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January 18, 2011

Sage takes wraps off SaaS for small biz with Sage One

New accounting software for teeny tiny businesses

By Jason Stamper

Paul Stobart Sage

Sage Northern Europe chief executive Paul Stobart.

At an event in London this morning,UK-based Sage announced another foray into the world of Software as a Service (SaaS) with the launch of Sage One for small and micro- businesses.

The firm emphasised that the new hosted offering was built from the ground up by Sage, and only after it talked to over 100 small businesses about their wants and needs when it came to accounting software.

The headlines are impressive: Sage One Cashbook will cost only £5 per month plus VAT, Sage One Accounts just £10 per month plus VAT and Sage One Accountant Edition for accountants helping small businesses run their finances just £250 per year or free if you are a member of Sage’s Accountants Club.

Read the back story to Sage’s approach to SaaS, with an exclusive interview with Sage Northern Europe chief executive Paul Stobart, here.

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Sage said its differentiator from rival online accounting systems include its free, 24×7 telephone support and ease of use. Certainly the demo shown today made the system look easy as pie and ideal for what Sage calls microbusinesses.

There were one or two ‘buts’, however. There’s no guaranteed minimum service uptime in any contract, which may give even small firms some pause for thought. However the firm’s head of R&D for Sage One, Mat Peck, insisted the company would be striving for "as close to 100% uptime as possible" and said any scheduled downtime would be broadcast to customers well in advance. A beta customer at the event backed up this claim.

The other ‘but’ is also perhaps one of the offering’s strengths: the company said that while new bells and whistles will be added the core focus will always be on the microbusiness with this product, which means that firms could potentially outgrow the product as they expand beyond basic book-keeping needs. Data can be exported from Sage One as a .CSV (Excel compatible) file however, so migrating to something with more oomph from Sage or another provider at a later stage shouldn’t be problematic.

The Sage One system will currently run on pretty much anything with a relatively modern browser, meanwhile Mat Peck told CBR that tailored applications for the likes of the Apple iPad and BlackBerry are definitely in the works. It already runs on both Mac and PC browsers though.

Today Sage One is only available to UK customers. Sage already has some similar offerings in different geographies, and Sage Northern Europe chief executive Paul Stobart told CBR that other countries in Europe and also North America are very keen to launch similar offerings based on the underlying building blocks soon.

As for Sage’s bread-and-butter mid-market applications such as Sage 1000 and Sage Line 500, Stobart said these applications – indeed "all of Sage’s core mid-market applications" – will be web-enabled inside of two years. The plan there is slightly different in that it is cloud-enabling existing applications rather than starting from the ground-up as it did with Sage One.

Mat Peck told CBR Sage One was built largely using Ruby on Rails by a core team at its Newcastle headquarters. The investment in R&D was put at "millions" of pounds.

Beta customers at the event praised the technology for its ease of use, and said it saved them considerable time compared to using Excel for their book-keeping.

The company insisted security of companies’ data was not an issue, saying three independent consultants had failed to crack its 128-bit encryption, while hosting is done by Rackspace at data centres in the UK, with all sorts of redundancy and failover built in.

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