Anton van Heerden, executive vice-president: Africa & Middle East at Sage, reflects on how much accounting software has changed over the years.
When Sage (or Softline as it was known back then) opened its doors in 1988, the few small businesses that actually had PCs were the early adopters of a new wave of technology. The company’s founders needed to drag a hefty desktop computer around to show prospective clients how they could benefit from automating their accounting and payroll practices with its new software.
As we launch a new version (Version 17) of one of our most trusted and popular solutions, Sage Pastel Accounting, it occurs to me just how much has changed in the world of accounting since I started my career.
Text interfaces and standalone computers have given way to intuitive, connected apps running on ultra slim notebooks, smartphones and tablet computers.
From invoices to customer support, things have come a long way
Do you remember back in the day when businesses used to physically print invoices for a client? They were carried around and stored in invoice files, and put a dent on the bottom line due to paper and ink costs. Because of this, invoices were black and white and generally stock standard, with little customisation or design. Now that most people email invoices, this has changed, and invoices can be easier on the eye, including colour and a brand’s logo.
At one point, technology was only affordable to big companies and the wealthy. Now that it’s literally in everybody’s hands and integrated into our lives – people have much higher expectations of the technology they use at work. They want it to be as intuitive and slick as Facebook and Uber, and these days, its often the employees’ demand for better user experiences that drives business to improve and modernise its systems. Not so long ago, employees were much more resistant to taking on new technologies.
When designing Version 17, we focused on meeting the demands of a new generation of workers who grew up with mobile devices. They prefer instant messages to phone calls, enjoy learning online, and expect things to be visually appealing. This is why we have integrated a live chat customer support feature, online training service, and invoice ‘forms designer’ into the new version.
We’ve certainly come a long way from the green screens and text that ruled the market when we started out.
Making accounting more than just accounting
The cloud is at the centre of many of the biggest changes in how businesses operate today. As an entrepreneur, the biggest advantage of modern accounting solutions is probably the ability to connect to your accountants and partners with real-time and intuitive information about your business.
Wherever you are, you can view financial information or authorise transactions from a mobile device. This allows accounting to become so much more than bookkeeping – it gives you strategic insight to make important decisions, quickly and on the move.
For various reasons, not all companies are completely ready to move from desktop to online solutions. But this doesn’t mean they need to miss out on important new features. That’s what we had in mind with Version 17 – delivering a desktop solution with all the connected features and ease of use you’d expect from a cloud system. This provides a bridge from the old world of desktop software to the new world of mobile and cloud computing.
Years of evolution
Whatever comes next – we’ll be ready for it. I believe that the future of the workplace is conversational, easy and fun, and that’s where our products are going. For example, Sage earlier this year introduced the world to a smart assistant ‘chatbot’ called Pegg. This clever piece of software allows users to track expenses and manage finances through messaging apps – such as Facebook Messenger and Slack – which currently boast more than 2-billion users worldwide.
In this time of seismic technological change and digital invention, accounting solutions must stay on top of the trends to ensure that entrepreneurs and accountants can focus on the things that truly add value to the business.