Still behind in ’99

Pre-millennial angst is tightening its grip on users, and suppliers, of accountancy software, according to the latest results from MarTrak.

Over the past 18 months, Accountancy Age and Softworld have collaborated on a sequence of three research surveys designed to assess customer attitudes about the software they use and the companies that supply them.

The third MarTrak report confirms that some of the key issues identified in the last survey have intensified.

Overall, 48% of the 300 businesses questioned planned to change their accounting software in the next 12 months – a slight increase on March 1998’s 43%; with demand driven by companies with annual turnover less than #25m.

Top 500 companies – with a #200m-plus turnover – planning to invest in new software represented 5.6% of the total survey, which explains why large enterprise resource planning vendors have faced difficulties in recent months.

‘Smaller companies are planning more investment over the next period,’ said Softworld market research manager Wendy Kane.

‘But the year 2000 is hampering investment at the high end. Larger companies, have more systems in place and may be focusing on other aspects of the business right now. Maybe they’re adopting a wait-and-see attitude until after the millennium.’

The results also highlighted continuing concerns about the quality of customer care and support. Two-thirds of respondents prioritised implementation support as a key criteria, followed by ongoing maintenance (57%) and supplier knowledge of their business.

Over the three surveys, Kane identified a steady rise in the number of users who felt their suppliers were weak in these key areas. Nearly 30% cited implementation and support as vendor weaknesses, compared to around 20% in 1997.

Smaller customers, who could not afford the flexibility that larger companies demand and were more dependent on external assistance, were more critical of vendors. Consultancy and training – identified as a distinguishing factor between vendors – was also a source of growing dissatisfaction.

Vendors also faced criticism over keeping software up to date with technical trends. In Kane’s view, MarTrak has confirmed the software itself is no longer the main focus. In the increasingly competitive market, some vendors are not living up to that challenge.

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