Accounting software . . . the bigger picture

Accounting software . . . the bigger picture

There is a huge number of Australian businesses that require unique accounting solutions, designed for multi-user environments. The type of expertise required to install these is extremely specialised, and resellers who have both accounting knowledge and sound computer skills are like hen's teeth. Businesses want a person who can see the big picture of where their business is heading and what it needs to do in order to get there, as well as a person who can get the mundane day-to-day tasks operating as efficiently as possibleThere are many accounting software products which can cope with multi-user environments, high transaction volumes, and specialised reporting needs. Familiar names such as ACCPAC, Arrow Accounting, Attaché Business Partner, or Sybiz Vision are all products specifically designed for medium to large businesses. Unlike retail products such as M.Y.O.B. and QuickBooks, these products are not sold through retail outlets, but through appointed dealers and distributors.

You don't have to be a trained accountant in order to specialise in accounting software. Although accountants who are prepared to embrace information technology are able to provide a very complete service to their clients, the truth is that many accountants are still stuck in their bean-counting mentality. By remaining as bean-counters, they leave an enormous gap in the market where computer professionals can step in and provide a valuable service. In practice, professionals from lots of different backgrounds become specialists in accounting software, whether they be management consultants, programmers, or engineers.

Reseller channels

The structure of reseller channels varies from product to product. For example, Attaché has two levels of dealers, Local Attaché Distributors and Associate Attaché Distributors. Local Distributors have geographical responsibility for a particular area (anything from Fiji to Dubbo) and arrange demos, seminars and promotions. They are also responsible for the quality of work performed by Associate Distributors, and supply phone support to all users in their geographic area. Associate Distributors are usually accountants or PC Dealers, who might sell Attaché and provide some services, but who do not share the same full-time commitment to Attaché as do Local Distributors.

In contrast, Sybiz is an example of a more complex dealer structure, with four reseller levels: Vision developers, accountants, authorised resellers, and ordinary resellers. Vision developers receive the top margin, advanced training, and a Developers Kit, with which they are able to install and customise Vision, developing third party products if desired. Authorised resellers receive sales leads, a top margin, and are responsible for customer support and training in their area. Ordinary resellers are "nurtured" by authorised resellers (how sweet!), and although they receive the lowest margin they are able to refer to their own authorised reseller for support.

Creative reporting

For many businesses, the bottom line of their accounting system is simply the reports. All mid-range accounting products provide a range of mechanisms for businesses to get the reports out that they need. They achieve this in different ways, but the reseller invariably has a major role in setting up and designing reports. Most products come with an "ODBC driver" - a tool which allows their software to talk to other Windows software, such as Excel, Word, or Crystal reports. This opens up a whole world of reporting possibilities.

In terms of reporting, a relevant bit of jargon is DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange). DDE is the process whereby information can flow "live" between two or more Windows packages. (Usually, the existence of an ODBC driver means that DDE is possible.) For example, a wholesaler could set up an Internet site where their customers can log on and view stock prices and availability. Using dynamic data exchange, this site would be linked to the wholesaler's accounting software and would therefore always be up-to-date, right down to the most recent stock movements and price changes.

Customising products

In the old days of accounting software, customising a program to meet special requirements often meant that this program could not be easily upgraded in the future. However, this has really changed in the last few years and now accounting software offers ways that resellers can tailor the program, without affecting source code or upgrade paths. Customisations can be of a simple nature, such as modifying data fields, creating custom forms (for invoices, purchase orders, etc), or perhaps creating special reports using report writer tools.

Customisations can also be of a more complex programming nature: interleaving windows (such as special colour/size windows), integrating dynamically with other products (such as contact managers or mail merge), or creating whole industry-specific add-on products (such as Point of Sale systems, or MRP tools). This ability to customise accounting software is a win-win situation: the customer gets exactly what they require, and the reseller can add value to the services they provide.

Sovereign, distributed by Solution 6, is a good example of this. Special customer requirements are met by inserting program "hooks" - batches of code that don't actually modify existing code, but interrupt processing to perform an additional task. This means that any screen, form, menu or report can be extensively altered, and new windows can be seamlessly interleaved into the main program. These alterations are not affected by program upgrades.

The new generation of accounting software also offers programmers great flexibility in what language they choose to write in. Products such as Sybiz Vision, which are written in an industry standard open design, can be modified in a similar way to Sovereign by inserting additional code at a large number of breakpoints through the package. The reseller is not stuck with one particular language, but can use whatever language they are familiar with, whether it be Paradox, Delphi, VisualBasic or Access.

The opportunity for resellers to create third party products is an interesting one. For example, if a hotel has purchased ACCPAC and requires an integrated booking system along with their accounts, the reseller can design a booking system, and link it with ACCPAC. However, the reseller can also work in with ACCPAC's Development Partner program, giving them the potential to market this booking system as a third party product available to all hotels throughout Australia. It's good for the resellers, and it's good for the hotels too.

A final note - the range of customisation options can sometimes be a bit of a trap for resellers. There is no point trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear - if there are too many changes to be made it may be that the client has the wrong tool for the job. It is here that the effective reseller needs to have some awareness of competitors' products, so that they can refer their client to a more specialised solution.

Getting the support you need

If you're going to resell accounting software, not only will you be giving support, you'll need to be able to get it too! If you can, try and evaluate what level of training you'll be provided with as part of the process of becoming an authorised reseller. For example, Arrow Accounting dealers must attend four days introductory training, two days advanced training, plus upgrade seminars. This training is provided at nominal cost, and a comprehensive training manual is also provided. Note that all products will offer prospective resellers some form of training, but the cost and duration of this training will vary greatly.

One important thing: don't underestimate the depth of knowledge you will require to be an effective reseller of accounting software. Training courses might only take a couple of weeks, but whatever your background, there is a great deal to be learnt with any product.

IN BRIEF . . .

. . . a snapshot of some of the main players in the marketplaceThe products listed below are all well established accounting software companies that cater especially for medium to large sized businesses. For more detail on these products, readers might like to refer to the accounting review in the October 1996 issue of Australian PC World.


Distributed by: Computer Associates

Tel: 1800 800 208

ACCPAC 2000 is a Windows accounting package, largely based on ACCPAC Plus, a DOS product with the largest user base of any single accounting package in the world. ACCPAC targets businesses with a turnover of $10 million plus per year. There are 1,000 users of ACCPAC 2000 worldwide (100 in Australia), and 300,000 users of ACCPAC Plus worldwide (3,000 in Australia).

Arrow Accounting Software

Distributed by: Arrow Research CorporationTel: (02) 9955 0999 Fax: (02) 9955 0350Arrow Accounting was established in 1990, and is a wholly-owned Australian company with over 3,000 registered users. Although still a DOS product, the complete switch to a Windows version is planned to be released late this year. Arrow targets a wide range of medium sized businesses, and offers a particularly strong job-costing module.

Attaché Business Partner

Distributed by: Attaché Software Australia Pty LtdTel: (02) 9929 8700 Fax: (02) 9925 0481Attaché is an Australian company started in 1981, and has sold more than 65,000 Attaché systems, with over 2,000 registered users of their recent Windows product, Business Partner. Attaché targets businesses with a turnover exceeding $1 million, that have between five and 100 employees. Business Partner has notably low hardware requirements, and Attaché believes that Business Partner operates faster than any other mid-range Windows accounting package.

Sovereign v5

Distributed by: Solution 6

Tel: (02) 9391 0608 Fax: (02) 9391 0626

Sovereign is distributed by Solution 6, and is an established UK designed product which has been customised for Australia. It has a worldwide user base of over 5,000 companies, and typically targets businesses with a turnover exceeding $5 million. It is still a DOS product, although a Windows version will be available in the near future. Sovereign is highly flexible, allowing any screen, form, menu or report to be extensively altered.

Sybiz Vision

Distributed by: Sybiz Software

Tel: (02) 9954 5211 Fax: (02) 9954 5240

Sybiz is an Australian company which has been developing accounting and payroll software since 1977. It has 35,000 registered users worldwide, with 1,200 registered users of Vision, its Windows accounting product. Sybiz was the first company in Australia to release a Windows multi-user accounting package, and Vision is notable for its open Windows design and ease of customisation.

Spoilt for choice?

Part of being an effective reseller is to make sure that your client has the best product to meet their needs - and, of course, that product is not necessarily the one that you sell! Recommending an alternative product is easier said than done - it's difficult to see what other accounting software is really like without first spending a week immersed in each one.

A tool to assist businesses and resellers choose financial software is the Financial Applications Suppliers Directory, published by Excelsoft.

The FASD is a directory which covers almost every financial application software product in Australia, including general accounting software, industry specific software, and business management systems.

Associated with the directory is a database selection tool on floppy (FASST). This contains similar information to the directory, but allows you to run searches based on your client's requirements. You can search by functions (which products have multi-currency features?), by system environment (Unix, Macintosh, MS DOS, etc), by industry (publishing, government, farming) or by service provided (risk management, system evaluation, etc). Most importantly, you can type in multiple criteria and ask the database to tell you which products fulfil all of these criteria.

This directory is clearly not sufficient as the basis from which to make a final choice of software, but plays a valid role locating alter-native solutions for businesses with unusual requirements.

The directory costs $34.95 including postage. The selection tool (FAAST) costs $150, and includes quarterly updates for the first 12 months from purchase.

Phone Excelsoft Pty Ltd for more details.

Tel: (03) 9882 5164

Fax: (03) 9882 5169

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