Business management software company Sage held its annual user conference, Sage Summit US, in Atlanta on May 9-11, and over 5,000 business partners, customers, and accountants attended this three day event for the US market.
The company made a number of major announcements, including information on the newly announced Sage Accountants Cloud, product integrations with Microsoft Office 365, enhancements and extensions to its Pegg chatbot, and a number of major updates to existing products.
The recently acquired Sage People cloud-based HRMS (formerly known as FairSail) was formally introduced to the Sage Summit audience, and the company announced product roadmaps for the next year.
Sage Accountant Cloud
Sage previewed a new product, Sage Accountant Cloud, which is to be launched in the UK this summer and will be available in the US by the fall of 2017. Sage Accountant Cloud is a new connected platform that brings together a portfolio of cloud applications to provide accountants tools to manage their practice and their clients using real time information.
The platform brings together all of Sage’s cloud offerings for accountants (as shown in the picture below), and is tightly integrated with Sage Live for Accountants (a practice management and accounting solution), Sage One, as well as the SalesForce CRM platform.
Figure 1: Overview of the Sage Accountant Cloud
Office 365 Integration
Sage released additional details about its plans to integrate Microsoft Office 365 with its existing product line. All global versions of Sage 50c currently have these integrations, and these features will be coming by the end of 2017 to Sage 100. Key features associated with the integrations include:
- Sage Contact - syncing with Microsoft Outlook to ensure users can access key contact details, information, notes, history and files from any platform, at any time.
- Mobile invoicing and expenses - allowing business owners to quickly record expenses & generate invoices on the go.
- Sage Capture - giving users the ability to photograph receipts and capture expenses, invoices and other paperwork digitally using Microsoft OneDrive.
- Sage Intelligence Reporting - supporting users to make faster, better and more informed decisions with the capability to create powerful, in-depth Microsoft Excel reports with Sage 50c simple design tool and smart templates.
- Cloud Document Storage -helping businesses get rid of paperwork by providing secure file storage, sharing, data access and more for documents digitally using Microsoft OneDrive.
- Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium - the market-leading, powerful business productivity suite is available with Sage 50c, giving Small & Medium Sized businesses everything they need to unlock new capabilities of Sage 50c alongside the wider benefits of Office 365.
Summer updates will include the addition of business performance dashboards and automatic feeds of data from bank and credit card accounts which flow automatically into the accounting platforms. The other tools included in Office 365 Business Premium, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office 365 Bookings, an automated appointment scheduler, as well as Office 365 Teams, a team chat/collaboration platform, make this a very compelling offering for businesses of all sizes.
Sage announced enhancements to its Pegg “chatbot” platform. Pegg (www.pegg.io) is a virtual assistant which allows Sage One and Sage 50 users to enter transactions and retrieve information from their Sage One data using chat applications like Facebook chat, Skype, and Slack. Kriti Sharma, Sage’s Global Vice President for Bots and Artificial Intelligence, demonstrated the company’s work interfacing Pegg with the Alexa platform which underlies the popular Amazon Echo connected speaker.
The demo included demonstrations of practice management tasks which would be typical of accounting professionals, including details of upcoming filing deadlines, tasks due this week, and unpaid client invoices. Sharma shared that the company’s bot efforts will be initially targeted at the company’s cloud and cloud-connected product lines – Sage One, Sage Live, and Sage 200c. (Sage 200c is a relatively new product group used in Sage’s securities filings to describe the Sage-hosted versions of Sage’s major lower mid-market products - Sage 50c, Sage 100c, and Sage 300c.)
Figure 2: Pegg (www.pegg.io) is a virtual assistant which allows users to interact with accounting software using chat applications like FaceBook Chat, Skype, or Slack
Sharma later shared the concept of an office which has many of the routine tasks automated using artificial intelligence. She shared that artificial intelligence will likely provide solutions which can perform specialized time-consuming routine tasks like assigning expense accounts to credit card purchases long before it is used to provide general artificial intelligence capabilities like those provided by human assistants.
Sharma also shared that her team’s development efforts are driven by user suggestions which are shared within the Pegg chatbot and they are releasing enhancements for the platform daily.
Adam Hale, the Sage Global Executive Vice President for Sage People, discussed the vision for this newly acquired product, which is the most established human resources management solution on the SalesForce platform. He discussed the product’s objectives, which include providing visibility to people initiatives inside of companies, helping their workforces be more productive, and helping companies keep their workforces engaged.
Hale also discussed his plans to promote “People Science”, a strategy of mining data to provide performance measures and predictive analytics about a company’s workforce. Sage plans to run its North American operations for Sage People out of its Atlanta headquarters office.
The company shared the three pillars of its product strategy with partners and the media, which include:
- Investing in its existing portfolio of products and provide hybrid cloud solutions for many of these products.
- Lead sales efforts to new customers with its cloud applications (Sage One, Sage Live, Sage X3 Online, and Sage People), and
- Create innovating new features and products like Pegg, as well as adding dimensional reporting capabilities to its cloud products, including Sage Live and Sage One.
- The roadmap discussion did a good job of balancing the needs of existing customers with the desire to develop more cloud applications.
Overall I felt Sage Summit showed an interesting glimpse at what the future holds for Sage as well as the accounting marketplace. The Pegg chatbot and the company’s vision for real time analytics, cross-platform alerts, as well as machine learning-based automation show that Sage has a clear long-term vision for itself and the accounting profession.
While we don’t think that all accounting jobs are in danger of replacement by computers in the short term, it’s clear that they will be quite different in the future. Just as it takes two decades for a baby to learn the general intelligence/skills it needs to be successful as an adult, it will take a very long time for assistants like Cortana, Pegg, and Alexa to have the skills needed to perform many of the tasks handled by our profession, but our future working alongside these new tools looks to be very interesting.
Brian Tankersley CPA CITP is a technology consultant, educator, writer and serves as Director of Strategic Relationships for K2 Enterprises, where he works with vendors serving the industry to understand their existing and new offerings.