Sage comes out from under the cloudby
It’s been a long, hard road to cloud accounting for Sage and its users. But Richard Sergeant is beginning to see some interesting glimmers in the big green giant’s product strategy.
Back in 2010 I asked a former editor of AccountingWEB how best to engage with readers. They replied: “Write that Sage is doing a good job. Then run.”
Sage words indeed. The big green giant may have deserved the ire of its customers, but could Sage finally be emerging from behind the proverbial and technical cloud?
Dominance and bad habits
Relatively untroubled for 30 years, Sage built a dominant position in the accounting and payroll software world and became known for all the bad habits that can come with it.
The disruption from cloud insurgents, when it arrived, was welcomed by many in the profession. Kashflow, FreeAgent and Xero introduced the finance community to the web and brought a fresh, adaptable approach to bookkeeping software.
And then the penny dropped in Newcastle that perhaps there was something to this internet thing after all and things arguably got, well, worse.
Ten years later, the Sage’s cloud development timeline is a bit hazy. It started in 2009 with a first stab at a cloud bookkeeping product called SageLive. This experiment was pulled from the air within a matter of weeks after Kashflow founder Duane Jackson pointed out security flaws in the code. Two years later Sage One appeared, accompanied by plans for associated compliance tools.
Not long after that Sage Life and Sage Impact appeared, only to be superseded by the Salesforce-based Sage Live. Why waste a good brand name when you have one to spare? Sage Live morphed into a somewhat elusive product portfolio known as Sage Accountant Cloud and more recently, Sage Business Cloud Accounting (aka Sage Accounting).
Are you keeping up? Everyone can agree that Sage’s cloud accounting strategy has been a bit confusing and that its first Sage One attempt was not very good. Sage’s credibility took a hit and ever since the product was seen as a poor relation to the new kings of online accounting.
But, risking the ire of the comments section, I would suggest it’s getting better. Much better. And here are a few reasons why.
More coherent approach
Product development under former CEO Stephen Kelly always felt like a mad dash, as if the Salesforce route was the easiest thing in the world to develop and roll out. But, rising from the ashes of Sage One and Sage Life, Sage Accounting has benefited from a more stable product approach.
Whether it’s your cuppa cha or not, I’ll leave with you. This is not an endorsement but it is an assertion that it is at last a credible, reliable and developed product.
More integration and partnerships
The huge success of Xero’s marketplace made collaboration with other useful small business finance applications a basic hygiene factor for accounting software. The Sage app roster is unlikely to become as broad and diverse as Xero’s, but FreeAgent and QuickBooks have shown that a smaller number of curated integrations can be an effective approach.
Given that many of these integrations have appeared only relatively recently, the willingness to create an app ecosystem reflects a more open approach at Sage - for example with the MTD VAT Centre that pulls client data from a range of ledger sources, rather than just 100% Sage.
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned is that with cloud, you don’t have to own it all.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t invest a bit of that cash in grabbing little morsels here and there.
The purchase of AutoEntry in 2019 and GoProposal earlier this month is another interesting sign. Products that add significant functionality and value, that are ledger neutral and come with established teams and positive brands can only add value to the portfolio rather than detract.
The fact that both subsidiaries retain a high degree of operational autonomy should relieve concerns among loyal customers about what the future holds.
Winning back hearts and minds
There’s even been a touch more positivity from the market. It used to be hard to find any accountant on social media willing to say anything positive about Sage without being labelled a dinosaur.
But that is changing. The shift in attitude may be influenced by Sage’s more active engagement policy, but let’s not forget that accountants rarely do anything unless they are willing to be held accountable for it. If that’s what they believe, that’s what they believe.
It’s hard to be an incumbent
It’s not all a bed of roses, though, and Sage is still being called out on pricing and product frustrations. But so it is for Xero too, which is now on course to be the incumbent in its own right. Members have taken to Any Answers to voice their frustrations with Xero and point to struggles with outages, frequent complaints about support, and yes...pricing.
Life is tough at the top of this market and maybe the pushback is the toll market leaders have to accept.
Generally the incumbent's torment is good news for innovation. These larger suppliers keep everyone on their toes and force other developers to define themselves more clearly, as we have seen from the likes of FreeAgent, Pandle, AccountsIQ, and Xledger. Or think of the hybrid accounting/bank fintechs CountingUp and Coconut that have emerged in recent years.
Strong players enable more diversity and choice for clients, and have more lobbying power when it comes to the technical practicalities of things like MTD (yeah, you can go for me in the comments). And most importantly no one gets it all their own way. For that reason we need a strong, reliable, interested, engaged and cloud-enabled Sage out there.
Patching it up
There’s still a lot of bad blood out there for Sage, and I get it. This is as much a relationship rehabilitation journey as anything. But while all might not be forgotten, I’m going to say “Sage is doing a much better job…” and run.
Find out for yourself what product plans Sage has up its sleeve this autumn by visiting the company's stand at the AccountingWEB Live Expo in Coventry on 1-2 December. It's free to register and attend.