[IMGCAP(1)]A reseller and consultant rises, a company falls, and in between there’s some good advice about getting your ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed when moving to the cloud. I’ll give you my take on all of this and more.

There were several moderate news items this week, but I thought the few that caught the most attention were the enhanced Alliance Partner Program being offered by top Sage partner Net@Work and the demise of cloud-based secure communications company Ziptr.

News: Ziptr, the secure communications service predominantly targeting legal and accounting professionals, announced to its user base that it will close its doors this week, officially discontinuing service as of noon on Friday, September 27. The recent notice from chief executive and founder Firdaus Bhathena alerted all users that the service would be discontinued and urged customers to export all of their data from their accounts as the company could not guarantee access to it after that time.

My Take: First let me get this out of the way, because I think it bears noting. There were some comments about this news that suggested some conspiracy theories that the NSA or some other factors were at work in the demise of this short-lived company. Granted, there were not a lot of facts revealed from the company itself about why it had to close its doors, even after receiving $6.8 million from investors just two years ago. There was also some consternation over how short a time users had to download their data or lose it forever (notice went out on Tuesday, they had until noon on Friday EST).

What I think, and much of this is based on conversations I’ve had with some people close to the company and also 20-plus years of reporting on business technology – several of which were from the venture capital and private equity side of things – is that this was a simple case of a company not being able to find enough customers in a set amount of time to satisfy investors.

When you finally figure out after a couple of years that you really want to focus on building awareness in the legal and accounting arena – two of the most conservative business groups around – you are already a couple of years behind. These business sectors are tough for any technology company to get into in a big way, let alone one that is venture-backed – which is in and of itself a whole other set of pressure. Look, the company had a decent technology and idea – to create a secure environment to communicate with clients and colleagues – something accountants and lawyers are in heavy need of given the sensitivity of the data they often exchange with clients. They had about 100 or so accounting firms who were pretty dedicated to using it and were advocating it, but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough. This is aside from the fact that the UI needed some work and probably would have undergone necessary upgrades given enough time and user feedback.  I wish the executives and staff a lot of luck in the future; founder Bhathena has already been classified as a “serial entrepreneur” and I’m interested to see what he comes up with next.

News: Net@Work has enhanced its Partner Alliance Program, which will offer Sage and non-Sage VARs and other professional service providers – including CPAs – access to the firm’s full range of products and services and future business opportunities. Net@Work officially launched the Alliance Program last year and has now added more specific features with program head Tom Miller’s aid. The enhanced program is essentially tailored to the specific needs and business goals of each member, offering four levels of participation: Referral, Affiliate, Reseller, and Augmentation.

My Take: It looks like Net@Work didn’t waste any time putting temporarily retired Tom Miller to work. In all seriousness, it looks like Miller put some legs and finer points on what had been a fairly loosely defined program. The bigger story here is that a program like this exists at all, and it’s the type of thing I’m seeing more sizable VARs engaged in – and not just in the Sage channel. The fact is, and we’ve mentioned this before in other pieces and feature stories, the profession is changing dramatically and the need for consultants to partner with other consultants to better serve their clients and customers is becoming par for the course.

We don’t need to reiterate the struggles of the comparatively smaller reseller and those firms that have not quite diversified their services to the level that some of their colleagues and competitors have. But this is the reality and Net@Work’s Partner Alliance Program not only has the specific details it needs to get off the ground and give other consultants a clearer path to partner with them (and possibly look towards an exit strategy, let’s not forget about that) but it helps define at what level you as an organization would even like to get involved with Net@Work. What I think is interesting too is that this program is not just for other Sage partners who could utilize Net@Work’s services, but VARs in other channels as well as CPA firms who could set up a referral relationship or even more.

Other Views:  I’m going to go at this one a bit differently. So I haven’t always given my opinion on other opinion/insight pieces, but I think a recent one submitted to Accounting Technology bears noting. Cloud computing and IT consultant to CPA firms Roy Keely gives firms what they need to know and look out for concerning the terms and conditions associated with moving to the cloud. Keely, who many know as the vice president of market strategy at Xcentric, penned the piece ‘Going to the Cloud with Assurance.’ He wrote it as a short instruction manual for firms that have maybe taken some steps towards using a cloud service provider and gotten burned or are considering the move and want to be aware of what to expect.

What I liked is that all too often the tales of cloud caution, among accounting firms, are around things like security and where’s my data and all that. Keely’s piece goes into another very important aspect of going to the cloud, which is the contract and service level agreement with said provider. He explains what to be wary of, what to ask, and what you should know about the nature of these agreements – which is, essentially, that they tend to favor the vendor and not you the user. This doesn’t mean they’re all bad, just that when entering into a relationship with a cloud service provider or vendor you know what to expect. It’s worth a read if you haven’t already.

Final thoughts: So one other item came up this week I just wanted to mention, and that was the Intuit announcement that transactions from Square can now integrate into QuickBooks. Now, on the surface, all well and good here and it makes sense. In fact, why didn’t they do this sooner? The fact is, and maybe it’s just me that finds it interesting, but Intuit also has GoPayment – the prime competitor to Square. I guess it’s just another case of getting friendly with a competitor for a greater good. In this case, Intuit can now chalk up another integration to QuickBooks -- it's largest selling product -- which again makes all the sense in the world. I don’t have the full numbers on GoPayment’s user base versus Square’s but it’s kind of moot if you are just considering that now both integrate with QuickBooks so in the end for Intuit it won’t matter which a retailer uses (as long as they have QuickBooks).


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