by John M. Covaleski

Vancouver, B.C. - The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, consisting of 55,000 Certified General Accountants and students, has enlisted software developer Accpac International to design and help run a Web-based information and services portal for its members across Canada.

While accomplishing its primary mission of helping the CGAA national organization in Vancouver better reach its members, the Web site could bolster Accpac’s already-strong market presence in Canada. Accpac is the only vendor involved in the project.

The site, CGA Online, will combine content now available on 14 separate Web sites serving CGAA members in their local areas, and will feature some new content and services applicable to all members nationwide.

CGA Online will also link to the other 14 sites, which include 12 provincial and territorial CGA associations, a CGA recruitment site, and a site that provides training and testing for "Professional Development," CGAs’ equivalent of continuing professional education. Ontario is the only provincial CGA association not participating.

Canada’s better-known accounting industry group, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, represents a membership of approximately 76,000 CAs and students. It is not involved with the CGA Online project.

"CGA Online is a critical step in supporting CGAs worldwide to better leverage technology and ultimately better serve their organizations and clients," said John Carpenter, chairman of CGA Online Services Corp., a unit that CGAA National created to develop and manage the new Web site.

For Accpac, based in Pleasanton, Calif., the site is an opportunity to expand its existing base of 250,0000 customers in Canada. CGA Online Services president John Yu said that the site will initially be used to "consolidate and harmonize" the content of all the CGA sites involved, but said that longer-term it could be used for other purposes including providing access to Accpac products.

Yu said the tentative launch date is spring/summer 2003. "This really opens the door to determine new ways we can work together," said William Copeland, Accpac’s vice president of strategic accounting alliances and the company’s point person for the CGA project. "Six months from now, there may be 10 things that we are working on together that we don’t know about now."

John Schoutsen, another Accpac vice president, said that the company is interested in using the site to market three products that it aggressively markets to CPAs in the United States - Pro and Advantage Series accounting software and Business Analysis Suite, whose functions include an ability to benchmark a business’ financial performance.

Copeland said it’s conceivable that Accpac could work together with CGAs in still-undetermined business projects, and cited gathering data from CGAs’ business clients to create nationwide industry benchmarks as a possible example. That benchmark information could then conceivably be implemented in versions of the Business Analysis Suite.

More immediately, Accpac must make sure that the site is put together and launched.

CGA Online sounds similar in concept to CPA2Biz, the accounting industry portal that was conceived by the American Institute of CPAs. The CGAA and the AICPA each conceived their sites as portals for information, products and services for their members, and each created separate companies to run their sites.

However, Yu and Copeland said that their site is distinctly different. They noted that the site is owned and funded by the CGAs’ territorial and provincial associations, while CPA2Biz was launched with $100.7 million from outside investors: Microsoft Corp., insurance services company Aon Corp., payroll vendor ADP, and Thomson Corp., which owns the publisher of Accounting Today.

Another key distinction is that CGA Online’s primary mission is to consolidate and interconnect data on the regional association sites, while one of CPA2Biz’s linchpins has been an agreement with state CPA societies to license their member databases to CPA2Biz. That licensing agreement terminated in mid-2002 and has not yet been renewed.

"I am not that familiar with CPA2Biz, but you really cannot draw a parallel between us and them," Yu said.

Original plans for CPA2Biz emphasized that the portal would distribute products and services to CPAs’ clients. CGAA has not emphasized product marketing by CGA Online, but the door is open for Accpac to market itself there.

Accpac is providing its services free of charge. Copeland said that the trade-off for working free is "the increased brand image and the opportunity to market our products."

Accpac would provide the technology and services that are required to build the site and to interconnect it with the other CGA sites involved. It will also provide staff to augment CGA Online’s design and implementation team.

The tricky part of development will be interconnecting the main site with the other 14 sites and maintaining consolidated and up-to-date content among them, according to Copeland. Yu said that the new site would feature one database for the content on all sites involved, and noted that 60 percent of the sites’ content is now identical.

In addition to organizing the data, CGA officials also expect the new site to help create "a common brand" for all CGA associations and to allow members to share resources. The site is designed to be accessed by CGAs, their clients, government agencies, universities, the media and business advocacy groups.

Copeland said the site has complexities similar to those of Web sites used by multi-billion-dollar corporations. In its CGA work, Accpac is using "CleverPath" Web development and content management technologies designed for Fortune 500 companies by its parent company, Computer Associates of Islandia, N.Y.

Alan Salmon, Canadian associate for K2 Enterprises technology product analysts and trainers, said that the site could be a plus for Accpac. "CGAs have a substantial portion of the Canadian accounting market and this could be a winning offer to them, assuming that it has good content. The caveat will be what the content is," Salmon said.

Salmon also said that Accpac may now be getting a run for its money in Canada’s low-end accounting software market, where Accpac’s Simply Accounting is by far the leader. Intuit’s QuickBooks, the United States’ and world’s low-end accounting software leader, gained market share late last year when Intuit acquired the Canadian operations of low-end rival MYOB.

"Simply Accounting is still way ahead, but it’s in a horse race with Intuit," Salmon said.

Intuit did not release QuickBooks’ Canadian market numbers, but Simply Accounting, which has recently been upgraded, has more than 300,000 customers and the bulk of them are in Canada, according to Accpac.

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