The debate over Australia's $12 billion Y2K-remediation price tag has barely subsided, but analysts and industry groups are already moving to assess the cost of the impending GST introduction.
According to accounting specialists Arthur Andersen, preparations for the tax overhaul could easily reach $24 billion, making it far costlier than Y2K compliance. Yet, for accounting software vendors, it is not the GST, but the period after the introduction that is causing sleepless nights.
While there is no doubt that the GST-compliance rush is going to create a sales bonanza in the lead up to July 1, once the race to get GST-compliant systems in place is over, companies in the business of developing financial software are likely to face a number of problems in the process of taking their products and services to the next level.
`Like Y2K, the GST will also give rise to new business, but once that's all over and done with customer retention will become a big issue,' explained Adrian di Marco, managing director of Queensland-based financial software star du jour Technology One.
Di Marco said a lot of companies replaced their financial systems very quickly in the period when the IT industry had been experiencing unusually high levels of activity, a situation that is likely to result in a certain level of customer dissatisfaction.
Yet, contrary to expectations, Di Marco suggests the real issues financial software is going to be judged on over the next year is not GST compliance, but its e-commerce preparedness.
`People spent a lot of money preparing for Y2K and the GST and they definitely don't expect to spend half a million dollars on top of it to enable their software for e-commerce.
`But a lot of solutions are half-baked, and people will start to realise that,' he added.
David van Toor, managing director of financial software vendor Epicore, agrees, asserting that, like other sectors of the industry, accounting software vendors need to show strong support for `the whole move into the e-commerce environment.
`We are now moving away from a business-to-consumer to a business-to-business e-commerce model, which is much harder to support,' van Toor said. `Businesses want to interface with each other and the role of our industry now is to bring transactions into the back office software and provide them with what we call ECRM-solutions - ie e-commerce meets customer relationship management.'
According to Di Marco, failure to deliver on e-commerce guarantees in this period could prove fatal for a number of vendors and resellers.
`As an industry, we have to deliver on promises that we made, and fully integrated and e-commerce enabled accounting software should be our priority,' he said.