Microsoft set for UK tug of war

Microsoft’s newly-launched Professional Accountants’ Network in the US was inevitable, according to industry experts, but a similar scheme in the UK would face tough competition due to the proliferation of software companies already boasting strong links with accountants.

The network’s launch has been timed to win support from US accountants for September’s release of Small Business Accounting 2006, integrated with Microsoft Office.

But a similar network in the UK would see Microsoft fight for the ‘hearts and minds’ of accountants against Sage, Iris and Access, which already have networking groups.

A Sage spokesman said Microsoft was ‘not renowned for working closely with customers’, and accused the Redmond-based software giant of ‘following its lead’ by introducing a network of accountants.

Dave Reynolds, chief executive of the Independent Association of Accountants Information Technology Consultants, warned that the strong existing presence of accountants’ networks could see them treated as a ‘sales channel rather than an independent consultant’. But he thought the huge market of small businesses not using any accounts software would be Microsoft’s main target.

David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum, said Microsoft was ‘stealing Sage’s thunder’ by introducing an accountants’ network. He added that its target market was ‘wide open’ for the software launch because of the existing popularity of Office.

But despite the familiarity of Windows and Office to potential customers, Iris chief executive Martin Leuw warned that Microsoft’s reliance on using resellers to move products to market was a ‘weakness’.

Microsoft would have to work hard with local partners to get accountants onside in the UK. ‘Their relationship with customers is remote,’ Leuw said.

Intuit, which faces the initial battle with Microsoft in the US against its QuickBooks range, remained bullish. The company told Accountancy Age that the network launch was of ‘no surprise’ and it was ready to ‘compete’.

‘We have a strong brand and are confident in our strategy,’ the company said.

Terry Hicks, director of QuickBooks, has already said that Intuit would use its ‘long-established’ network of accountants to fight against any market penetration of Microsoft’s new accounting software.

Cindy Bates, general manager of the US small business group at Microsoft, said: ‘Our goal is to offer an industry-leading accountant’s network along with easy-to-use products that will help accounting professionals and their customers to be even more successful.’

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