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Sage copilot
Sage

Sage unveils cross-platform generative AI Copilot tool

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Accounting software developer Sage has released a generative artificial intelligence assistant that will sit across the majority of its products and promises to cut down routine tasks for accounting professionals, streamline client communication and enable better decision-making.

27th Feb 2024
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The ‘Sage Copilot’ tool will appear via a button on the Sage taskbar that opens up a conversational generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) assistant which users can interact with using natural language. 

This assistant will be available in multiple places across the Sage platform, including its practice management, compliance and payroll functions. Via short written commands or ‘prompts’, Sage users will be able to perform a variety of tasks such as automating client onboarding, streamlining tax preparation processes, or ensuring a payroll bureau has everything it needs to complete a pay run.

These prompts can then be saved by the system to better understand and interpret future user prompts and put them into a series of tasks. 

The rollout of Sage Copilot will start with the vendor’s accounting and accountant products, and will then be rolled out across Sage 50 and other products. Sage confirmed to AccountingWEB that it will be a ‘chargeable product’ once its initial testing phase is completed, but the company is still “working on the price point.”

Below is a short video produced by Sage to demonstrate some of Sage Copilot's features (with music, for those in the office):

Accountant applications

After an initial burst of enthusiasm for this new generation of GenAI products, it’s fair to say that tangible products in the accounting space have been slow to market across the board as vendors and accountants looked for ways to deploy the technology in the real world. 

With this in mind, AccountingWEB spoke to Sage executives to find out what Sage Copilot can do for its users on the ground. Sage chief product officer Neal Watkins gave AccountingWEB the example of accounting firms chasing clients to get personal tax information. 

“Getting the tax return process going is low-margin, time-consuming work for firms,” said Watkins. “If a practice user has 36 clients who need to submit, they can use Sage Copilot to draft individual messages for them with a couple of prompts. It can prepare the questions clients need to answer and a list of documents they need to provide, and the practice user can then look over the email and adjust the tone before they hit send.”

When the information arrives, Watkins added that Sage Copilot can review documents, potentially spotting that the client has missed something, for example, a payslip. It can then prompt the client to provide any missing documentation, cutting down the amount of manual back and forth and speeding up the process. 

The system can also take things a step further by automatically assigning tasks to other practice users in their network, and if prompted by the user, start to populate information received into Sage’s personal tax online product.

Caroline Armstrong, founder of Infinitas Accountants, has been part of a group of accountants testing the tool and told AccountingWEB she saw potential in several different areas of her business.

“Since Covid, it’s been hard to recruit,” said Armstrong. “You end up with the best people doing admin and chasing data constantly. Anything that gives you more time, means you don’t have to constantly change screens, and leaves you in control is a benefit.

“My clients are increasingly asking for forecasting information about tax bills or profits, comparisons with this year vs last year etc. and they expect it to be there in a heartbeat. The potential this offers, to be able to reach information quickly by speeding processes up, could help us to drive value.” 

Wider business uses

From a business user perspective, Watkins added an example of unpaid sales invoices, where a user can ask Sage Copilot to show late payers in a list format. Once generated, the user can click on a prompt to generate a draft reminder email. They can then adjust the tone (for example, to make it more direct and assertive) before sending the email. 

The Copilot can be prompted to produce a profit or cashflow forecast, which according to Sage chief technology officer Aaron Harris can then be exported to Excel so accounting users can see the raw data behind the calculations.

Sage is also looking to leverage its system so if a business user’s question spills into accounting territory, Copilot can prompt that they might need advice, and look to connect them with their accountant or a finance professional on the Sage network, with a pop-up notification to book a meeting or review options. 

‘The robots are coming for your tasks, not your jobs’

Built using a combination of Sage’s proprietary predictive models and existing Large Language Models (LLMs), and underpinned by Sage Digital Network architecture, which allows all the developer’s services to integrate more coherently with each other.

Speaking in November 2023, Sage’s chief technology officer Aaron Harris told AccountingWEB that generative AI was “the last piece in the puzzle” when it came to using technology to support accountants, enabling them to do more “human work” by processing and analysing information faster and more efficiently.

His view is echoed by Dan Black, EY’s global talent acquisition leader. In a recent interview with HR Grapevine, Black played down the role of AI in making humans redundant, instead focussing on their ability to shift them up the value chain.

“The robots are not coming for your jobs, they’re coming for your tasks ... and in most cases, they’re coming for tasks that you don’t want to do anyway. So much of the automation is for mundane, routine work that people don’t want to make the time for.”

Given EY’s recent round of job cuts, Black’s rhetoric might not ring wholly true in the short, medium or long term, for differing reasons. However, with the accounting industry’s current capacity challenges and cautious approach to adopting new technology, Sage’s embedding of GenAI within and across its platform could provide accounting professionals with a secure way to trial the tools.

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By FactChecker
27th Feb 2024 22:01

I loved the opening "Sage has released a generative artificial intelligence assistant that will sit across the majority of its products", as I envisaged all the non-PC ways in which various Assistants have sat on the products made by their employer over the years.
So I was disappointed to find that it's just more administrative routines masquerading as 'AI'.

I'm sure (well fairly sure) that it will do what it says, but I preferred Assistants (indeed colleagues of every sort) to be people who I could praise or tease (as relevant) and who gave me the pleasure of seeing them then grow - as people as well as in work competences.

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By indomitable
29th Feb 2024 14:00

Really like to see this work in practise. I get approached every day by a different firm offering a new AI product.

Actually trialled one today and it was 'rubbish'

Invariably the marketing hype doesn't match the products functionality in most cases.

Most practices processes are automated already so really not sure how AI is going to significantly save time.

And has anyone ever tried talking with a chatbot based on AI, at present they are next to useless!!

Haven't found an AI tool yet that will do ALL the bookkeeping, answer all email satisfactorily, do the tax return and prepare the stats.

AI is very good for content writing and I regularly use chatgpt 4 for this an image creation

Alot of people jumping on the bandwagon at the moment in the hope of making quick 'buck'

It's still early technology

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