Jul 272012

Small businesses owe a lot to Craig Winkler – in 1991 he bought a obscure Mac based accounting package called Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) and built it into Australia’s leading small business accounting software.

Today Craig is a director and investor of Xero, a cloud computing service which is MYOB’s fastest growing competitor

At Xero’s Australian partner conference, Craig described how the development of business accounting software has evolved around technology opportunities.

MYOB’s massive growth happened as desktop computers became accessible to small businesses. Prior to 1990, it was rare to find a computer sitting on a business desk and they were largely confined to large financial, engineering and government organisations.

In the early 1990s computer prices dropped and as small businesses started using them, the need for desktop based office software exploded. This drove the growth of software like MYOB, Quickbooks and – most profitably of all – Microsoft Office.

Today a similar revolution is happening as computing moves onto the cloud, further reducing business costs and giving small organisations access to the same resources that only big corporations could access a decade ago.

Cloud based companies like Xero and Saasu are now threatening the incumbents like Quickbooks and MYOB who are responding with their own online products.

Tim Reed, the CEO of MYOB yesterday discussed how his business is moving to the cloud. With MYOB’s legacy of desktop based applications which they claim is used by 40% of Australia’s small to medium businesses it isn’t a straight forward process of dropping the old software and embracing the cloud.

Not that their customers are rushing to the cloud, Tim claims that a survey of their clients found that most want a ‘hybrid’ system where data is saved both on the cloud and on the desktop.

MYOB are catering for the hybrid cloud demand with a pilot program of their AccountRight Live product that adds online capabilities to their desktop software.

This is clear difference between MYOB and its cloud competitors. Xero’s founder Rod Drury maintains that those hybrid solutions are cumbersome and adds far more complexity into software. In Rod’s view, “cloud technologies are the right technologies.”

The difference between the philosophies of MYOB and Xero is reflected across the software industry – most notably this is the difference between Google and Microsoft or Apple.

Both Microsoft and Apple see cloud computing as an adjunct to their desktop, tablet and smartphone products. Data is synchronised between the cloud and the device while work is carried out on both.

Google on the other hand tries to do everything on the cloud.

Both approaches have their benefits, particularly in a world where Internet access cannot always be taken for granted which is the cloud’s biggest weakness. Although as mobile broadband becomes ubiquitous in the developed world, that disadvantage is quickly eroding.

Regardless of the differences in the philosophies, everybody agrees that cloud services are going to revolutionise small business. Both Tim Reed and Rod Drury see how the Big Data opportunities in the cloud are going to give business much more access to real time sales, banking and expense data while being able to benchmark their operations against industry performance.

As Craig Winkler described, we are on another big wave of change and there are great opportunities for the businesses that figure out how to use it.

Paul travelled to Melbourne attended the Xero Australian Partner conference courtesy of Xero. He received a private media briefing from MYOB.

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