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Sage Business Cloud Accounting product strategy takes shape
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Sage comes out from under the cloud

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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.

19th Oct 2021
Director Principle Point
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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.

Initial stumbles

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Not long after that Sage Life and Sage Impact appeared, only to be superseded by the Salesforce-based Sage Live.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.

Acquisitions

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.

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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.

Replies (30)

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
19th Oct 2021 17:27

Love your opening line Richard. A few years ago I was surprised to note that a flagship ICAEW conference was sponsored by Sage. I had anticipated that the Institute would have wanted to align itself with one of the more modern cloud based platforms. I thought younger members especially would have preferred this too.

The rationale for sponsorship by Sage became clear when I learned that a significant majority of ICAEW member firms still used Sage. There was a willingness among these dinosaurs (as some cloud advocates might have referenced them) to wait for Sage to catch up with the major cloud based platforms.

As you say, the acquisitions of Auto-Entry and GP are really positive moves.
Often forgotten I tend to think that the recruitment of Chris Downing at the coal face was the beginning of this positive trend.

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By North East Accountant
19th Oct 2021 18:23

As we all know Sage were slow to twig onto Xero reps trooping around the UK and dazzling Accountants and Bookkeepers at hotel breakfast seminars with a whizzy new product... as well as a nice Danish pastry or two.

Accountants and Bookkeepers, in their droves, fell head over heels and went out there and built Xero's UK business for them from scratch, which must have hit Sage 50 very hard.

Lots of mistakes, eg. Sage One, Salesforce platform, but these are admitted and long gone now, but they have taken up lots of bandwidth for years so essentially were a waste of time that could have been better spent elsewhere.

However, Sage has been getting itself in order (boring but essential), Sage Accounting is now a great product, and they are starting to show some real form of late snapping up Auto Entry and Go Proposal.

Just like Microsoft initially missed the boat dismissing the internet, Sage were slow off the cloud mark, but with the imminent launch of "The Future of Accountancy" due in November 2021 Sage looks set to flex it's muscles even further..........and just like Microsoft might yet regain it's crown.

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Heather Townsend - accountant's coach
By Heather Townsend
19th Oct 2021 18:33

Here is my tuppence….

I am aware that pretty much all of our members use Xero and Quickbooks and there is no love for Sage. So am aware that my opinions will have been heavily influenced by the great company I keep.

Xero used to be the disruptor. But I believe with their recent outages and also complaints of poor response time for support tickets are getting complacent. The zeal of the Xero fanboys and girls has been ‘tarnish’ a little recently. Let’s be honest there is still problems with Xero Payroll, Xero Practice Manager is woefully under invested in and Xero HQ is still a chocolate teapot. But on the positive their MTD VAT solution worked. By now I would have expected Xero tax to be properly launched not still in Beta. Xero need to get the core product and accountants tools working

Sage has been struggling for a long time to put together a cloud product and ecosystem for the small business marketplace that can challenge the likes of Xero, Quickbooks and FreeAgent. Are they now there with the acquisitions of GoProposal and AutoEntry? Personally I don’t know. What I do know is the stronger Sage, Quickbooks and Xero are, the better it will be for the end user and the accountant.

I know that Sage are financially incentivising their loyal sage users to post up on social media about their love for Sage. The fact that most of these users don’t openly admit to receiving financial incentives is disingenuous and potentially breaking the advertising standards.

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Replying to efficiencycoach:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
20th Oct 2021 07:37

If only I had been approached! however I fear I can declare only a standard AW 'per article' rate (which I'm sure has never increased with inflation, Mr Editor.)

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Replying to efficiencycoach:
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By North East Accountant
20th Oct 2021 09:01

For the record, Sage have never given me any financial incentives to post nice things about them online.

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Replying to efficiencycoach:
Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
20th Oct 2021 10:28

Yes its a great new game on linkedin spot who took the "Sage Ambassador Cash". Be interesting to see what happens over the next few years and what apps we use to do will still be there in 5 years time.

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Replying to Glennzy:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
20th Oct 2021 10:47

"Ambassador Cash" sounds like how the new NUFC owners are going to try to pump in a few quid on the side.
Speaking of which, I hear Bruce has gone. Is there a Steak & Bruce memorial Greggs special edition on the cards?

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Replying to rsergeant:
Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
20th Oct 2021 14:06

Brucey was one of their biggest customers so good chance there could.

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
20th Oct 2021 09:16

Has anyone writing this or commenting on it actually used Sage Cloud/One/Accounting or whatever its called these days?

It makes no difference how many Apps you can connect, the only thing that matters is how quick and easy it is to use.

It is still way behind the others I'm afraid, they have been so slow to move on improving simple things its unbelievable and the customer service is appalling - yes the product is slowly getting better, but Xero, Freeagent and QBO are still better and easier to use, oh yeah and much cheaper in the case of QBO and FA! The only reason we stick with Sage is that we got a very cheap deal a few years ago, but any new licences are mostly on QBO.

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
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By North East Accountant
20th Oct 2021 10:40

I do a little company on Sage Accounting and a little company on Xero and have also done some Accounts using Sage Final Accounts Online and Xero Tax.......so I know exactly what I'm talking about for these products.

I've used but don't have much experience of QB.

Each have their own strengths and weaknesses....which drive me mad thinking why can't they sort this out.....but they both never do.

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Replying to North East Accountant:
blue sheep
By Nigel Henshaw
20th Oct 2021 11:12

North East Accountant wrote:

I do a little company on Sage Accounting and a little company on Xero and have also done some Accounts using Sage Final Accounts Online and Xero Tax.......so I know exactly what I'm talking about for these products.

I've used but don't have much experience of QB.

Each have their own strengths and weaknesses....which drive me mad thinking why can't they sort this out.....but they both never do.

Agree with Winnie, anything other than a small company/basic job and the others are much better, more user friendly, quicker, and more integration (have you ever tried an amazon seller on Sage, absolute nightmare compared to QBO)

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Oct 2021 11:56

I used Sage Cloud for a year or so before moving nearly all clients to Xero. I still have a couple who don't want to move so I still have to use it. I detest the product and don't think its improved at all.

Totally agree with your comment about the apps.

As far as the customer service, I think this is the only positive Sage have. I personally think their support is second to none. Xero's support on the other hand is appalling and more often than not they don't answer the question that was asked.

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Oct 2021 11:56

I used Sage Cloud for a year or so before moving nearly all clients to Xero. I still have a couple who don't want to move so I still have to use it. I detest the product and don't think its improved at all.

Totally agree with your comment about the apps.

As far as the customer service, I think this is the only positive Sage have. I personally think their support is second to none. Xero's support on the other hand is appalling and more often than not they don't answer the question that was asked.

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By adam.arca
20th Oct 2021 13:03

Having been an early convert to TAS Books, I was never a fan of clunky, old Sage.

In recent years, however, with the lack of investment in TAS (funny, that, given it's owned by Sage) and finally some improvements in Sage like drilldown and easier transaction editing, things which were always possible in TAS, I've come to appreciate Sage more, even if only because of the lack of other options of an accounting system that works like an accountant would expect.

I'm always a bit bemused when Sage One gets a good kicking on here, which seems to happen on a fairly regular basis. I have clients who use that, QBO and Xero (yuck), and I find Sage One more than adequate for the purpose of enquiry / as a starting point for final accounts. What I don't do with either Sage One or QBO is any data entry / bookkeeping and presumably it is in this aspect that Sage One falls down?

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Replying to adam.arca:
blue sheep
By Nigel Henshaw
20th Oct 2021 13:33

I'll give you just one very simple example, setup a client for cash accounting for vat on Sage and then realise part way through the quarter it should be standard and you cannot switch until you have filed a cash vat return. You then have to make sure there are no transactions at all posted after the end of the cash quarter or the whole thing fails again.

All other software allows you to switch at will, even to compare the effects of switching.

Just one example of things all other software does that Sage does not.

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Replying to NH:
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By adam.arca
20th Oct 2021 13:57

Point taken.

Since I'm not a bookkeeper, however, and have no intention of becoming one regardless of the MTD push, stuff like that merely elicits a "meh" response from me.

My experience with clients is that they're mostly the same too. They mostly don't understand what is possible and are usually happy to live with problems like that until they can change the setting next quarter.

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By mrshamilton
21st Oct 2021 09:54

I still am frustrated that you can't get figures out without running year end, I would have hoped Sage would have sorted that by now as it's still a pain!

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By Dave Oakley
21st Oct 2021 10:27

The route to market for Sage was through us accountants and bookkeepers and it worked for years. If you were in the Accountants Club the support was generally good but desk top would never be able to compete with cloud once internet speeds became usable.

I still find it incredible that Sage would release an accounting product (I've found others) without the ability to run a year end and get a TB relating to the year you want to work on. As for trying, yet again, they have a mountain to climb. We all invest heavily in training and climbing the learning curve to be able to flit from one product to another. As a faithful Sage user (back then) I recommended Sage One to a few clients and I'm lucky it didn't ruin our hard won reputation. Most of them have now moved to Xero.

I'm old enough to remember the pre Windows days when just getting a printer to work or better still a £ sign was an exercise we had to suffer. There were no "standards" and it was a nightmare. Then along came Sage and for about 20 years almost became a de facto standard. That is until they wasted a lot of my time with their attempts at the cloud.

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By Dave Oakley
21st Oct 2021 10:27

The route to market for Sage was through us accountants and bookkeepers and it worked for years. If you were in the Accountants Club the support was generally good but desk top would never be able to compete with cloud once internet speeds became usable.

I still find it incredible that Sage would release an accounting product (I've found others) without the ability to run a year end and get a TB relating to the year you want to work on. As for trying, yet again, they have a mountain to climb. We all invest heavily in training and climbing the learning curve to be able to flit from one product to another. As a faithful Sage user (back then) I recommended Sage One to a few clients and I'm lucky it didn't ruin our hard won reputation. Most of them have now moved to Xero.

I'm old enough to remember the pre Windows days when just getting a printer to work or better still a £ sign was an exercise we had to suffer. There were no "standards" and it was a nightmare. Then along came Sage and for about 20 years almost became a de facto standard. That is until they wasted a lot of my time with their attempts at the cloud.

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By David Warren 2905
21st Oct 2021 13:27

Interesting thread, and nice to know I am not alone in wondering precisely what has gone on in the intervening *eleven* years. We have to work with a number of products, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. But, possibly as far back as 20 years ago there was a hardcore of accountants who preferred Quick Books as the reporting functions were much more flexible. 20 years on, Sage still hasn't worked out how to offer historic trial balances and this is can be a real frustration if the client hasn't backed up everything properly before running the year end.

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A Putey FACA
By Arthur Putey
21st Oct 2021 15:08

I've said on a number of AnyAnswers threads that if Sage had launched its latest online suite under a new brand it would have had more success, at least among those who had deserted the desktop software for the likes of Xero. Sage was a brand to move away from, and its hard to get those customers back. Not sure what new customers it is getting with its current advertising though ("boss your day" and all that).

Xero was great 10 years ago but fundamentally hasn't moved on that much. What was a great bank rec is now constrained by lack of the ability to see more than 10 transactions, sort or filter, or find and match credit notes. And I am amazed that Xero has two distinctly different looks and feels, for example "new" reports and old style screens.

Sage is fine for the average small business client, and for the accountant the final accounts and tax modules work well and much better than Xero's nascient offerings.

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By GDavidson
21st Oct 2021 15:48

Sage still isn't as good as TAS was 20 years ago. They took that over then killed it.

Sage pricing too is ludicrous compared to all its competitors. Don't know how it gets away with it. Ignorance of the market is my best bet

.

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By JD
21st Oct 2021 15:58

Following some pretty shabby business conduct by sage, I am afraid we are moving clients way from them. If you can not trust your suppliers then only a fool would continue to use them.

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Replying to JD:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Oct 2021 12:03

I experienced this several years ago and took the decision to do the same. Doesn't sound like things have improved.

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By RickyCafe
22nd Oct 2021 17:22

I'm always surprised at the omission of Quickfile when it comes to discussions about cloud accounting software. It's a system thats been going strong for many years, has an active user forum and customer support that ticks all the right boxes.

Right now I have Sage One Cloud accounting under the same microscope as Quickfile with the latter winning hands down on performance, features and price.

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By Vallery Lee
23rd Oct 2021 08:51

Well, my two pennorth for what it's worth. All my clients are small businesses and I used to recommend Sage, or put them on it automatically when I had the multiple company option. (Disks - remember them?) However these did not work with Windows 10. These days I work with Sage, Kashflow (both clients' choice) and Pandle. When I first started using Pandle it was very basic but good enough for small businesses - and very cheap. These days Pandle is constantly updating by adding new facilities and all along their customer service has been exemplary. I have partnered with them for some clients for an extremely low monthly rate. The clients can do the day to day postings and I can oversee this. Alternatively I can get the postings done in house if the clients are too busy (makes the final accounts a bit more straightforward to do). Like most of us I have also been involved with both QB and Xero - both of which have been rejected by the clients as too complicated. No-one seems to complain about Pandle. They also offer a free starter account - you can't go wrong.

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By KathK
18th Nov 2021 11:54

RickyCafe wrote:
"I'm always surprised at the omission of Quickfile when it comes to discussions about cloud accounting software. It's a system thats been going strong for many years, has an active user forum and customer support that ticks all the right boxes.

Right now I have Sage One Cloud accounting under the same microscope as Quickfile with the latter winning hands down on performance, features and price."

I absolutely agree - QuickFile NEVER gets a mention. I used to work for a Sage Reseller (two decades ago) and hated that Sage almost always was too big for the client's needs. I then went on to work in a company that used Xero and enjoyed the refereshing change (until its shortcomings started to interfere with what I wanted to do). In the interim, I had my own creative business and looked for something free/affordable to deal with the basics and found QuickFile perfectly served my needs.

It is constantly updated, responsive to users needs, has an fantastic users community where the founder and tech support of the company are actively engaged. I have been recommending it to fellow creatives (and anyone else who will listen) for the past four or five years. I have sufficient transactions that I need to pay now, but the Power User sub, at £45 & VAT per year, is perfect for my needs and numbers of transactions (many of which are generated by a link through Zapier from my Square Retail / Card and stock system).

It's just so easy to use, well supported, affordable and responsive to feature requests. It's a joy to be along for the ride with them.

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Replying to KathK:
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By Winnie Wiggleroom
18th Nov 2021 12:23

Quickfile - last time I looked which was a few years ago it was not really fit for use for an accountant with many clients, I seem to remember you had to use a different email to login to each client, is that still the case?

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
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By KathK
18th Nov 2021 13:33

Winnie Wiggleroom wrote:

Quickfile - last time I looked which was a few years ago it was not really fit for use for an accountant with many clients, I seem to remember you had to use a different email to login to each client, is that still the case?


They have the Affinity option for Accountants/Multi Company users. I'm not sure if you had seen that when you looked. I don't use it so can't really comment on it, but here's the link to the knowledgebase article on it. Hope this helps.
https://support.quickfile.co.uk/c/knowledgebase/affinity/25
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Replying to KathK:
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By Winnie Wiggleroom
18th Nov 2021 14:15

KathK wrote:

Winnie Wiggleroom wrote:

Quickfile - last time I looked which was a few years ago it was not really fit for use for an accountant with many clients, I seem to remember you had to use a different email to login to each client, is that still the case?

They have the Affinity option for Accountants/Multi Company users. I'm not sure if you had seen that when you looked. I don't use it so can't really comment on it, but here's the link to the knowledgebase article on it. Hope this helps.
https://support.quickfile.co.uk/c/knowledgebase/affinity/25

Thanks, whats the support like?

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