I don't think we're in Kansas any more Toto

Hi, I’m Kevin McCallum and I’ve recently joined FreeAgent Central as Business Development Director. My role is mainly focussed on engaging with new and existing partner companies with the purpose of making as wide an audience as possible aware of FreeAgent and generally broadening what might be called our routes to market.

I’ve had 2 “careers” up until this point, firstly working closely with small business customers for a well known Scottish bank and latterly I spent a good chunk of my working life so far as Commercial Director and joint-MD of a very long-established, and still well known, UK accounting software vendor, the traditional type we all know and love.

There’s been a lot of articles, blog-posts, presentations and expert commentary written over recent years about the inevitable and rapid rise and rise of cloud-delivered software and the slow and equally inevitable decline in the fortunes of the traditional, on-premise software solutions. My own involvement and experience has given me my own perspective on this discussion.

As a result, and rather than add to this increasingly one-sided debate right now from the blatantly biased point of view that you might normally expect, I thought it might be more relevant and hopefully interesting to relate some of the more practical and real differences I’ve noticed from the inside looking out, having been at FreeAgent Central for a bit over 3 weeks now.

In the “old world”, institutional inertia, politics, reliance on archaic revenue models and long-term value judgements based solely on that single quarter’s targets (this weeks long term plan!) all conspired to stifle innovation and any real interest in exploring the landscape outside the known and well-travelled paths.

I chose to take the red pill and move into the “Cloud” a very short time ago, and I’m already sure I will never look back.

In the main this certainty is largely due to the fact that there are a number of areas where what we do here - and more importantly, how and why we do it - is at the absolute opposite end of the scale to what people delivering and using traditional software are used to, a couple of which I’ve explored below:

Survival of the fit-for-purpose

There are layers to most complex software solutions, and if you are so inclined, you can often almost read the fossil record of where the functionality, UI and so on have evolved from, and how long ago. Many well-known accounting applications still contain code and logic originally created decades previously.

Applications like FreeAgent are not designed for one closed-loop environment or method of delivery and then indelicately shoe-horned into something else. Rather they are specifically designed from day one to exist outside local area networks and stand-alone PCs. As a result we provide an environment for access, usage and collaboration that many users were unfamiliar with previously but now both swear by and heavily rely on.

This “intelligent design” removes a lot of the rough edges that can be left behind through the process of re-engineering bloated and outdated software, and allows for a more elegant and efficient blending of form and function, something we are justly proud of here at FreeAgent Central, and also one of the things that I think marks us out as something a bit special, even from the rest of the cloud types.

Quality as a Service

Quality is one of the more difficult concepts to define in many ways and not just in relation to software applications. The acid test therefore for applications like ours is that people actively choose to keep paying their fees each and every month, even though they aren’t tied into long-term contracts as they would have previously experienced.

This customer satisfaction is not down to any one particular aspect of our “how, what and why” as a business, but rather a result of a huge amount of hard work put in by some very smart, dedicated and committed people across the whole of FreeAgent Central (myself included!)

The undoubted class of the guys doing all of the development that makes everything work as well as the focus on operations (100% uptime in October – can’t say much fairer than that!) are not always highlighted, but these aspects of FreeAgent, along with the product design and user experience, make the application what it is.

It is also true to say that we do hold customer support and satisfaction very high on our list of priorities, and whilst I would not suggest that traditional software authors don’t rate this as important, the positive feedback we get is - I think - strong evidence of the value of our ability to move quickly and respond directly to customers in language they understand and avoid the pitfall of being condescending.

The speed and simplicity by which we can roll out new capabilities and changes to the software, with almost no disruption to the end users, also cannot be overstated. New functionality, tax rate changes and the like just appear next time you log in, without having to install anything or force everyone out of the system whilst you run an upgrade.

These are just a few of the most immediate and obvious differences I’ve experienced in this brave new world. I’ve not even touched here on the supportive and shared experience of the larger community of users, evangelists, affiliates, partners etc that make up the FreeAgent ecosystem.

Similarly I’ve not attempted to outline the differences that abound within our own internal business culture, with its inbuilt and sincere positivity, optimism and future-looking confidence; something I sense we share with a lot of similar businesses building cloud applications.

Sadly this forward-facing view is something which my own experience tells me would not fit well with some of the grand-daddies of the software industry

As ever we value your input and views so please feel free to leave your comments below.

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