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Accounting Web IT Zone online accounting review: Aqilla

Aqilla may be a new name in the online accounting market, writes Nigel Harris, but it has big ambitions: to be to the accounting software marketplace what Salesforce.com was to the world of CRM.

The company was launched in 2006 by Colin Christianson and Hugh Scantlebury who have a proven track record with companies such as Kewill, Systems Union and Sage. Both were integral to the success of SunSystems. One way they describe Aqilla is “what the hugely successful SunSystems might have become if it hadn’t got encumbered over over-complexity post Y2K.” As such it aims to take on the likes of Sage 50+, Pegasus, Dynamics, Access – and SunSystems itself, i.e multi-site/multi-user systems at the upper end of the SME market. The initial launch version will include sales and purchase ledgers, general ledger, cash matching, budgeting, sales and purchase invoicing and time management.

Aqilla (don’t worry about what the name means – it doesn’t mean anything: it was simply an available domain name and trademark!) will offer on-demand, hosted, 24/7 cloud accounting software. It uses the latest in open source toolsets based around Java and AJAX technologies, with MySQL as its main database technology, although MS SQL will be available as an option for Microsoft-only sites. Web services technology is also used extensively to feed data in and out of Aqilla whilst ensuring that all data is validated by the application.

The company has a number of key aims:

  • The service will be priced simply at £50 per user per month – no setup or initial costs, no ongoing maintenance fees
  • To use open source tools as much as possible, thereby putting something back into IT
  • The encourage green practices, reducing the need to print things
  • State of the art data and physical security, automatic backups and disaster recovery procedures.

The Aqilla interface is clean and very uncluttered. Being browser-based (and they mean virtually all browsers, including Firefox, Safari and Camino) the user can skip between tasks or different parts of the system without compromising the integrity of the data. The Home Page is customisable to show user-definable widgets, RSS feeds, Smart-KPIs (debtor days, turnover, etc) and Smart-Tasks (such as documents to complete or approve) and Smart-Events (date driven tasks such as reminders).

A user’s viewing and data entry rights can be controlled by the administrator to allow as much or as little as necessary, so sales reps and payroll clerks can be given specific access to their own sections without making the whole of the company’s finances open to the whole workforce.

For the new user the approach to input may seem unusual. Rather than the traditional ledger structure we are familiar with in Sage, etc Aqilla uses a single Documents tab for all data entry – sales invoices, timesheets, cash receipts, budgets, etc. This enables the entity to customise the data entry screen to reflect the way the users work. Data from the source document is automatically mapped to create the journal postings for the accounting system. Memorised and Scheduled Documents can be used to automate recurring processes and reduce errors. On setup data can be imported from other accounting systems using a CSV import routine. Unlike most small business accounts systems which tend to be date driven, Aqilla uses open period accounting, an approach which is more common in larger systems these days.

The software makes extensive use of Smart-Search technology to assist in fast and efficient entry of data. As data is entered the system automatically generates a drop down list matching the information typed so far.

The reporting functions are impressive and extremely flexible. Aqilla has one of the most impressive on-screen reporting functionality I have seen in any online application. Drill-down to prime entry postings is available from any report, and where reports are presented in table format the columns can be sorted on the fly in ascending, descending or original entry sequence. Because the system uses a consolidated ledger you can even drill down from the balance sheet debtor figure to the sales ledger and down to individual invoice level! Where hard copies are required the system generates PDF files, or data can be exported to a file or to Excel for further analysis and formatting.

The company expects to have its first customer up and running in May 2008 and to roll out internationally from the UK base. The aim is for 600 subscribers within 12 months rising to over 4000 within three years. Customers can implement the service in three ways:

  • Out of the box – it is designed to be intuitive to use and very quick to set up. No extensive consultancy or training is needed.
  • More sophisticated users can write their own reports and customise the software to meet their needs
  • Larger users may have the system customised by local resellers, and can deploy Aqilla as an in-house or intranet system.

However, all three approaches will be based on a common code base. There will be no bespoked versions of Aqilla, all customisation being achieved simply by using the extensive built-in system configuration options.

It is obviously too early to comment on the success of this new online service. It is going to create its own niche at the upper end of the SME accounting market where there are currently few SaaS-only accounting solutions, and none with the ambitions of Aqilla. At this stage I can say that the software certainly looks good, and with its excellent pedigree it promises to be a name to watch over the coming year.

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