Accountants must be feeling the love, or at least they potentially will, as a growing number of vendors appear to be designing more programs and products with these professionals in mind. But why now?

I plan to give you my take on this trend, which has happened before, and see if we can connect it somehow to the current business environment or a sign of greater things to come.

Certainly there’s been a fair amount of vendor-generated news this week, some newer cloud accounting/ERP players coming to market or creating attention in particular. Of note would be the emergence (or re-emergence) of Reston, Va.-based GCE, and then there’s VersAccounts from Toronto, which garnered some former Sage executives as advisory board members.

But what struck me most, or has been affecting my thoughts of late, has been the specific attention accountants are getting – or may potentially get – from the vendor community. These are not new players, I might add, and some have made efforts before, but not quite like this.

First, there’s Intuit. I know, if you are a ProAdvisor you would probably come out on the side of Intuit always being there for accountants and listening to you and heeding your advice on where their products (well, QuickBooks anyway) should be headed. They’ve made accountant versions of this and that, and it’s all well and good.

However, I’m not certain many people know about this, which is not surprising because they haven’t made a big splash about it – at least not yet – but over the past few months Intuit has been building a team designed to reach out the Top 200 CPA firms in the country in order to work with them to get them “into the cloud.”

The business unit is known as the Accountant & Advisory Group, and their prime directive is to work with these top firms that have QuickBooks desktop clients and help them transition to QuickBooks Online.  The team was recently joined by Kim Hogan, who has several years working directly with the CPA profession, first helping ensure that the Fujitsu ScanSnap was their scanner of choice, and then as the West Coast sales force of cloud-based workflow product maker XCM Solutions. She was the first to acknowledge that Intuit is building a “dream team” of sorts behind this effort.

The Accountant & Advisory Group is currently headed by Jill Ward, also boasts former CCH sales and marketing vice president Ray Barlow, and was recently joined by another former CCH colleague, business developer and strategic relationship director David Bergstein. The growing team also hosts former director of national accounts at Thomson and CCH Jim Clement. Expect it to get larger.

So why now? Well, it depends who you talk to. For me, I’m thinking it’s two-fold. First off, Intuit wants to be seen as innovating or leading in some way. In the U.S., they still do have the lead when it comes to the minds of accountants and the software that their small business clients work with. But that tide is, well, not so much turning as it is getting more rocky; even for a giant like Intuit.

Right now, there are many smaller fish eating away at Intuit’s business – all of whom, as it happens, represent cloud-based offerings. Intuit knows that this is where business computing is moving and it does have an online product that seems to have a sizable user base. But that could change and I’m certain they are not having that, so one of the best things to do is to get the right people on it to help ensure that said product -- QuickBooks Online – is the go-to, much in the way the desktop QuickBooks has been all of these years.

What’s more, Intuit CEO Brad Smith has in recent conversations revealed that while the company is not “abandoning” the desktop users: It will be transitioning them to the cloud. Even future enhancements to the desktop product will contain “cloud” features or connect users in some way to the Web. Again, in steps the trusted advisor to help ease the process. At least, this is what Intuit is hoping.

What’s more is that you now have Intuit connecting QuickBooks Online users directly with ProAdvisors from within the product, which is something Xero has been doing for some time and I assume Intuit is well aware of this fact.

Then we have Sage. Now, for the most part, we simply haven’t seen – not in recent history anyway -- much in the way of any products from Sage that are specifically designed for the accountant or CPA. That, according to them, is about to change.

Now there may be some skeptics out there, perhaps feeling that Sage “bailed” on accountants after Client Write Up 3.71. This, to me, doesn’t sound like the same thing.

For a few years now, Sage, with the aid of its Sage Accountants Network program and Jennifer Warawa heading up the program, the company has been able to get on – or back on — the radar of accountants. While efforts have been valiant, even bringing on Tom Hood and the Business Learning Institute to help firms work on core skills, the SAN has mainly offered accountants a way to be a “connector” and an “advocate” of Sage products, rather than offering anything designed specifically for them. That, again, seems like it is about to change.

Warawa was recently promoted to head up a new group called Sage Accountant Solutions, whose main goal is to deliver products for accountants here much like, she claims, Sage has in other markets. The first will likely be an accountant edition of its entry-level cloud accounting product Sage One, but if Sage’s plans come through there will be several more available for the profession by the time Sage Summit rolls around next summer.

Again, this is all very interesting and again I ask, why now? Well, for Sage I think they also realized that accountants and CPAs are a core group they need to interest if they are going to remain a competitor in the SMB space. I don’t think they ever did not realize this, actually, but hey, actions speak louder than words and, in this case, it may be products specifically designed for them rather than just getting to know and recommend.

Intuit and Sage aren’t the only ones by far, but they are among the bigger names that boast actual accounting software that, in recent history, are looking to gain the favor of the accounting community. I suspect we will see more in the future, particularly from known ERP brands.

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