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SOFTWARE FEATURE: What ever happened to TAS Books? By John Stokdyk

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16th May 2006
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"It has been a little quiet since the 2001 acquisition," admitted TAS software chief Greg Ford as we chatted in the atrium of Sage's citadel on the north side of Newcastle. But all the rumours that Sage was going to sweep up the TAS customer base and pension off the software were way off the mark, he stressed.

Quietly, without much fuss, the business has been growing. "The biggest thing Sage recognised was the loyalty of TAS customers and it has retained more than 30,000 of them in key markets including construction, bookkeepers and accountants, charities, pubs and business and management accountants," he said.

There have been challenges, Ford acknowledged, especially when the TAS team was moved from Wimbledon to the North East. "But since then we have increased our headcount and invested in customer service, which has improved dramatically. Customer retention has gone up, and we have acquired new customers."

SME accounting software is a brutal marketplace. Not only does TAS Books face three big global players - Intuit, Microsoft and MYOB - it also has to compete with its Sage siblings Line 50 and Instant.

TAS always was an "alternative" application, which took a different approach to bookkeeping and accounting than traditional ledger-based systems, Ford said. Its target market is among microbusinesses and smaller companies that find rival accounting systems too complex.

"As David Carter often points out, TAS Books isn't like a traditional package where you've got to do a journal entry. In TAS you just enter the transaction, and if you need to, you can go back and change it," Ford explained.

"We're part of the alternative to Sage Line 50 and what we do as an organisation is provide choice. We want to retain the loyalty of the TAS community and build on the brand."

While most of the organisation moved north, Ford said the original TAS R&D team remains in the south, at Sage's Enterprise headquarters in Winersh, near Reading. This arrangement helps TAS differentiate itself from mainstream Sage.

"TAS as an organisation is completely independent, but we can draw on Sage resources," Ford said. "For example, a lot of market research and things like useability studies take place. TAS has access to that and can make its own interpretation.

"We have no intention to mimic Sage Line 50 functionality. We want to be different and we have 30,000 users who want us to keep it that way."

Ford says there's "a lot of life left" in the TAS product, but with threats looming from Microsoft and online competitors TAS does need to move with the times. Ford's team is planning a series of upgrades and launches for later in 200 and the Sage group has given him solid backing to develop new generation of TAS products, he said.

"We do need to re-engineer to take the product forward and those investigations are taking place," Ford said. Being able to plug into Sage's expertise and purchasing power gives TAS advantages that wouldn't be available to a small, independent software house, "but we've got a free reign to do what we want", he added.

To prove his point, Ford is a lot more relaxed about embracing the software as a service (SaaS) movement than some Sage executives, who still haven't worked out a magic formula that would expand their online market without cannibalising revenue from the desktop Sage products.

"SaaS is an option for us - ultimately that is likely to be the evolution," Ford said. "We recognise there is a need for hosted applications, but there's still a requirement for choice. Some people still want CDs,while others want to buy and try immediately through a software service and subscribe on a mothly basis. All those are considerations for TAS in the future, but hosting is going to be a big part of that."

The other area where Ford is competing with the parent group is in the market for accounting software that caters for very small companies. With corporate banners for a the new Sage Start-Up package wafting above his head, Ford pulled out the product packaging for his new product concept, a £48 micro accounting package called Zebra.

"We've had TAS Basics in that space, but we've taken that product and moved it forward in terms of functionality, packaging and the technical support package. We wanted to be different, so it's a subscription package that you buy via retail and web distribution," Ford explained.

Designed for companies that might still be running their accounts in Excel, Zebra presents the user with a simple dashboard summary of the company's financial position along with reminders and action lists such as invoices to chase. When the product is lauched in the summer, all software upgrades and support, along with hints and other business information will be distributed to users via the zebra website.

"The intention is not to have telephone relationship with customers and we won't contact through a sales function. Cust can determine their own needs and contact customer care via the web. It's going to be a non-intrusive relationship," Ford said.

Now that really would be a radical departure for Sage.

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By BdHathi
19th May 2006 19:26

TAS Products
A Brilliant product, far outshines all its rivals. The accounting software is well deisgned, the ability to drill down and correct errors is so fab that i am surprised others have not copied it.

Payroll is also of the same high standar.

Support is great and you get a dedicated business manager all for a really good price.

would never move to anything else!

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By Euan MacLennan
17th May 2006 13:13

TAS Books
Thank you for explaining why TAS Books is the only acquisition made by Sage where it has not absorbed the former competitor, cherry-picked its products, re-branded them as Sage and charged double the money. The only problem with the hands off approach is that you have to pay twice to belong to the separate accountants clubs.

It is revealing that TAS Books is popular with bookkeepers and accountants. Could that be because they are experts who recognise it as a superior accounting product to Sage Line 50? It is easier to use, updates everything instantly, has excellent drill-down functions, gives unrestricted access to previous years and because you can change almost every detail of a transaction, you do not end up with an audit trail of errors and attempted corrections. It prints invoices, etc., using Word templates so they are fully customisable. It has the standard ledger structure. The program is stable and despite Sage's influence, TAS is still fairly cheap and they do not bring out unnecessary updates quite so often.

The mystery is that Sage has not utilised TAS's superior operating features into its Line 50 product.

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By User deleted
22nd May 2006 19:51

re: ODBC for TAS (SDK)
You can now interrogate TAS through excel...without shelling out for the hugely expensive developer kit. A new kit has recently been released by us at a fraction of the cost of the first one - and it's a lot easier to use than ODBC because you don't need detailed knowledge of the underlying business rules.

For more information, just go to the TAS Software website (http://www.tassoftware.co.uk), Products menu and see the item 'Software Development Kit (SDK)' or go directly to http://www.infoplex.co.uk/sdk.

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By AnonymousUser
17th May 2006 12:08

ODBC for TAS
What we'd really like to see is the release of the data defintion files so we can interogate TAS through excel...without shelling out for the hugely expensive developer kit.

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