SaaS is on odd phrase for those not familiar with it. It means 'software as a service'. The logic is simple, but important. It's about software not being a product which you buy, own and consume, but instead it is something you rent for the value it can add to your business, both by itself and by releasing the potential in relationships it can create with others.
I spoke with David Terrar of Twinfield today and suggested that if his business model is to really hit his target market of accountancy firms then complexity in the accounts structure is unlikely to be critical to much of what he does but integration of the client data with the records of the accounting firm that is effectively hosting and supplying the accounting software to the client user will be.
What do I mean. I think it's the following:
- The client will want to be able to see all key aspects of their relationship with the accountant on the system, which will require access to all letters, accounts, tax returns, copy emails (that's a tricky one - but maybe they should be dumped as PDFs), fees, notes of conversation (which the accountant should always make and then put on record so they cannot be challenged later - which makes them the ultimate professional indemnity insurance defence) and engagements letters on line in write protected, but mutually accessible directories;
- The system should have it's own communication link built in - so queries can be sent and answered on what to do with accounting data, and an audit trail is kept;
- Any module has to be extended so that the client can save and enter key tax data into the system on line .e.g interest received, copy data (scanned as PDFs?) on things like pensions paid, gift aid, and so on as the year progresses so that this stuff does not have to be gathered at the year end, and to reduce the compliance burden;
- This has to integrate for the practitioner with their client practice management system i.e. time and charges ledgers, work flow monitoring systems for accounts, tax, audit and other compliance e.g. VAT, annual return and PAYE including P35 etc;
- There should also be a practice compliance link so that client identification and standing data, engagement letters and other such stuff needed for practice assurance purposes is accessible
- The accounts and tax packs should be linked to major statutory accounts and tax production software - go for PTP if no one else - it's the best.
I've run a firm and 6 years ago we had a system that did almost all this - but only accessible from the office. If it could have remote access now it would be a winner for 97% of all clients of all firms.
That's a massive market - but it's not available yet. When it is there will be no excuse for firms not to:
- have efficient systems;
- have systems used by everyone;
- have time to add value;
- make a profit from almost any work.
SaaS is the way forward for practitioners who want to do the right thing - and who want to help their clients do the right thing. That though may be the only down side of the idea. Not all practitioners want to do the right thing!