As mentioned the other day, there have been a few rumblings from MYOB about SaaS – these have been hampered by the defection of their On-demand head to Xero. Credible insiders tell me that the MYOB offering (now called BusinessBasicsOnline) has been in development on and off for five years – if that’s the case I was pretty interested to see what they’d come up with.

An initial look

The first point to note is that it’s not so much a fully featured accounting system as a simple invoicing/stock/banking app. It also very closely mimics the feel of their installed app offering in look and usability. According to the spec it is only workable on Internet Explorer – I did manage to get it working (in a slow and buggy manner) on Firefox, but by specifying IE only, MYOB has somewhat curtailed their potential userbase.

Below is a screen capture of the main dashboard which is one of the only major departures from installed MYOB, the dashboard gives a snapshot of the business all in one place. The dashboard borrows from other SaaS accounting products giving a real-time view on sales, creditors and cashflow.

New Picture

The other major departure is that MYOB have taken advantage of the fact that BBO is an on-demand product and enabled automated bank feeds (a major bonus that Xero often talks about) – while I haven’t tested the bank feed functionality I’m assuming that it’ll work as expected.

Web 2.0 purists will pan the BBO user interface for being too desktop like and hence not sufficiently web-like. To be honest I don’t see that as a major issue – MYOB’s current customers are used to the existing UI and MYOB has obviously made a decision to keep the look and feel somewhat similar to what they’re familiar with.

What’s missing

In what is something of a surprise, BBO has no accounts payable functionality. This doesn’t make any sense, A/P is pretty much just A/R in reverse. Almost all businesses who have debtors also have creditors so this omission I would regard as a show stopper – it’s different having a roadmap for introducing “nice to haves” but A/P isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.

Similarly surprising is that the invoicing module does not allow for either negative line items or credit notes – again this is pretty much a core necessity for sales businesses. There is also no ability to create recurring invoices – while recurring invoices are a nice-to-have, I would have thought that it’s a function that MYOB would have readily brought over from their desktop offering.

In a major signal that MYOB isn’t thinking in a web sort of a way, the reports generator will only create static PDF’s. Compare with Xero’s reports which are navigable and even output to excel/Google docs with all formulae intact – it’s another fine point but it shows a lack of web vision.

In use

The next issue is speed – I have tested a number of on-demand accounting apps, I tend to test both on good broadband and on a speed limited 256kbps connection. While all on-demand apps struggle a little at 256k, most of them remain usable (albeit frustrating). BBO hovers on the cusp between usable and not – it’s agonizingly slow and it feels like I’m downloading an entire database every time I want to do something. BBO doesn’t really feel like it’s a true web app – more like a desktop app that has had the minimum done to it to partially webify it.

Summary

The onus on MYOB to come out with a robust product was always higher than for other entrants. MYOB has the experience, the money and the clout to bring a product to market with the features that users need. Under this measure MYOB has failed, if it’s true that this has been a five year project, BBO is a failure. If in fact it is an initial foray and more of a testing space, BBO shows a degree of promise but none to concern the other players. In fact the release of BBO is a significant validation for SaaS accounting. Remember it was only 12 months ago that MYOB employees were articulating their view that on-demand accounting was entirely unnecessary. 

Postscript – Rob Cameron, product strategy manager for MYOB out of Australia has told me that a new version of BBO is imminent. He’s promised to let me know when it’s ready for review – hopefully some of the issues raised above will be resolved in the update – I’ll post a review as soon as I see it

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

7 Comments
  • From the screenshot it does have a desktop look. It’s like Hotmail and Xero is more like Gmail. But it’s only us techies that will comment on that, the rest of their customers will just demand a product that works. Will be interesting to see the next release.

  • Hi Ben,
    Thanks for the mention. I’ve made a reply on my blog here.
    Regards, Stuart

  • ” It also very closely mimics the feel of their installed app offering in look and usability.”

    FAIL: I would like to know one person who actually likes MYOB’s user interface. Everyone I talk to hates it. Yes it gets the job done but only for people who have to use it everyday.

    “The onus on MYOB to come out with a robust product was always higher than for other entrants. MYOB has the experience, the money and the clout to bring a product to market with the features that users need.”

    I think their experience is a negative. They need to rethink the approach and harness the web to make a great app. The web offers the chance to do things like capture expenses at the point of use, allow collaboration, and interface seamlessly with other applications via API’s. Do you really think MYOB has the mindset and the rockstar developers to pull this off? Do they truly understand the internet?

    I could be proved wrong but they are going to untrain themselves from their exitsing mindset if they are going to succeed online. Just look at Microsoft online – They really haven’t been able to get any great wins online but they are the dominant desktop player.

  • I for one love using MYOB, although I think it would be nice to have more compatibility with opensource products such as virtuemart, SugarCRM, open-xchange etc etc

    As a user this is just my personal opinion.

    Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Personally I hope they fail, becasue they have been ripping off the Accounting industry for years and have never provided a decent system that works not to mention the fact that if you have an issue or require some decent support -it’s never there.

    They are too slow on the development and patch release fo products too.

    Just purchashed Xero -RIP MYOB, it’s good to finally see some decent competition too.

  • if you are looking for online product that also looks like a local application check out http://www.interprise.com.au set to take MYOB on head to head

  • having now left MYOB i can tell you that the whole BBO project was a disaster from the start with a real lack of commitment, a marketing manager monkey who didnt understand the industry and a complete lack of respect for the competition. Rod Drurys post about MYOB going under is probably a bit extreme but if the big ship isnt sinking its seriously taking on water

    btw the initial rollout of BBO only worked on IE – thats the sort of development arrogance that will get you panned by the critics

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