Independent Product Review
Posted on May 14, 2013
"Aqilla is the first industrial-strength set of Financials I have seen from the Cloud which matches the products of the established mid-range vendors." David Carter
We were very happy to accomodate David Carter's request to review Aqilla's cloud accounting platform. To follow are his findings. This also formed the basis of a "mid market Cloud accounting" review which was published by AccountingWEB. Carter writes:
Cloud-based accounting systems have been with us for several years now, but discussion about them remains frustratingly theoretical with little hard evidence. We need some major Accounts departments to go the Cloud route and to report on their experience. When half a dozen FD’s say “When we installed it the sky didn’t fall in, within six months it had become part of the furniture and now we’ve forgotten that it runs on the Cloud at all” then the Cloud will have arrived.
The problem is that most Cloud accounts packages are aimed at the bottom end of the market at companies too small to have their own IT or Accounts department. Lacking as they do the functionality required for serious mid-range accounting, Cloud-based accounting itself loses credibility.
We badly need some serious, industrial-strength, cloud-based accounts packages that match the established vendors feature for feature.
The established vendors are themselves obviously giving out Cloud-based versions, but software written in a previous generation rarely works well in a new one it wasn’t designed for. These new packages will probably come from unknown companies who have written their package for the Cloud from scratch. But accounting being a specialist area, they will need some pedigree in accounting rather than just being enthusiastic technologists.
So when I was asked to review a Cloud-based accounts system and heard that the co-founder had originally written SunSystems, I pricked up my ears. SunSystems was THE package for the Accounts departments of mid-range and semi-corporate companies during the 1990’s.
COMPANY and MARKET
Aqilla was founded in 2006 by Hugh Scantlebury and Colin Christianson, who both previously worked for Systems Union, the original authors of SunSystems. The company is based in London; initially with 3 staff, now 12.
Based on Oracle’s MySQL relational database, the front-end is written in Java. The Software is accessible from anywhere across the globe and works on any Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android device which has Internet access.
Modules offered are the core Ledgers, nominal, debtors, creditors and cash, with built in budgeting & forecasting. On the supplier side there is also procurement - Purchase Order – Delivery - Authorisation – Payment; on the sales side Invoicing from an item catalogue. In addition Aqilla also supports service based and free format invoicing.
Like SunSystems, Aqilla is built around the “Unified Ledger” concept – the idea that Sales Ledger and Purchase Ledger transactions should not be stored in separate modules but within the Nominal Ledger removing the need to maintain Debtor and Creditor control accounts.
Aqilla also offers the “multi’s” that are required by mid-range and international organisations - multi-currency; multi-company, multi-language, multiple budgets, multiple tax regimes etc.
A good set of Financials, then, aimed primarily at mid-range, service-based organisations.
Aqilla is aimed at mid-market companies, typically those with a dedicated finance director or controller, and turnover between £5 and £250million. Competing here against products like SunSystems or Microsoft Dynamics. On the other hand, the attractive pricing options – see below – make Aqilla very competitive against packages such as Iris Exchequer, Sage 200 or even Sage Line 50.
Aqilla typically sells directly to companies (as opposed to via accounting firms). There are also 5 resellers who specialise in specific vertical markets of hospitality (pubs, restaurants, hotels), not for profit, financial services and social housing
Aqilla’s currently has 190 customers servicing something in the region of 1000 users. Many of these have been early adopters - MD’s and FD’s who are attracted by the Cloud concept. However, Aqilla note that in recent months they are being approached by more mainstream accounts departments, e.g. by the Ministry of Justice in the public sector.
Aqilla will store your data on their own servers, which are located in the UK. All processing is performed on these servers and returned to the user’s desktop. You can access the data from anywhere in the world via any device which is connected to the internet. In a recent publication Aqilla were quoted as providing 99.98% uptime for their servers.
Data backup and automatic provision of software updates are included as part of the service.
Unlike most vendors there is no upfront licence fee with Aqilla; instead subscription charges are for monthly usage.
Current prices per user are £50 per month for full Pro Users, £10 a month for occasional users (non-accounting staff who need to make enquiries and submit the occasional document such as an Expense Claim or Timesheet which are included in the core application).
There is a set-up fee of £100 per company plus a number of consultancy days to configure the software to the organisation’s particular requirements – e.g. chart of accounts, analysis and reporting etc. This will vary from user to user dependent on their specific needs.
Standard discounts are available for registered Charity and Not for Profit organisations.
The Aqilla screen layouts look clean and simple compared to legacy, on premise solutions such as SunSystems or Microsoft Dynamics which tend to be “busy” and with debits and credits much in evidence.
With modern systems the aim is to capture documents as early in the cycle as possible rather than wait until they reach the accounts department. So, for example, the person on the desk who opens the post and receives the cheques should be able to key them onto the system straight away.
Aqilla adopt what they call a “document-centric” approach, treating each screen to be filled in asrepresenting a real-world event. So behind each screen rules can be set that ensure it is filled in accurately, and it is passed on automatically to the next person in the process using the built in workflow.
Some particularly interesting features of Aqilla:
The Journal Control Desk lists all the documents that have been raised and allows a senior person in Accounts to review and edit them, in particular to check the debits and credits via Journal Preview before they are finally posted to the ledger.
In a similar vein, the Rough Posting feature allows the accountant to post transactions, then go to the financial reports and see what the effect was. If the result is not the intended one, you can amend it as often as you like until you decide to finally commit.
The Attribute Wizard allows you to add a new field (text, number, date) to any master or transaction record, thus you are able to capture and report on operational data as well as purely financial information. This field can be filled in manually or validated against a lookup table.
Aqilla also offers a nice on-screen reporting facility. For example the P&L appears on-screen and you can choose to see it summarised by quarter or by year, or apply a filter to show the figures for a single department, project or other analysis code. All reports can be output a PDF file which can be printed or emailed as an attachment, or exported to Microsoft Excel for there is also a highly capable Add In providing two way integration with reference and transactional data.
For users who need to send out a month-end accounts pack to senior management, an additional reporting package called SharperLight is also available.
This review is not a detailed evaluation of Aqilla, but the time we spent was enough to convince me that in its basic design this is a product to be taken very seriously. The SunSystems pedigree is obvious and if there are gaps in functionality, I am confident that Aqilla will fill them in.
Aqilla is the first industrial-strength set of Financials I have seen from the Cloud which matches the products of the established mid-range vendors.
When the Windows revolution took place 20 years ago many established vendors couldn’t adapt to the new technology and new unknown companies took their place. My guess is that the same thing will happen with the Cloud, and that while Aqilla may be relatively unknown now, in ten years it will be one of the major players in the mid-range marketplace.
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