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Software round table – Not everything on the Internet makes sense

Financial Director: The next ‘Big Idea’ in the IT industry appears toup, industry representatives discuss whether anybody really needs browser-based accounting software. Their views may surprise you. be the trend towards ‘thin-client’ terminals and browser-based software.

Will it fly?

Gordon (Navision): You’re talking about after the year 2000 – year 2001 onwards…

Dunikoski (Texsys RD): … once we’ve solved Emu, once we’ve solved the year 2000! I know in the States that browser-enabled software is here today and very prevalent, with people running their accounting systems over the Internet, using virtual private networks. I don’t know what the acceptance will be here in the UK. Thin clients are, I think, an idea whose time seems to be passing – at least in the US. Take a look at Oracle’s (share price) in the last 60 days: $2.2bn is Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison’s personal loss.

Holt (Scala): We’re just about to bring out browser-enabled, thin-client software. Scala is an Internet server using either Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, or whatever browser you want to use. We’re doing this because our corporate client council, which meets twice a year, is telling us they think we ought to. And if 35 of our biggest customers are telling us this, then we have to listen to what they are saying.

There’s a lot of hassle with EDI (electronic data interchange), which is the other way of doing business, and it’s not a standard. Every time you write a piece of bespoke software to re-cog somebody’s EDI system, it’s just not a viable standard that you can roll out. If you can do it so that they (suppliers and customers) are inputting information directly into your system, cutting out all the interfaces, it must make a lot of sense.

Gordon (Navision): (With) Tesco’s home shopping, the Web Shop, you can shop at Tesco’s and when (the order) gets downloaded into the warehouse in Scotland they take all the orders off the web and then re-input them manually into another system.

Holt (Scala): If you’ve got it so your customer can dial into you, the customer simply enters his code, his password, and sees what you’ve got in stock and orders it. This saves the purchase order and all the paper work; it’s directly in your system, you haven’t had to do a thing.

Gordon (Navision): I agree with you. We’re already doing that and demonstrating that. There’s a lot of excitement from certain industries. But there are other people who, when you start talking about that, say “Wait a minute: we haven’t got calculators in our building and you’re talking about rocket science.” I think there is a great gulf between different types of organisations.

There will be many who won’t reach that (level) for a good many years to come.

O’Reilly (Access): Web-enabled software is being pushed by the vendors more than it’s being bought by the customers in this country at this time.

There are a few early adopters who want absolutely everything and they want it today and it’s got to be state-of-the-art – but the rest of the customers are really not that keen to move forward in that way because they see the Internet as something which is, quite frankly, unreliable.

Nagpal (Navision): There are two questions here: one is the browser-enabled packages and the other is the thin-client scenario. As far as the browser scenario is concerned, that, given time, will be effectively something everybody will use. There is no question about that. It’s just a question of time. (For example,) today, unless you’ve got a Windows package, you’re not going anywhere. It’ll be the same thing with the browser. Whether it is thin-client or fat-client, that’s a different issue. But the browser is definitely the future.

O’Reilly (Access): Surely the thin-client market is being driven by people who are taking a granular approach. They’re not trying to make all the functionality of their accounts package available to individuals all over the world, over the web. They are trying to take a much more granular approach and putting specific tasks on the thin-clients; is a very successful route to go down. It’s also very easy: there’s limited training because there is limited functionality being made available to end-user. That’s efficiency.

Wyllie (Solomon Software): I agree with that. I think there are a lot of companies trying to do it all over the Internet, and that seems to me to be a potential recipe for disaster.

O’Reilly (Access): … but to take up your earlier issue, we founded our company specifically to bring the benefits of Windows to accountancy users.

We launched our Windows software in 1991, and a large number of our users were early adopters. And they are not desperately keen to run their core accounting function over the Internet.

Holt (Scala): I don’t think you’re talking about doing that. It depends whether it’s an internal user or whether you’re actually opening up your system to your customers or suppliers. That is a big issue. People who are working on just-in-time want to get the information through so they can process it. They don’t want to have to generate faxes and paperwork.

If they can stick (their order) straight in your system with a minimum of cost, ie, using an Internet connection, it’s going to make a lot of sense. I’m saying the reason why we’re doing it is that it is client-driven: we are being told, “You will do this, Scala”. It cuts out a lot of replication of getting data in. They’re sticking it straight into your core system.

Dunikoski (Texsys RD): It reduces the cost of data entry because of the errors that are entered when data is replicated multiple times.

Nagpal (Navision): (Look at) DHL or UPS where the clients are able, via the Internet, to have access to find out where their package is. A simple exercise like that has cut down the cost to these companies by something like a quarter of a million pounds or a quarter of a million dollars a month. That’s a real benefit. But to be actually running the accounting package on the Internet? I think that’s a long way off yet. I don’t see the need for that in the first place.

O’Reilly (Access): I agree with you entirely. Publishing information on intranets and extranets is exactly the way to go. Granting full access to your accounts system over the web, I believe, is an extremely dodgy practice.

Holt (Scala): You wouldn’t make your general ledger available on the Net, just the only aspect of it that ‘s going to benefit both your client and his customers or suppliers.

Nagpal (Navision): I am paranoid in terms of my own company: with the Internet, how many can access my accounting package? The last thing I want them to see is how much profit I’ve made!

Financial Director: So you appear to be saying that web-enabled functionality is going to be the new EDI, rather than the new accounting software package.

Nagpal (Navision): Very much so

Holt (Scala): It’s going to take it further than EDI. I see that – hopefully – EDI will be dead in two years.

Nagpal (Navision): EDI actually never took off.

Wyllie (Solomon Software): It was a great concept but people just found it too complicated.

Nagpal (Navision): This will be something that will evolve over time where people will dip their toes in the water, feel how the Internet fits in with the organisation. It might start with sales people getting the orders, or communicating that way, or we may end up with people placing the orders on the Internet and payments taking place. But there’s no doubt: security will have to be tightened up.

O’Reilly (Access): This is the benefit of the granular approach because you can publish the information that you want people to have access to in the knowledge that if it goes outside of the circulation that you have planned for it, it isn’t necessarily going to hurt you.

Wyllie (Solomon Software): I think we’re selling futures to a degree.

We have to be careful about believing our own publicity sometimes.

Holt (Scala): (The Internet) is going to save people a lot of time. It’s the way it’s going, isn’t it? Shopping on the Internet – okay, it’s not a big thing at the moment, but it will grow.

Wyllie (Solomon Software): Are you seeing a lot of this in the States, Bob?

Dunikoski (Texsys RD): Yeah, I saved about $1,500 on my plane ticket here to the UK by buying my tickets on the web. I also saved $250 on my hotel room – per night. It’s amazing what commerce is currently being performed on the web in the UK.

Our thanks again to everyone at Solomon Software for initiating and organising this session.

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