Sage this week took the wraps off its rebranded online product Sage Business Cloud Accounting at the Tyneside venue that carries its name.
While the actual software is built on the foundations of Sage One, the developer has added a number of Sage 50-like features to its cloud product, along with a full online tax/accounts production suite and a migration tool to move users from the desktop flagship to its online sibling.
The new product was revealed to around 500 accountants and software partners who gathered at The Sage Gateshead for the latest stop on the Sage Sessions road show. The Sage programmers and product managers have been busy since the last meeting in Birmingham at the end of November adding new features to Sage Business Cloud Accounting.
Given its release a mattering weeks after the Self Assessment deadline, the online personal tax module was the most notable addition to the suite. Along with accounts production and corporation tax, Sage can now cover the main compliance needs for small practices online.
Other practice management tools such as time and billing are in development and will be released under the guise of the Sage Accountants Cloud, a practice-focused companion to the Business Cloud suite due later this year.
Sage Business Cloud Accounting comes with two interface options, one for end users and an Advanced view for accountants. The online system is accompanied by an Android/iOS mobile app that can photograph expenses and capture the transaction data with optical character recognition (OCR). It will also let users issue invoices from their smartphone. These transactions will automatically flow into either the entry-level Accounting Start edition for clients who struggle with more complicated bookkeeping, or the premium version.
New features mirror Sage 50
The Accountants menu in the enhanced version shows how the rebranded product is taking on more and more features from the desktop Sage 50 Accounting product.
“Accountants have been telling us for years that what they really want is Sage 50 in the cloud,” said Sage key accounts partner Chris Baber-Davies at the Sage Sessions event. “We’re about 90% there.”
His demonstration highlighted several areas where Sage 50 functionality has been incorporated into the online system, including:
- Customisable Sage 50-style chart of accounts and transaction listing
- Client list
- Dashboard showing key figures, top 50 suppliers/customers and VAT timeline (see below)
- Quick entries batch data input tool
- Stock module
- Bank feeds, with imported transactions held in a Pending pot ready for coding and journal entry. An extra facility to allocate incoming payments to different customers should be added by the time the product is launched.
- Bank reconciliation routine.
Sage Business Cloud Accounting is now accompanied by a taxation suite for practitioners. There were already online programs for final accounts and corporation tax, but Sage has now added a personal tax module. All the set up data and summary totals will feed through to these apps from the Sage Accounting engine.
Also making its debut is the Sage Move to the Cloud tool. This leads the accountant through seven steps to select client data files in Sage 50 Accounting and download them to their desktop, from where they can upload records going back six years into the online system.
Desktop to cloud product migration
Principle Point’s Richard Sergeant, who facilitated a Making Tax Digital panel at the Gateshead event, was intrigued by the Sage Business Cloud Accounting presentation. By catering so overtly for migrants from Sage 50 Accounts, “This opens up a vast territory for Sage Business Cloud,” he said. “But what will it do to the company’s revenues and margins from its flagship product?”
Sage may have already have noticed the rapid growth of other cloud developers encroaching on its desktop heartland and reasoned if cloud accounting is going to cannibalise its Sage 50 base, it might as well push to the head of the queue.
That’s not quite the way Sage product manager Nielson Watts explained it after the event: “As Sage Accounting has evolved over time, we don’t want to recreate Sage 50 in the cloud. Sage 50 is still important, but it will not be pure play.”
The rebrand is designed to emphasise that Sage is a significant player in the global cloud accounting market, but to ensure customer choice, Sage will maintain its desktop product alongside Sage Accounting.
“We’re moving closer to a cloud-in-desktop world with hybrid models,” he said. “You can remain with on premise software, but take advantage of online to get more more freedom.”
If you would like to get an early view of Sage Business Cloud Accounting, the software will be demonstrated at Sage Sessions events taking place in London on 13 March, Bristol on 21 March and Manchester on 17 April.