Software firm Accpac is opening a new channel for delivering enterprise level accounting applications to its customers.

The Accpac Online Preferred Accountant Subscription Services (PASS) program is designed to enable accounting firms

to become a “virtual” application services provider (ASP) — Accpac manages all of the hosting infrastructure and application provisioning.

Through PASS, clients can purchase both accounting software subscriptions and related professional services from their accountant.

Accpac launched direct online offerings in June 2000, said Robert Lavery, vice-president of e-business alliances at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac. Business partners could refer their clients to Accpac Online, “but a lot of them gave us feedback that suggested they weren’t comfortable having to refer the billing aspect to aspect of the relationship to Accpac.”

With PASS, Accpac’s business partners are able to co-brand the service to their clients from their Web site. “We took that initiative one step further — there are unique requirements for professional accounting firms because they not only do traditional IT consulting, but they do accounting work and tax work.”

PASS is meant to help accounting firms run their practices, said Lavery, not just offer hosted services. “They can provide fully-branded services off of their Web site and Accpac Online is never exposed to the client. We don’t necessarily want to hide it, but it’s up to accountant as to how they want to position it.”

PASS gives the user one point of contact and gives the accounting firm the opportunity to get their brand to clients more often and creates a much tighter relationship, said Lavery. “We’ve seen over the last couple of decades the disintermediation between the accountant and the client because accountants didn’t typically get involved in IT work.”

Users who already have Accpac software on their desktops could move to the hosted model, said Lavery, ensuring their systems are compatible with their accountant’s, as well as reducing the amount of management required to maintain the software, since it is all browser-based.

“You get all of the traditional benefits of the ASP without the downside of the lack of credibility and trust,” said Lavery. “The ASP market itself was overhyped, so now people are a little bit leery.”

PASS also gives the accountant real-time access to their client’s data, so they can start to provide proactive business advice, not historically based analysis.

In addition to accounting software, Accpac can also provide CRM and HR solutions, said Lavery. “There will be some new financially-oriented products that create benchmarking statistics on a business that an accountant can use to monitor the health of their client’s business.”

Toronto-based accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP is beta-testing PASS and gauging potential interests from its customers, said Alain Dugas, senior manager of IT advisory services, based in Moncton, NB. “It gives us the opportunity to provide a gateway to our clients, and opens a door for us to incorporate value-added services.”

It also brings Grant Thornton a step closer to its clients, he said. “It allows us to be more proactive.”

From an IT perspective, said Dugas, “it saves us a heck of a lot of R&D costs on developing the front end and getting involved in a datacentre directly. The whole backbone is Accpac’s responsibility.”

And because the software is accessed via a Web browser, there is less desktop and maintenance required. “We would rather spend more time with the client doing business process improvement and tailoring the Accpac software to fit their business processes rather than dealing with technical issues.”

Lise Dellazizzo, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, said as a software vendor, Accpac is well positioned to deliver the ASP model to customers. “They have the privilege of already being recognized,” she said. “Customers are getting the same applications and functionality.”

Users will need to ensure the infrastructure that the solution will be deployed on can support the software delivery, said Dellazizzo. They also need to confirm who will support any issues with the applications — the vendor or the accounting firm.

“Other than that, Accpac has everything going for them,” she said. “If they know how to sell this they can be quite successful.”

Accpac’s timing is also appropriate, added Dellazizzo, given the current economic climate. “Budgets are tighter and you have to justify everything you buy.”

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