Industry Insights—A Conversation with David Cieslak

Our latest Intacct Industry Insights conversation is with David Cieslak, a principal with Arxis Technology, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in the implementation and support of accounting and business management software. David specializes in accounting systems, information security, the Windows operating environment, cloud computing and project management. He has been working in the accounting technology industry since 1989 and is a frequent speaker for the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CalCPA), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and other state accounting societies.

Our conversation with David covered a variety of topics, including the market for midsize financial systems, best-of-breed versus single-vendor suites, and reporting challenges from SMBs. Here are the highlights…

INTACCT: How would you describe the market today for midsize financial systems?

DAVID CIESLAK: The market today is in state of transition. You've got the legacy on-premises solutions that are feature-rich and very deep and wide, but their architecture doesn't support more than one working paradigm. In financials, there’s not a huge proliferation of cloud offerings yet, but the cloud is the paradigm going forward from a deployment and infrastructure perspective.

Most cloud vendors are feverishly working to backfill key features and functions, so you may not necessarily find the depth of functionality compared to on-premises systems yet. There is room for more competition and we expect to see more companies enter the mix. It’s also becoming clear that cloud vendors should specialize and have a tight market niche. That appears to be the winning strategy for new entrants.

INTACCT: So is best-of-breed becoming the predominant model?

DC: It has traditionally been much more challenging to do best-of-breed with on-premises solutions because of the lack of standards and complexity of the tool sets. Vendors in the on-premises space were almost forced to come up with an all-in-one strategy. Cloud-based products, however, are much more open and can interface with other systems more readily. So it’s not just a marketing pitch. It really is how these newer products are designed.

INTACCT: Is this creating more complexity though?

DC: Sometimes I do worry about companies creating one big monstrous mash-up. The other problem is that because of the consumer IT movement, the mindset is about supporting lots of point solutions. But all the iPad applications in the world aren't going to run an entire organization. Companies still need a strategy and an understanding and agreement of what is the overall solution and which tools are going to manage it all. Beyond specific technologies such as single sign-on, it’s about managing all the applications at a high level. This will be challenging for all organizations. There is now a different type of management need with the cloud.

INTACCT: Yet running and managing software is much easier today for businesses, right?

DC: Clearly, there are pieces that are not only easier but have been eliminated altogether— including routine support, updates, and maintenance. On top of that, software is better able to support the mobile workforce. It is smarter and much more flexible. Yet, companies still need to deal with designing the overall solution and making sure that it meets and supports corporate needs and goals.

INTACCT: Reporting is becoming a strategic business capability, thus the focus on Big Data. What are the challenges that small and midsize companies still have in this area?

DC: Reporting is the holy grail of any of these financial systems. Data is not the problem. Companies have captured data in multiple places. The question is, do we have tools that are powerful enough and easy enough to use, so that we can report in a timely basis. We need ad hoc tools and at the same time, support for predefined metrics, dashboards, and KPIs. All of the products on the market are trying to come up with better reporting tools. Intacct has very strong capabilities, but it’s an ongoing process.

INTACCT: The cloud makes the notion of being “open” and sharing easy. But do finance people like that change?

DC: It is culturally hard for some finance people. Vendors need to ensure that app and data security is very strong. Users get queasy if they can’t adequately control access, or think the cloud might expose the secret sauce of the business. There has been caution in moving finance to the cloud, because doing so is not going to catapult the business into some new level of success. Directors need confidence that the software is tight and right for the business and they will wait to move until they’re sure of that. Confidence is key for buyers, especially in the area of data security.

INTACCT: Now, here are a few fun questions…

What’s a fun thing to do on a night out on the town, in your town?

DC: Night time entertainment options are virtually limitless in Los Angeles. Great food and amazing wine are my personal weakness so evenings out always include a fantastic meal! I also enjoy attending college sporting events (Go Bruins)!

Which celebrity could you trade places with for a week?

DC: Since I’m a drummer, I would love to spend a week sitting in for Simon Phillips with Toto. That would be the rush of a lifetime.

What is the craziest thing you've done lately?

DC: I ran my first half-marathon on January 5th. It was a night time run through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, past City Hall, then in and around Dodger Stadium. After rounding the bases inside the ballpark, the run returned to the Staples Center and LA Live downtown for the after party. What a blast! Definitely on next year’s to-do list!

To stay connected with David, you can follow him on Twitter (@dcieslak). You can also follow Intacct on all our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To network with other people interested in cloud financial applications, be sure to join the Intacct Cloud Accounting group and the CFOInsights group on LinkedIn.

Do you have an idea for someone you think has interesting industry insights we should interview? Send us your suggestions for consideration.