Technology – Software reliability improves.

The ICAEW’s IT Faculty has this week released its annual survey of IT usage, which found software had got more reliable over the last year, but urged further improvement.

Last year’s report created a stir for several software companies, after it found a quarter of accountancy firms had suffered software package failures in ‘a business critical sense’ over the previous two years.

This year’s report is more encouraging, finding that less than 10% of accountancy firms were suffering from the same problems as they were in 2000. But a spokesman for the IT Faculty warned: ‘There are still unreliable software products out there.’

The independent survey this year looked into how software performed in five major areas: accounts production, personal taxation, payroll, time and fees, and corporate taxation. It targeted almost 800 institute software users, ranging from Big Five firms to sole practitioners, in a bid to produce a scientific overview of the market.

The report shows accountants in practice that are in the process of selecting software, as well as existing software users, which providers are performing well and which are not.

IRIS and VT Accounts were found to provide the best accounts production software, although it is unfair to compare the two products, because, although both carry out similar functions, they target different markets.

IRIS offerings are more expensive and aimed at firms of 15 staff or more with larger systems, while VT is highly rated among users of smaller systems.

IRIS also led the field in the personal taxation category this week, with PTP, although once again the two products are not directly comparable.

The IRIS offering is priced in the region of #1,000, while PTP software costs closer to #100. In this category, Sage Personal Tax was found to have failed 35% of users in a business critical sense.

In the payroll sector, Freeway PAYE-master came out in front, while IRIS and PTP topped the corporate taxation section – IRIS was also rated to be the best software provider in the time and fees category.

Therefore, according to the IT Faculty survey, when it comes to reliability, IRIS, which is led by group chief executive Martin Leuw, dominates the accountancy software market.

Meanwhile, software giant Sage was held back in the personal taxation and accounts production categories not by its products, but by the scores it received for its initial service and on-going support.

It could be argued, however, that if Sage’s software performs well, what amount of on-going support the company would need to provide.

A number of trends were also highlighted in the report. Last year 31% of practices said they had a website, while a further 31% said they wanted to create a site within 12 months. However, this year the number of practices with sites had risen to 38% – a smaller increase than practitioners were hoping for – while 60% now suggest they would like a website within the next year. It is unlikely that this proportion of firms will achieve their aim, which suggests that many have unrealistic expectations about software or have not been able to begin their project or completed their assessments of the possible cost benefits.

The bust of the dotcom bubble and the slowdown of the economy are other factors, which cannot be discounted in these disappointing figures for the number of practices taking on a web presence.

More on the ICAEW’s IT faculty at

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