First look: Sage 50 Accounts 2014 ‘VAT edition’
Now in its umpteeth year, the 2014 upgrade for Sage's flagship UK desktop accounting package has been released to the market branded as “the VAT edition”. John Stokdyk explores the new features in the latest release.
Sage 50 Accounts has grown into such a distinctive package that you have to feel sympathy for the product development team when it comes to dreaming up features for new releases. To help this process, the company maintains meticulous records on support calls and wishlist requests and devotes a lot of time to product research.
During this year’s round, the company found that 56% of its customers had concerns about getting their VAT returns wrong and this finding drove the development of new VAT tools for the 2014 edition.
The new Manage VAT module steps you very briskly through the process of preparing a return, identifying and reconciling transactions and making any necessary adjustments very efficiently (see screenshot above). You enter the dates for which you want to prepare the return and Sage 50 will give you all the open transactions, along with notifications where they have not been updated or other issues have arisen. Reconciliation reports are available and tools to make adjustments if needed, but if your transactions are in order, you can click a button to reconcile them to the return (as shown above), click another to close them and a third button to file the return.
New stock management features
The other area that seems to have received the most attention in Sage 50 Accounts 2014 is stock management. The program has been equipped with a opening and closing stock wizard. It includes a spreadsheet-like grid if you want to conduct your own stock take, plus a facility to import an Excel or .CSV file. As part of the year end routine, a new tool lets you remove stock transactions and records, or clear stock on an individual product. If you then want to work out the closing stock value for the P&L, you can do this by hand, or you can click the stock wizard’s Calculate button to generate the value from your previous stock activity:
Sage 50 Accounts will also make life easier for companies that trade overseas. A Foreign Trader set-up wizard comes as standard with the Professional edition of Sage 50 Accounts, and is available as an optional extra for cheaper versions. The routine lets you define the relevant currency for customer, supplier and bank transactions, based on current exchange rates. This means you can record the correct values and print the invoices and orders in the correct currency.
For charity users, Sage 50 Accounts 2014 can record and track donations under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (GASDS) and will produce a Gift Aid and submission reports that can be filed electronically with HMRC.
Serveral new tools also streamline the data management tools, including change your financial year option, which might help if you switch accounting dates, or if transactions are accidentally processed in the wrong year. For data maintenance, more tools are now available for users to archive their data at any time - not just during the year-end routine - and to run data checks, and reindex and compress the data if needed. This was an issue that the Sage 50 Accounts discussion group debated a few years ago.
All of these features are welcome, and obviously speak to the needs of existing users. But for someone like me returning to Sage 50 Accounts after a few years away the help system is a bit hit and miss. The information is in there, if you look but Sage appears not to be sure whether help should be delivered within the application or online help. Some answers are delivered by Sage Accounts Help within the application, while hitting the F1 key or other links such as the button within the VAT Manager launch a browser and take you off to a Sage helpdesk website (which containd the same information). Another help menu option promises webinars, so you can end up with 2-3 help windows open at once if you’re hunting for an obscure answer.
The YouTube videos were a bit on the irritating/simplistic side, but if you persevere through the “key feature” series you can find useful tutorials about using the application’s new tools.
The big question: Is it worth upgrading?
This is the question we ask every year of Sage Accounts 50. Sage customers who go for the priority Sagecover or monthly subscription options will be entitled to move already, but we know there are still lots of businesses and accountants who don’t want to follow the forced march along Sage’s upgrade path.
If you are a stock-based business trading overseas, Sage 50 Accounts 2014 is now a mature mid-market accounting package and a respectable rival to some more expensive options. And it has the advantage of working in a way that many users are familiar with.
AccountingWEB member ghewitt injected a dose of cynicism to the discussion of the new version in our Sage 50 Accounts discussion group, by saying the upgrade worth talking about would be if Sage migrated to the SQL Server database. “Most of the updates I have encountered meant re-writing the Excel sheets I have created because it says “wrong data source” or some such when I refresh. Also the reports always seem to have a problem. There is only so much you can do before it just becomes updates for updates sake’.”