Since its inception, the Sage Accountants Network (SAN) has grown to approximately 26,000 yet questions remained among practitioners about its effectiveness. New SAN head and VP of Accountant Solutions, Ray Barlow is looking to change that impression.
Officially hired earlier this month, Barlow has been working with the accounting profession for over 20 years in a variety of capacities, most notably as VP sales and marketing at CCH. He was also one of the first hires at Intuit's Accounting & Advisor group, where he served as senior leader of national accounts. It is this division that is tasked with reaching out to accounting firms and communicating the benefits of cloud accounting and, specifically, helping firms aid the client transition from the desktop to the cloud; and to QuickBooks Online in particular.
While he was not forthcoming about his specific reasons for leaving Intuit, in speaking with Barlow he did insist that it was all on good terms and stressed his excitement at this new challenge. While it is still a very new position for him, AccountingWEB was able to speak with Barlow and discuss his vision for the SAN, taking over for Jennifer Warawa (who is now Global VP Product Marketing â Accountants), and what challenges Sage and he face with accountants and the new offerings for them.
AW: What are you bringing to the SAN and their accounting product line?
Barlow: I've been working with accountants and small businesses for over 20 years. Back in 2004, 2005 I began talking about cloud and not many people wanted to hear about it. Now I'm seeing a rapid acceptance. I can bring my experience of working with firms and understanding where accounting technology is going. I understand their problems and what we're doing here at Sage can help them grow their practice.
AW: What is your general vision for the SAN?
Barlow: The cloud is changing dynamics for a lot of businesses. What I'd like to do is to help grow the network by providing more content and show more value in what an accountant gets when they sign up for the SAN. Ultimately, I want to know what I can do to create more value [for SAN members]. I want them to use the products we have to be successful with the businesses they serve. That's where I need to do the most work, so that it becomes so compelling that every firm would be interested in being a Sage accountant. To that end, we have products coming out that are so different than in the past they need to resonate with firms or whatever client they may have. I think we are building that very âcoolâ tool set and my job is to get the message out on how we can enhance their practice.
AW: Are there any Sage products right now you are particularly excited about for accountants?
Barlow: Sage One, in particular I think has come a long way and can compete in the U.S. and has the right features and benefits now that can play in the accounting space for firms with small clients. Then there's Sage Live, which I don't think we've seen everything it will be able to do yet, but I've seen a lot of products and the potential in what [Sage Live] can do and what it will do for firms is exciting. Yes it's a bit higher end, but I know a lot of accountants that have a need for this product for their clients. With all of our offerings now, we can help accountants take a client from incubation to midsized corporation. We have products that meet the needs of these businesses and it's a uniqueness that we can do that, no one else in the market can do that right now.
AW: What has changed most in accountants' thinking and how, in your new role, can you better address that thinking?
Barlow: There's so many products and services that help accountants out there now, it's a big and pleasant surprise. I've been doing this for over 20 years and until recently tax and assurance products and services really hadn't changed very much. Now there's so many out there that help accountants out. I'd even say accounting has become kind of sexy. What I really have seen in firms I've been working with is a definite change in how they want to work with clients. It's not so easy, there's things that have to be done, questions to be answered. As much as I see a definite change in how accountants want to work with clients, where we need to do the hard work is in helping them get clients to the cloud and doing things that will make that process easier. We need to show them what it's going to mean, too, once they're there. The move is not as easy as you think when you have a partner structure that is still tied to the desktop world, as well as clients that still don't have that trust that the cloud is best for them.
AW: Where can the SAN and the accounting product line be most improved or enhanced?
Barlow: We're on the right course in terms of improving, there's always more you can do to make it more collaborative. We don't have a practice management solution right now and that can be interesting to look in to. We don't have a tax product either, so we can maybe look into integrations rather than build it ourselves. Also, we really could improve workflow as well. Sage One has been enhanced nicely here, but in Canada we have some work to do. We're not trying to own every product an accountant can use, there's great add-ons out there for them, but we as a company need to be looking into improving the workflow.
AW: Sage appears to be projecting itself more globally, do you see the same for the SAN?
Barlow: I would think that's something we want to do, we're building global products so you start looking at it that way. I think the SAN can benefit across the globe.
As Barlow gets settled into his role at Sage, we may hear and see more from the company on exactly how they will better connect with accountants and improve their product offerings for them, and their clients. So that this is not just a one-way conversation, we want to know what exactly you believe Sage should be doing better for the profession? And if you are one of the 26,000 SAN members, how do you believe they can improve?