) as the underlying "engine" of its accounting software. This concept was subsequently adopted by any number of accounting software developers as a standard.
CBA pioneered many developments during its early years. However, like many of its contemporaries in those earlier days of accounting software development, its reputation suffered. A kindhearted appraisal of the software yielded an opinion that it was "training intensive" - a suggestion which found sanctuary amongst the dealer channel. An unkind suggestion was that the product was "inherently unstable" and a successful month-end was akin to winning Lotto. The truth, like most things, was somewhere in between, but the uncertainty of the product opened the doors to its competitors. A user base which once boasted more than 20,000 sites is now at best 7,000 (as quoted by the current authors).
Keeping up with the bugs
The operation of accounting software in most companies is critical. Unlike other software packages like word processing, there is not always a "work around" and a shortcoming or "bug" required to be corrected immediately. This meant that many fixes were being done reactively and with little opportunity for thorough testing. At the same time, to satisfy demand, innovations were being written and introduced to the marketplace on a continuous basis. It was almost impossible to determine a controlled policy for the release of enhancements and "bug" fixes.
It appears that CBA missed the boat when it came to its ability to control these strategies. The Australian company, Automation One, suffered many staff and management changes during the early nineties and was eventually sold to Platinum Software of Irvine, California. Since this company's takeover, the fortunes of CBA have not been helped by persistent rumours about its long-term viability.
I had the opportunity of meeting Mark Young, the newly appointed customer support manager. I had expected to sit through another meeting based around excuses and excited ramblings about future visions. But unlike the phoenix-like promises of the past, Mark started with an apology and an acceptance of the problems they face. He talked about the company's new QA policy and their realistic future expectations.
Platinum CBA is a test-based application for DOS/Unix and will stay that way. (Surely this means it will ultimately be terminal?) Users who wish a Windows version will be offered a "migration" path to their Platinum for Windows product. They will be given a credit for the price they paid originally for CBA to be offset against the current retail price of the Windows product. This offer will not extend to users of CBA who have strong inventory requirements, however, because its functionality far exceeds that of Platinum for Windows.
Since the middle of August users of CBA have seen the benefits of a new policy on software development and support emerge.
Although cautious, I could only wish them well as CBA (or PCBA as it is now called), based on its past contributions, deserves a place in the Australian software industry. However, the current fierce competition in the local accounting software marketplace, coupled with the number of players, won't give them many more chances.
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