What do part-qualified accountants, with bundles of confidence, talent and motivation do if they are looking to retain the use of their financial skills and acumen, but want to do something a little different?
Well, in the case of Shabbir Osman, the professional services director of London-based Eclipse Computing, a partner of software companies including Microsoft Great Plains, he quit the bright lights of audit and insolvency at Coopers & Lybrand – now PwC – in Manchester and London to pursue a career in IT.
He was so determined to succeed in the software world that he took a drop in pay to join Eclipse because he knew it was a matter of time before he proved his mettle and his rewards would come. ‘I applied for a job at Eclipse following a recommendation by a colleague after I had been made redundant.
I rang up the company and told them the salary was not important. They had nothing to lose.’
His move away from the Big Six, as it was then, came about initially because he failed to come through his professional exams.
He arrived in the UK from Malawi at the age of 17, initially in Manchester, where he he picked up a love of Manchester United, with a determination to become an accountant. He says he was inspired by one of his uncles who was a chartered accountant and partner with Coopers & Lybrand in his homeland.
‘People who enter accountancy are not guaranteed to qualify within the profession. For me, I had gone all through my life flying through my exams.
But the first time I failed was at a professional stage of my career, at the P1 level,’ he remarks.
‘At the time it was quite a shock and in some ways I wish I had failed an exam much earlier in life. It was hard after the fall to get standing again,’ he adds.
He resat P1 again, passed it and went onto P2, but failed the management accounts part of the exam twice and on the third attempt passed that part, but failed auditing.
‘After being at Coopers and enjoying the work and the clients, I suddenly found myself part-qualified and not having the future within the profession I had wanted.’
It was during this tough period though that he showed his determination and ambition to move into the IT world.
‘I always wanted to be involved in the business consulting area, which to me was very exciting. You get a lot of exposure to a number of businesses and people,’ he recalls.
He joined Eclipse Computing in 1995 as a consultant hired to implement SunSystems accounting solutions. The following year he was appointed as a project manager for a large multinational client to design and roll out Sunsystems to their Asia Pacific, Russia and South American sites, giving him the opportunity to pursue his great love of travelling.
He has consulted on and implemented systems in countries including Portugal, South Korea, Philippines, Hong Kong and India, working with illustrious names including Grand Metropolitan and Amoco Oil. In 1997 he was appointed to his current role and says it was easy to transfer from practice to industry, while continuing to draw on his training.
‘When making the switch, confidence was a great factor. I was not going to forget my training. The edge I have now in the field is from my accounting days. When companies come to us for financial software, I am able to identify their needs and understand their requirements. I can look at them, draw on my accountancy experience and speak their language, whereas many companies can only advise from a technical point of view,’ he adds.
‘Some companies blame their mistakes on the fact they are not accountants and use this excuse to hide behind wrongdoings. This is not the way to carry out business; you must have an understanding of what each department is about, and whether they are sales or technology driven. Having the capability of looking at the whole picture is vital and having that accounting experience is vital in my experience,’ he says.
‘If you are able to identify how the process transacts you can help clients find requirements and challenge the way they are doing their processing, bringing efficiency to their accounting systems. When you have that, you can bridge the gap between accounting and technology’.
A watershed moment for Eclipse came in 1997, when it became a partner of US company Great Plains. Of course, Microsoft’s charge into accounting software by acquiring Great Plains and recently Navision, means Eclipse and Shabbir are living in interesting times. ‘When Microsoft acquired Great Plains it wasn’t a great surprise, they were always very close.
Great Plains had dedicated researchers at Microsoft. The deal just cemented their relationship. From our point of view it was fantastic because we didn’t have to sell the history of Great Plains to clients any more,’ he remembers.
‘People forgot it was a US product, so competing against the likes of Navision and Aggresso at that point became easier,’ he adds.
‘Microsoft’s acquisition of Great Plains is moving it towards a route of bundling the product with Windows – a way of ensuring you have the critical mass on a world-wide basis. However, its acquisition of Navision was a bit strange from that aspect,’ he says.
‘As far as we are concerned at Eclipse now, when we come up against Navision we are competing with a product that is also Microsoft, and so we have lost a selling point. This deal will make the market tougher for Great Plains in the European market, so from our perspective it is going to be more difficult.’
An accountant’s eye
Despite the pressure, Shabbir will continue to view the software market through the eye of an accountant. He says: ‘If I was an accountant buying a financial product today and was looking at Navision and Great Plains, I would question why Microsoft would want to buy Navision when it already owned Great Plains.
‘Before I would have taken Great Plains, but now I would want to look at Navision now as well, because there is something about this Navision product that interests Microsoft, so I would owe it to the company I work for to have a look at Navision, and it looks good to be perfectly honest.’
So although the times are changing and becoming harder in the world of IT, possessing the training and outlook of an accountant and shooting from the hip, is serving Shabbir Osman and Eclipse to good effect.
LIFE & TIMES OF ECLIPSE
1987: Eclipse born with the aim of designing and implementing financial and business management systems.
May 2000: Internet solutions provider for the sourcing, management and delivery of professional services. Niku Europe, signs UK distribution agreement with Eclipse.
June 2000: Eclipse named as a global accounts partner of Great Plains, the US company acquired by Microsoft later that year.
December 2000: Microsoft signals intent to move into the accounting software market after buying Danish software giant Great Plains in a £747m deal.
February 2001: Financial software vendor SquareSum signs Eclipse as its first global reseller.
February 2001: WorkWise Software, a division of Timeline, announces Eclipse as its new Reseller Partner.