Questions for Webledger providers or Accounting ASPs
A Decision matrix for CPAs and VARs -- I welcome any
additions or comments on these key questions for any webledger solution:
1. FUNCTIONALITY: Does the webledger enable subscribers to conduct business over the internet, i.e. send/receive invoices, payments, and orders and pay bills? Or, is this just a remote control service, running a standalone accounting package over the internet?
2. PLATFORM: Is this available as a software product? If so, what is the name of the product? Can you support the small VAR running it as a micro-ASP? Is it stable? What level of skill is required to run it? How many hours per week is typical maintenance?
3. BUSINESS MODEL: Or, is this an exclusively internet service? If so, is this a monolithic national-scale webledger provider who owns and operates the entire data centers? Or is this something I can get from a variety of vendors? Will you provide a webledger back-end, enabling local entrepreneurs to establish branded local ASPs?
4. COST: How much does the webledger solution cost? Are you billing by the month, by User, or by the transaction? Do you require up-front investment?
5. JOURNAL BUS: What is the mechanism for Intercompany Journal Entries or purchasing/selling, between unrelated subscribers on your service? Can we post transactions to each other within the security/speed of the host? In particular, can subscribers settle their payables and receivables inside the host to avoid bank fees?
If so, how much do you charge for business conducted within this trading environment, between your subscribers?
6. THE SOLE SOURCE PROBLEM: Do you limit
access to your subscribers? Do you permit business to be conducted freely internally
between your subscribers, or with external parties, via XML? What assurances do you
provide that this is not a "Company Store" where pricing for our internet
business processes, and access to suppliers, is controlled by sole source?
7. THE LOCK-IN PROBLEM: With all due respect, what are the exit options for dissatisfied subscribers? What accounting packages can subscribers export/ download their data to? What XML schema or DTD do you provide for wholesale data export?
8. THE INCREMENTAL PROBLEM: how can a small business implement the webledger alongside their existing accounting system, without betting the company, putting their whole business on it? Broad solutions include
How do we run alongside the webledger? Are you making this an all-or-none proposition?
9. THE TRUST PROBLEM - What are your
privacy policies? Do you read the subscribers' data? Do you sell our data, or
any reports or derivative data based on subscribers' data? Do you disclose the identities
of your subscribers themselves, or market to them yourself?
Can you encrypt everything and let the subscriber keep their own keys, so that NOBODY could possibly read their descriptions or customer names?
What is your code of ethics? Who audits compliance? Who certifies it?
What bodies are you a member of? ASP Consortium? IBIS
10. SECURITY: Who audits your security. ICSA? Sun? (http://www.sun.com/sp/features/suntone.html) What protection do you offer besides the VPN or SSL browser connection? If another subscriber enters your host on a VPN what assurance do I have that they will not traverse back to my local site? Do I need a new level of firewall on my site?
11. WEBLEDGER SERVER AVAILABILITY: What is
your guaranteed maximum downtime (minutes / hours / days)? What happens if a fire or
flood destroys the main office or server site?
What is your server redundancy? Do you have online redundant hardware?
What level of RAID is under the RDBMS? Do you have failover hardware for the RDBMS, Web Server, Routers?
What is your exact backup routine. How much data could be lost (e.g. just current transactions / the previous hour / the whole of that day). Is there offsite backup?
12. OFFLINE OPERATION: Does the webledger
design provide any solution for working offline, for example, when the network goes down,
or perhaps, remote offices on modems? What functionality do you have, to prevent business
A. Full bi-directional RDBMS replication to local site enabling full add/edit/delete even during offline periods, or
B. Partial offline func. for at least, running the cash register, web storefront, issuing invoices?
C. Read-only replication providing at least a minimal picture of customer, supplier accounts and inventory?
D. or, Fat Client/ data harvest (upload of small accounting system's data files or journal exports?)
13. CARRIER'S QOS/SLA: Carrier's quality of service or service level agreement: what is the guaranteed uptime and thru-put on YOUR connection to the internet/VPN/carrier? Can a fully redundant data path be arranged to customer's premises, for example a DSL connection or regional wireless carrier?
14. DATA PURGE: What options do you provide the webledger user, for purging data? Do you have an option to keep multiple years open? Does it cost extra? On the other hand, can a customer cleardown / purge at frequent intervals?
At the time of purge, can we receive a CDROM or other snapshot of the whole period, for our own archive? Or, can we contract with the webledger ASP to keep records 3 years to meet our IRS audit requirement?
Purging accounting details within Accounts Payable, Receivable and Inventory, Fixed Assets requires complex logic to preserve open item detail. Please send me your yearend purge "FAQ".
15. GUARANTEED EXPUNGEMENT: Can subscribers with special needs, assure their webledger is totally expunged including all backup copies, at any intervals? Just as companies now expunge all email as standard practice, can your subscribers expunge financial detail?
16. SERVICES AVAILABLE TODAY: Provide a list of external internet services that have been successfully integrated with your webledger, with the price tag for each service. Include your recommended solution provider for
A. Delivering invoices to subscribers' customers, either electronically or by hardcopy printing
B. Executing an ACH or other payment
C. Billing aggregators who you can successfully receive bills from.
D. Web Storefronts successfully synchronizing with the webledger, on inventory stock levels and credit cards receivables (ie website knows our transactions.)
17. CUSTOMIZATION: What is your solution for customization?
A. Can you customize our company's configuration at the data center?
B. If you are customizing numerous subscribers, your data center must be bedlam. How do you keep the train from running off the rails? How many support engineers do you have, per subscriber?
C. If I work with you, to build customized screens and workflow, whose property are those? I don't want my competitors to use them.
D. Assuming you cannot customize, how many pre-configured "templates" do you have? Let me see your best template, for my industry/market.
18. TRANSACTION INTEGRITY: What is your message queue, transaction monitor or other solution, to manage uncompleted transactions over wide networks?
19. LOCAL SITE INTEGRATION: We have a local Point-of-Sale system, and other business-process software which requires integration from our local site to the webledger.
What is your technology for local integration? Is the webledger delivery pure HTML or does it involve DCOM, CORBA, or Java RMI? Is this a 2-phase commit technology? Does this require an RDBMS License and DBA on our site? Who is going to perform this high-tech integration? Give us a sample module with source code so our people can test drive it.
Do you support XML? We want document-level XML interfaces to our systems.
20. MULTICOMPANY ROLLUP: We have 50 branches. We want to leave their data on the webledger, and just query it down into our rollup system programattically. Can your platform do this?
Managing intercompany payables and receivables requires special functionality usually found only on enterprise systems. Do you enforce equality between numerous intercompany balances of a controlled group? Do you provide a consolidations and eliminations solution? Are your multicurrency translations GAAP compliant?
21. EXPERTISE/CERTIFICATION: Are your engineers certified on the servers, network gear, and software? We want this in the contract. Do you have policies for technical supervision of uncertified people?
22. AUDIT TRAIL: What special features do you provide, to track or log user activities? Can I view transactions by times/dates? By userID? By classes of transactions? Is there a total, comprehensive log which I can analyze with my own analytic software?
23. EDIT OF PREVIOUSLY ENTERED TRANSACTIONS: There are two fundamental schools of thought. In small business, it is widely adopted practice to allow bookkeepers to edit previously created transactions (within various controls). Do you enable any post-facto editing, or do you require a complete voiding entry and re-posting?
If you allow post-facto editing, describe your rollforward processing logic for accounts receivable, payable, inventory, and other systems in cases where layers of later transactions exist in the ledger.
24. SERVICE PROVIDERS DASHBOARD: Can the customer provide access to the CPA/service provider? If so, how granularly can that access be controlled? is it all or none?
What views of subscribers' ledgers is provided to the CPA or
service providers, from the "CPA dashboard"? Can CPA's design and run SQL
queries against all records all his clients? For example,
SELECT * FROM UNPOSTED_JOURNALS
WHERE [SUBSCRIBER].[CPA]="TFB" and [SUBSCRIBER].[CPA_ROLE] ="REVIEW"
AND [UNPOSTED_JOURNALS].[REVIEWED] = FALSE
SELECT * FROM SALES_JOURNAL
WHERE [SUBSCRIBER].[CPA]="TFB" and [SALES_JOURNAL].[NONTAXABLESALES]=TRUE
CPAs need hundreds of these kinds of queries. And other service providers such as Supply Chain providers, payroll providers, etc. will need them even more.
25. eCo FRAMEWORK: Does the webledger site implement the eCo XML Framework? We want to implement section 4.2.3 to take part in shared business processes that span multiple enterprises. http://eco.commerce.net/specs/index.cfm
26. AUTOMATED COMPANY SETUP: We are a multilevel marketing company operating as partners with our members, in ventures with short lives. We are looking for advanced partnership creation, maintenance and dissolution under our exclusive control. (Numerous industries such as movies, construction and software have projects that begin and end this way.) Do you enable multiple companies, "subsidiaries" or 'JV's to be created by users?
Todd Boyle 12/12/1999