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Whatever happened to TAS Books?

25th Dec 2005
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Only a few years back TAS Books was one of the big three mass market accounts packages along with Sage and QuickBooks. But since being taken over by Sage it has gone quiet. Does this mean Sage are quietly burying a competitor? David Carter interviewed TAS's Managing Director, John Antunes to find out..

TAS Books was one of the major players in the accounting software market in the 90's. Introduced in 1992 it only cost £99 and was a genuinely innovative product. In particular, its facility to retrieve an entry to screen and amend it rather than have to put through a correcting journal was a boon for non-accountant users.

I installed TAS in half a dozen small businesses. Unlike some better known packages, you didn't find transactions disappearing from the audit trail because the operator had mis-keyed a date, and period-based reporting was standard. In fact this was accounting software written by grown-ups and all-round I found TAS to be a very satisfying package.

However, tackling Sage head-on on their own ground was always going to be hard work and a couple of years back, following the ill-health of founder Theo van Dort, TAS decided that if you can't beat'em, join'em, and sold out to Sage.

Since becoming part of Sage, TAS has gone rather quiet. There's considerable speculation in the industry that Sage simply bought TAS to eliminate a competitor, intending to stop development and simply milk the existing user base for annual maintenance fees. Recently I had a talk to John Antunes, MD of TAS, to get some idea of Sage's strategy for the product.

John joined TAS as MD at the end of last year. However, he has been involved with TAS for at least five years. Originally he was General Manager of TAS's subsidiary in South Africa, and most recently has spent 18 months in Sage Ireland as General Manager, where TAS formed part of his remit.

As to Sage's commitment, John explained that Sage have no intention of winding TAS down, but they do treat it as a separate profit centre and it has to pay its own way. The original TAS design team under Tony Thomas are still there developing TAS: Sage's management have a high regard for the team and use them for development work on other Sage products.

John's predecessor as MD had no background in the accounting software market, and when John arrived last December he decided he had to make some improvements fairly quickly. So in the last 6 months he has been concentrating on two areas ' technical support and the sales team.

Technical Support
To improve the quality of TAS's technical support John has introduced "coaches". These are senior staff who listen in to support calls and review them with the support person afterwards to assess how well they dealt with the customer and their problem. TAS have just started sending out monthly questionnaires to a sample of the customers who made a support call during that month. Satisfaction percentage for March was 91%.

Sales Coaches
In the 90's TAS made most of its sales "off the page" through mail order and heavy advertising in IT and business magazines. The prospects simply rang and TAS took the order. But John finds that prospective customers have now become more sophisticated: now they ring up and ask questions, so John has appointed sales coaches to listen in to sales calls to see how well TAS's sales staff are qualifying prospects and identifying their needs. TAS are also aiming to launch a reseller scheme at the end of May which will be aimed very much at accountants in practice

Product development
Product development is the key area. The good news is that TAS are committed to bringing out a new version in August. Based on a questionnaire sent out to existing users, they have identified three principal enhancements to be included in the new version 4.

1. Batch processing for fast invoice entry
This is for TAS's accountant users who need to bang in a whole load of invoices at year-end. At present with TAS you enter a single purchase invoice, then save it. With the new batch processing option users will be able to enter a dozen or more invoices in a batch, then save. This will greatly speed up invoice entry.

2. eBanking
For making payments to suppliers TAS already has a "Payments with Remittances" facility to pay multiple suppliers in a single batch payments run. But the resulting list of payments then has to be keyed manually into products like Barclays Businessmaster in order to send the payments off to BACS. TAS are looking to output the list of payments as a BACS file in a format acceptable to the major banks, so this manual keying will become unnecessary.

3. Send invoices and statements by email
Finally, many users have asked for the ability to output documents such as copy invoices and statements directly to customers via email than having to print them off and put them in the post.

While these new features will be welcome, TAS users on AccountingWEB have asked for enhancements in two other areas. The first is in exporting to Excel. TAS is fine at exporting nominal account balances into Excel, but exporting transactions is not good. The Audit Trail reports can be printed 'to disk' but the resulting file in Excel retains all the formatting of the printed report, and so is virtually unusable. With both Line 50 and QuickBooks now able to export transactions in Excel without formatting and analysis-ready, TAS lags badly here.

The second improvement AccountingWEB readers have asked for is in Job Costing. As a first step TAS recently introduced 'Tag Codes' on sales and purchase invoices (but not nominal journals). However, these Tag Codes apply to the invoice as a whole, so in effect you cannot analyse an invoice to more than one cost centre. Several AW readers have asked for the Tag Code to be embedded in each transaction line rather than at invoice header level.

John's response is that TAS are aware of both issues and are hopeful that they can sort out the Excel export issue in the new version. However it will depend on whether they have time available after the three enhancements that are already committed. We should know in June or July.

Readers who use TAS will be pleased to see that Sage are committed to developing it further. The new release in August should dispel any worries about TAS's future in the short-term.

However, this still leaves unresolved the long-term problem which made TAS sell out to Sage in the first place: how can TAS possibly succeed by competing directly as a general purpose accounts package against Line 50 and Instant?

To ensure TAS's long-term future, it has to find a particular niche in the market. My own feeling is that TAS would do best if it moved up a step from general accounting and was positioned as a serious management accounting package ' job costing, work in progress, cost centre analysis etc. Its underlying design is better than Line 50 simply because it was designed 10 years later around a relational database, and Line 50's own Job Costing package is pretty dire. In the meantime, however, watch out for version 4 in August.


Replies (7)

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By AnonymousUser
14th May 2004 17:51

TAS developments
I would echo the sentiments of others. TAS is a great product but now somehow slow to develop new features. It was the first to allow editing of postings; it was first to obtain BASDA accreditation for VAT and certainly amongst the first with ICAEW accreditation. In my experience it has become very unresponsive to suggestions from its user base.
One survey I completed asked me if I would be prepared to join a user group - is there one ?

I was encouraged when presented with the questionnaire (in January I believe).BUT I am disappointed to see which items have made it to the top 3. How unexciting is batch invoice processing, BACS payments (should have been available long since) and emailing statements !! Maybe TAS users have only themselves to blame if these really topped the poll.

The upgrade to version 3 was heavily hyped last year. The main trail was interest chargeable on debtor accounts (it works I've used it once!)and central cost updating - haven't found a use for it yet. Processing of recurring entries was centralised - this was the best feature of the update as far as I am concerned. However there were a number of bugs: Group tables not updated, missing references meant items did not appear in bank recs, transaction descriptions did not appear in the posting. Enough issues in my book to warrant an updated CD. Surprised that this was not forthcoming, I phoned TAS who have emailed me a more recent release. This however leaves tables incomplete and no doubt I shall need TAS support to help me rebuild these tables - I've probably a dozen or so ledgers affected in this way. This feature was clearly not tested adequately before issue. What have others done? or don't they use these features.

I was disappointed to find last year that these upgrades which had previously been automatic if you had a maintenance contract have (since Sage) become separately chargeable.
Maybe a good reason for not doing too much at any one time. Maybe a good reason not to upgrade too hastily or too often!

Thank you for raising the download issue - I so often want to do this. I just so like to use pivot tables!

I too raised the tag code issue last year, along with others. Sadly there is a deafening silence. This would no doubt entail a major re-write, so may never happen.

I don't wish to knock the product. I was one of those who bought the DOS product for £99 in 1991. I have used many accounting ledgers (including the big beasts - SAP etc). I recently even tried Quickbooks because I want more analysis.

But TAS still does it for me, I like it more than them all - well almost.

Together with others I would like to be sure it knows where its going.

David Smith

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Stephen Quay
By squay
13th May 2004 23:43

Nominal ledger bugs in TAS Books 2
To Stefan and David Carter, I have found two bugs in TB2 Version 3 which should have been fixed ages ago. They can be worked around.

(1) When entering a journal line and pressing return you realise you have entered the debit or credit amount wrongly. No problem TAS lets you overtype it. WRONG - If you TAB back and overwrite it then carry on entering new lines when you get to the end you will find the journal does not balance because TAS has "remembered" the old figure. The work around is not to overwrite the incorrect figure but to delete the line with ALT-DELETE and re-enter the line correctly. If you want the line in the correct place TAB to the line below and press ALT-INSERT. This will insert a blank line at the cursor in which you can enter the correct figures. The journal will then balance.

(2) When entering a journal line you forget the nominal code and press F2 to access the look up table. Selecting the correct code will return you to the journal line with the code automatically entered. You should be able to TAB from there and continue entering. This intermittently fails and places you in a loop whereby tabbing brings up the lookup table again, select code correctly takes you back to the journal, TAB brings up the lookup table again, and so on. The way to break out of the loop is as in (1). ALT-DELETE the line and re-enter the code without recourse to F2. If you use the lookup table a lot then print out a hard copy.

These two bugs are most annoying for us accountants because most clients probably don't use the nominal ledger to enter journals. It would be great to see these annoying irritations given priority as a patch download should be a simple enough fix.

While I'm on a roll I've just remembered another annoying fault. In sales and purchase ledger daybooks the ability to print a list of invoices or receipts/payments for a period other than the current year has been removed. It was available in version 2. The work around is to select periods 1 to 12 then overtype the year with the one you want.

I use to submit reports to TAS and when AccountingWeb ran software forums many years ago I was a frequent poster but nothing ever happened so I gave up. I still like TAS and have used it for years, ever since the DOS days. It's still miles better than the competition which is why I stick with it. Lets hope TAS gets their act together, sort out the glitches in time for for version 4.

Stephen Quay
Stephen Quay accountancy
TAS Partner in Practice

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By bzalcs-c184
13th May 2004 18:26

Perhaps TAS can also deal with improving the Nominal ledger posting anomaly in TAS2 which means you can't afford to make any mistake first time round. This is a nightmare when doing a long journal. Constant calls to them merely received "its resolved in TAS 3" Look after your exisiting customers and growth may continue!

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By 1857143
11th May 2004 16:05

TAS job costing
Hi David and thanks for the update on TAS.
I currently use TAS payroll and have used early versions of TASbooks when in practice. On a recent review of my current accounting software I compared the job costing capabilities of TAS and was surprised at its limitations.
I agree that an improvement in this area would help TAS considerably-many organisations need decent job costing. The rest of TAS books is well presented and user friendly.

See for other comments mad on this topic.

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By AnonymousUser
07th May 2004 12:11

Tag Codes
Actually it would be extremely useful if the tag code was available at sales and purchase order level - I have several clients who want to track the profit on jobs as they progress and who find waiting for the purchase invoices to be received, approved and entered takes too long.

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By David Carter
13th May 2004 21:02

What's this Nominal Ledger problem?

I've always assumed you can change any journal in TAS after it's been posted, but you're implying this isn't the case.

Could you explain this Nominal Ledger problem in more detail please? Thanks.

Robert, that is going back a long time! But this is before TAS introduced TAS Books. In those days TAS were marketing a database product, I think.

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By tstrangward
13th May 2004 19:08

Surely those changes are little for 2 years work
If the changes are the only reward for such a well regarded development team then the worry about Sage's intentions grow; it rather looks, to me, like the work for Sage must be more than the work on TAS.

This might be good news for Sage users as TAS is an underlyingly better product.

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