Pleasanton, Calif. - Accounting Software vendor Accpac International has rolled out what it hopes will prove to be the ultimate front-office tool for accountants and make Internet-hosted software a little more palatable to its small and midsized business clients.

The Online Pass program essentially makes CPAs "middle men" in an application service provider delivery of Accpac’s Advantage Series accounting software line. End users who sign up for the program through their CPAs have the option of accessing the ASP through a link on the CPA’s Web site and the accounting firm has ready access to the client’s hosted accounting data.

To be sure, the vendor’s program in many ways is similar to other accounting software ASPs. Most enable users that host their accounting data to have that data accessed by their accountants; however, Online Pass makes a special effort to emphasize the ability of accountants to tie in extra services to the accounting data hosted and to market those extra services on their Web sites, which the clients use to access the ASP.

"CPAs have a lot of interest in being able to control client relationships," said Bill Copeland, Accpac vice president of strategic accounting alliances. "We are providing them a platform to bundle up the various services they provide and more easily offer them to the clients."

Accpac, based here, also stresses the strength and security of its hosting platform. The ASP server is operated by Accpac’s parent, Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates, one of the world’s largest software developer and service companies, whose clients include most of the Fortune 500.

Online Pass and its underlying accounting application appear suitable for a broad base of small and midsized enterprises. While the Advantage Series suite would conceivably be used by companies with hundreds of millions in annual revenue, an Accpac spokesperson said users can opt for only the modules they need, which could mean just a general ledger and accounts payable and receivable.

The first CPA firm signed up for the Online Pass, Canadian-based BDO Dunwoody, typically serves companies of between $2 million and $50 million in annual revenue.

A feature that sets this apart as a front office solution for CPAs, rather than just an ASP for clients, is built-in time and billing functionality that tracks the accountants’ services that are tacked on to the hosted accounting program. Online Pass even creates files from which accounting firms can automatically generate bills for services generated through the program.

The accounting firm sets the pricing, which can vary based on the professional services it bundles. Hosted applications purchased by end users are available to resellers at 80 percent of their list price, giving the resellers a 20 percent margin they can take or pass on to the client.

The accounting firm Web site link that provides access to the Accpac ASP looks like an extension of the accountant’s practice, since it is branded with the accountant’s logo and information. The link actually connects users to a "Unicenter" ASP server management system operated by CA and its sister company Ican.

Accpac is making the Advantage Series ASP available for sale by its entire channel. Online Pass’s ability to tie other services to the end users’ accounting is particularly designed for resellers who are also accountants or provide accounting related consulting services.

"This gives CPAs great capability to control their overhead," said Rob Lavery, Accpac vice president of e-alliances. He noted the while the built-in time and expense function offers "streamlined billing," the online platform, from which CPAs can work with clients, saves travel time that would be spent visiting clients.

Accpac officials are hopeful that the Online Pass feature will attract more accounting firms and consulting businesses affiliated with accountants to its channel. The vendor has about 3,000 resellers in the United States and Canada, 30 percent of whom are accounting firms or affiliated operations.

Online Pass is a new twist on an accounting ASP market that already features Oracle Small Business Suite and Intacct Corp., which offers accounting and related business service applications hosted servers that are accessible by the users’ accountants.

However, Oracle Small Business Suite and Intacct have been around for several years and have large established bases. For example, Oracle, marketed by NetLedger, has more than 5,000 paying company clients and more than 800 CPAs certified as consultants. Intacct has about 2,000 end-user businesses and 300 CPAs licensed to operate on its ASP and access their clients’ data. Accpac has another ASP offering, Accpac Online, with several hundred users.

The Online Pass concept is a variation of client data hosting arrangements that CPAs have been offering for many years, but it’s not necessarily easy to market, according to accounting industry technology consultant Gary Boomer of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan. "What’s been a struggle with this idea is firms generating adequate volume to support the solution and packaging it so the client understands the benefits," Boomer said.

BDO Dunwoody, the 200-office Canadian arm of the Chicago-based BDO International, has high hopes for Online. "This gives us ability to serve clients through the electronic infrastructure and we do the pricing," said Brent Walker, national special services partner at the firm’s Toronto headquarters. "This takes care of the risk and we still have control."

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