June 19, 2008
As mentioned the other day, there have been a few rumblings from MYOB about SaaS – these have been hampered by the defection of their On-demand head to Xero. Credible insiders tell me that the MYOB offering (now called BusinessBasicsOnline) has been in development on and off for five years – if that’s the case I was pretty interested to see what they’d come up with.
An initial look
The first point to note is that it’s not so much a fully featured accounting system as a simple invoicing/stock/banking app. It also very closely mimics the feel of their installed app offering in look and usability. According to the spec it is only workable on Internet Explorer – I did manage to get it working (in a slow and buggy manner) on Firefox, but by specifying IE only, MYOB has somewhat curtailed their potential userbase.
Below is a screen capture of the main dashboard which is one of the only major departures from installed MYOB, the dashboard gives a snapshot of the business all in one place. The dashboard borrows from other SaaS accounting products giving a real-time view on sales, creditors and cashflow.
The other major departure is that MYOB have taken advantage of the fact that BBO is an on-demand product and enabled automated bank feeds (a major bonus that Xero often talks about) – while I haven’t tested the bank feed functionality I’m assuming that it’ll work as expected.
Web 2.0 purists will pan the BBO user interface for being too desktop like and hence not sufficiently web-like. To be honest I don’t see that as a major issue – MYOB’s current customers are used to the existing UI and MYOB has obviously made a decision to keep the look and feel somewhat similar to what they’re familiar with.
In what is something of a surprise, BBO has no accounts payable functionality. This doesn’t make any sense, A/P is pretty much just A/R in reverse. Almost all businesses who have debtors also have creditors so this omission I would regard as a show stopper – it’s different having a roadmap for introducing “nice to haves” but A/P isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.
Similarly surprising is that the invoicing module does not allow for either negative line items or credit notes – again this is pretty much a core necessity for sales businesses. There is also no ability to create recurring invoices – while recurring invoices are a nice-to-have, I would have thought that it’s a function that MYOB would have readily brought over from their desktop offering.
In a major signal that MYOB isn’t thinking in a web sort of a way, the reports generator will only create static PDF’s. Compare with Xero’s reports which are navigable and even output to excel/Google docs with all formulae intact – it’s another fine point but it shows a lack of web vision.
The next issue is speed – I have tested a number of on-demand accounting apps, I tend to test both on good broadband and on a speed limited 256kbps connection. While all on-demand apps struggle a little at 256k, most of them remain usable (albeit frustrating). BBO hovers on the cusp between usable and not – it’s agonizingly slow and it feels like I’m downloading an entire database every time I want to do something. BBO doesn’t really feel like it’s a true web app – more like a desktop app that has had the minimum done to it to partially webify it.
The onus on MYOB to come out with a robust product was always higher than for other entrants. MYOB has the experience, the money and the clout to bring a product to market with the features that users need. Under this measure MYOB has failed, if it’s true that this has been a five year project, BBO is a failure. If in fact it is an initial foray and more of a testing space, BBO shows a degree of promise but none to concern the other players. In fact the release of BBO is a significant validation for SaaS accounting. Remember it was only 12 months ago that MYOB employees were articulating their view that on-demand accounting was entirely unnecessary.
Postscript – Rob Cameron, product strategy manager for MYOB out of Australia has told me that a new version of BBO is imminent. He’s promised to let me know when it’s ready for review – hopefully some of the issues raised above will be resolved in the update – I’ll post a review as soon as I see it