Microsoft rivals up their game

Software providers have improved their accountants’ partnership networks, in
a preemptive strike against a possible Microsoft network launch in the UK. Four
of the major accounting software vendors ­ Sage, Iris, MYOB and Intuit ­ have
all upgraded their accounting partnership schemes in recent weeks.

The revamps have taken place under the cloud of a possible partner network
launch by Microsoft in the coming months. The software giant officially launched
its Small Business Accounting (SBA) product in the US in September, while its
accountants scheme, Professional Accounting Network (PAN), has run in the US
since May.

Microsoft confirmed an autumn 2006 launch date for SBA in the UK, but it is
yet to reveal plans for an accounting network.

Susan Lazareff, managing director of Intuit UK, said Microsoft’s actions had
‘no bearing’ on Intuit’s recently relaunched professional adviser programme, but
she added ominously: ‘If I was Microsoft, I’d build an accountancy network.’

She conceded that the previous Intuit programme had ‘failed somewhat’, but
the new version would help build up their ‘quality of relationship’.

Intuit is the main competitor against Microsoft in the US, holding a large
chunk of the small business software market with QuickBooks. It also runs an
accounting partner network.

Both Sage and Iris have launched HR helplines to complement their existing
offerings to accountants. Iris chief executive Martin Leuw told Accountancy Age
that, while its priority was to ‘listen to customers’, the company ‘kept an eye’
on competing schemes. The launch of the helpline, billed by Leuw as a ‘natural
progression for the company’, provides telephone support on employments law
issues to SMEs.

He added that Iris and Microsoft have ‘a strong working relationship in the
UK’ and would not comment on a potential Microsoft launch.

Brendan Flattery, MD of Sage accountants’ division, refused to speculate on a
PAN launch in the UK, but he confirmed that Sage would continue to grow its
business advice streams. Sage has previously predicted that Microsoft will
launch a network in the UK.

Simon Smith, general manager of MYOB’s business division, said he expected
Microsoft to gauge the success of PAN in the US before considering a UK launch.

SBA 2006, the first version of the product, ties in closely with Microsoft
Office, and is predominately aimed at small businesses that do not use any
accounting software to record and manage their finances.

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