On choice of database, drivers and timeframe for cloud apps.
Fierce debates broke out over design decisions when MYOB enlisted its broad community of add-on developers to assist in testing the rewrite of its flagship accounting program which was launched in November.
BoxFreeIT compiled a list of questions based on interviews with several developers about the key decisions made in the software development of AccountRight 2011, codenamed Huxley.
The written responses were provided by Dale Dixon, product strategy manager, global product management at MYOB.
BoxFreeIT: How much did it cost to develop AccountRight? Is the public number of $80 million correct?
Dale Dixon: MYOB invests at least $25 million per annum in R&D into the next generation of cloud solutions. MYOB has more than 50 products and services it develops and supports to serve businesses of all sizes, including accountants in public practice.
We don’t release the exact R&D investment for each solution for commercial reasons, but we can confirm the investment in the AccountRight suite is substantial and generally accounts for around half of the R&D activity across the wider MYOB group.
BoxFreeIT: What is the status of the API for AccountRight? Is it true that it has been dropped and if so, why?
Dixon: We are focusing on higher priorities than the API at the moment, however it has not been dropped. With the move to next generation cloud our API strategy has evolved and will provide a much more appropriate web-based interface to AccountRight.
BoxFreeIT: Why did you decide not to use SQL Express and use SQL Compact server instead?
We evaluated both SQL Express and SQL Compact Server and after internal testing and field trials with our partners we chose SQL Compact Server because it delivered a better install and user experience.
- When testing SQL Express, we and our partners found the install process more complex and time consuming than SQL Compact Server.
- In 5-10 percent of the testing we and our partners undertook, we found a small business user would need expert technical support to successfully complete the install. We concluded that SQL Express when installed with AccountRight and even when installed independently without AccountRight did not pass our usability criteria for a small business.
- SQL Express almost doubles the size of the AccountRight application, making the download size prohibitive for many small businesses.
- SQL Express was not practical for the management of company databases for our larger partners and accounting firm clients where they may have several thousand client databases to manage.
- We found the SQL Compact Edition provided the functionality we required without the issues above and provided a better user experience for our partners and clients.
BoxFreeIT: How will independent software developers connect their software with the SQL Compact database given that it is encrypted?
Dixon: The SQL Compact Edition database is not encrypted. However, integration to AccountRight through a direct database connection is not recommended or supported by MYOB as using this approach bypasses the “MYOB Business Logic” we have developed for the AccountRight Suite and significantly increases the possibility of database corruption.
- Maintaining the stability and integrity of the database in an accounting solution is extremely important to the performance and integrity of a business management solution.
- Integrating directly also makes it very difficult for the developer to maintain their applications, as we continue to enhance and evolve the AccountRight suite. Our supported approach to integration with AccountRight is to use the ODBC driver, which ensures data is entered into AccountRight database correctly.
- To explain further, when we refer to MYOB Business Logic we are talking about our application, or elements of it. If a developer writes their own application to go through our API, which then connects to our database, we have confidence that the developer won’t corrupt our database in any way. If the developer bypasses MYOB Business Logic then there is much more scope for a data corruption issue. Essentially we are doing what every other platform provider does – provide a set of tools to allow a developer to get data into and out of the database safely.
BoxFreeIT: How long was AccountRight in beta testing? Who was involved? How many of the testers were paid to test the product?
Dixon: AccountRight has been developed over a number of years and has undergone several technical previews, alpha releases and beta releases. A beta cycle was run for the release of AccountRight Basics in June and then another beta cycle was run for the release of AccountRight Standard and Plus in November. The testing cycle for each release varies but is typically around two months.
BoxFreeIT: MYOB said that its cloud software was due this year. Is this still the case?
Dixon: Yes, we expect to release the cloud-enabled version of AccountRight this year.
BoxFreeIT: When will the cloud software start beta testing? How long will you test it for?
Dixon: We expect to commence beta testing of the cloud version of AccountRight in the second quarter. The actual date for starting beta will be determined when the product successfully completes our internal functional and performance quality assurance testing. The beta program itself will run for as long as required to meet an extensive set of exit criteria, again based on a set of functional and performance criteria. Previous beta tests have typically run for around two months each.
BoxFreeIT: Will the ODBC driver be used for the cloud software?
Dixon: Yes, the ODBC driver will be supported for the cloud software; this allows developers to build software for both desktop clients and cloud clients using the same approach. It will also make it simpler for existing developer partners to update their applications to work with the cloud service. We will also be providing an API to the cloud service in the future, which will provide a more web based interface. This API will form the foundation of the MYOB Business Platform and will be a more appropriate interface for other cloud products to integrate.