by John M. Covaleski

Hauppauge, N.Y. -- One of the newer names in accounting industry technology is being used by one of its oldest businesses.

The practice management, accounting and tax preparation software vendor formerly known as Micro Vision Inc. renamed itself AccountantsWorld late last year after merging with a former subsidiary that used that name. It has also taken a new approach to serving accounting professionals.

The former Micro Vision created the original AccountantsWorld in 1999, as the operator of www.accountants- world.com, with access to Micro Vision’s desktop computer-based software and to products and services designed expressly for accountants.

On the surface, the merger appears to be little more than a re-branding, as AccountantsWorld and Micro Vision shared the same employees, and the same facilities in Hauppauge on New York’s Long Island. Both companies also had the same principals, Micro Vision founders Chandra Bhansali and his wife Sharada.

However, the merger and name change are part of a major shift in philosophy and business approach from the company’s roots in desktop computer software. In its marketing and press materials, the company now calls itself a "community completely dedicated to the practice development of accounting professionals."

Chief executive Chandra Bhansali, 55, said, "As we progressed as Micro Vision and AccountantsWorld, our vision changed and we saw a broader implication of the scope of what we have been doing."

The new company is operating more along the lines on which the old AccountantsWorld had been operating -- as an Internet-based platform for products and services used by accountants to run their practices and to work with clients.

AccountantsWorld will continue to devote "considerable resources" to developing its desktop software products, Bhansali said, but it is clearly more focused on Internet delivery for now and the future.

Bhansali was among the pioneers in packaged tax preparation software development when he and his wife founded Micro Vision in 1983, and later when he moved his products from DOS to the Windows operating system in 1992. He sees the Internet as another place to pioneer. "With the Internet, accountants and their clients can work is so many ways that there’s really no limit to what we can do as a community for practitioners," he enthused.

The new AccountantsWorld already has a track record that matches Bhansali’s remarks. Since the merger was completed, the company has added the services that can be accessed online: Payroll Relief, an online payroll processing program; a business analysis software program that, upon receiving financial data on a business, creates a written analysis of its fiscal condition; and access to and discounts high-speed Internet connections.

The latest offerings complement a site that is already filled with products and services. The most prominent is the "Accountants Office Online" package, which provides a host of electronic and online services: e-mail, a tax organizer, a paycheck calculator, a Web site builder, CPE courses, and a "Cyber Cabinet" document-sharing program that lets practitioners post documents such as tax forms and financial statements to a Web server, allowing access to the accountants and to the clients for whom the forms were prepared.

The basic package of Accountants Online Office costs $595 per year. Additional Internet-based pay-per-use services include accounting, sales tax preparation and the new payroll program.

AccountantsWorld also hosts a variety of knowledge tools, including Internet discussion groups, a listing on a national online directory of accounting firms, and access to an accounting industry help-wanted page and a practices-for-sale section. The site has more than 25 features, including some standard Web portal items such as daily news reports and links to other appropriate web sites.

Third-party vendors currently in alliances with AccountantsWorld developed many of the site’s offerings, including all three recent additions. Payroll Relief was developed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based payroll service specialist PayCycle. The new analysis tool, ProfitCents, was developed by SageWorks Inc., of Cary, N.C., and the high-speed Internet service is from Covad Communications.

"We are in the business of helping accountants build their practices, and alliances are an important part of that," Bhansali said. Echoing what is commonly called a "best-of-breed" strategy, he said that the third-party partners provide programs that AccountantsWorld could not build on its own.

Bhansali’s increased attention to Internet delivery is based on his company’s experience in seeing practitioners go online. He noted that, before the merger, the AccountantsWorld site had some 60,000 members who filled out online registration forms and uploaded them to the vendor. About 95 percent of the members are public practitioners or CPAs in industry.

That’s 60,000 online members compared to 9,000 registered users of the company’s packaged software products. The difference in numbers was one of the main reasons that the company opted to rename itself AccountantsWorld.

However, whether a critical mass in the accounting industry is ready for online programs remains questionable. Even Bhansali acknowledged, "The Internet is still not the right medium for product and services for all accountants." He said that the biggest hurdle to acceptance has been the limited availability of the bandwidth needed to process work online.

AccountantsWorld hopes to overcome that hurdle through its alliance with Covad Communications, which enables members to receive deep discounts on high-speed Digital Subscriber Line access.

Bhansali seems confident that such alliances will help build a critical mass that makes the Internet a standard for commerce -- and his confidence is pegged to an understanding of the harsh reality of e-commerce’s shortcomings. AccountantsWorld has been one of the few survivors among the hundreds of dot-coms launched.

Those failures included AOL Inc.’s "Netscape NetBusiness" a small business services portal, in which AccountantsWorld agreed to be one of the participating vendors. However, AOL scrapped the program shortly after it was announced in 2001.

"If they had started a year earlier, they may have gotten strong enough to [survive]," Bhansali lamented. "Their timing was just wrong."

He’s hopeful that AccountantsWorld’s timing is just right.

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