I’m very conscious that this is becoming a blog about Sage rather than a blog about my own company, KashFlow.  But hey, they’re the industry leaders, we’re taking away their SME customers in droves and they’re now getting into the software-as-a-service side of things (or at least trying to) . They’re likely to be the subject of lots of comment over the coming weeks, so no apologies from me on that score.

Sage Live,  the existence and imminent release of which was first announced on this very blog, became available for public beta testing at the end of last week. See www.sagelive.co.uk if you want to have a play. The site confirms my reported price of £10 per month per user which was later talked down by Sage themselves when speaking to John Stokdyk at AccountingWeb.

A few others have had one-on-one demos from Sage. Dennis Howlett has a lot of intersting stuff to say on both the market issues and the product itself. 

Ben Kepes at Cloud Ave commented that “Sage should be applauded for their braveness. Introducing a product with limited functionality and obvious functional holes is an impressive feat for a big company normally totally risk averse” 

Having now  had the time to sit down and play with the software myself (without the development team watching this time!), I was seriously disappointed in it. I didn’t have very high expectations to start with, but it failed to reach even those. I can ofcourse be accused of being a little bit biased.  So I’ll let someone else have their say.

Dave Poole is an accountant with Williams Lester (not one of the 100’s of firms that are members of our Partner Programme for accountants or someone we’ve ever had contact with before anyone claims it’s a put-up job!) He read my comment on a business forum that said the software was dire so decided to take a look himself:

Well, you said it was dire….but I didn’t expect it to be that poor, I was ready to throw the laptop out the window after 15 minutes of fighting with the Sage Live Billing, and I have to say, I am a huge fan of Sage products normally. This is definitely one I will be avoiding.

It’s just fundamentally flawed. Look at KashFlow, or any of the other web-based accounting products. In the main they’re intuitive and easy to use. Some use really flash technology – but the technology doesn’t get in the way of the software. People who use KashFlow use it because it’s easy to use; the fact it’s web-based is incidental.

SageLive uses some kind of virtual dekstop/workspace and you have windows within that. The whole drag and drop concept for the different elements within the software is nice from a technology standpoint. But it’s just not suited for this kind of app. I already have my desktop within my operating system. And that contains it’s own windows. Why do I want a window on my desktop that contains a desktop full of windows?

Getting anything done is a slow and laborious process. There are too many clicks involved for even the most simple of tasks. Even launching the software itself is much more involved than just logging in.

Tom McClelland of payroll software company 12Pay said on the forum mentioned above

It has all the hallmarks of being designed by graphic designers and web programming experts as opposed to people who actually think about what the processes involved in day to day use are. Very pretty and full of smart web tech, but not actually usable, I’m afraid.

I couldn’t agree more. There are other issues with it. Some elements aren’t encrypted (http:// instead of https://) which results in a load of security warnings. A lot of the buttons can’t be seen on my little VAIO laptop (1280×800 resolution). They’re outside the viewable area and there’s no scroll bar to get to them. It also keeps freezing on me. I’m sure these niggles will be resolved before it comes out of Beta testing mode. But it wont be enough to save it.

I’m sure there are some accountants and advisors out there who still haven’t looked at web-based accounting yet. The offering from Sage may be the first they look at. I hope they then go on to look at other offerings too because if they thought this as the standard of what’s available then it could put them off the whole concept of web-based accounting.

I’d be a liar if I said I was originally not at all concerned about what the product would do to KashFlows dominant position in the UK web-based accounting market. But having now seen what’s on offer I certainly wont be losing any sleep over it. 

The competitors we’ll be up against and watching closely in 2009 will be the other small innovative startups, not this christmas turkey from the incumbent vendor.

UPDATE: Sage took Sage Live offline on 28Tth Jan ’09 due to security issues I found and posted here on 21st Jan.

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