When Sage sat down with focus groups of Australian accountants in 2017, they received a clear message. Accountants wanted vendors to give them an open platform.
The accounting software vendor was looking to re-engineer its solution. They wanted to hear what its clients wanted before they began.
Kerry Agiasotis, executive vice president for Sage Asia Pacific, said the focus groups highlighted the pain points suffered by clients. Clients sought to adapt to new technologies and use the ones they preferred. And not all of them would be from the same vendor.
“It showed that our customers were getting extreme value out of what we did. But they were also saying that while they liked our stuff, they didn’t necessarily want to use everything,” said Agiasotis.
Rebuilding for Openness
Sage spent the next 12 months developing its current product. It was rolled out to Australian accountants in a series of capital city conferences in April 2019.
It was a cloud version of Sage's core HandiSoft practice management software. It also included an integration platform that worked with the cloud and on-premises versions.
The most significant feature was the rollout of an API, which supported the integration of HandiSoft with other software.
This means that users can create their own applications without coding. They can integrate with thousands of applications from the Salesforce AppExchange and other popular third-party applications, such as Office 365 and SAS 360.
All this is part of what Agiasotis agreed as a major paradigm shift in thinking among vendors. They do not see their future in jealously guarding their customers anymore. Instead, they see themselves as enablers. To be one, they need new levels of integration and connectivity.
“Opening up the core of our software through APIs has really allowed us to connect to the rest of the world,” he said.
“I think that if a software company doesn't get this, then they are in real trouble today. What do you do with your service provider if you are not satisfied and there are three other alternatives you can use? You switch over. So, if you are not listening, you risk becoming irrelevant."
Future Lies in AI, Automation
Agiasotis conceded that typical engagements with accountants “still had some work to do.”
He said expectations of interactions with service providers had “fundamentally shifted.” Accountancy needed to be at the forefront. It needed to broaden from delivering compliance to offering strategic business advice.
“The traditional engagement with accountants was periodic, and quite manual in nature,” he said.
“It was almost a bit of a hassle because the customer needed to stop what they were doing to focus on the compliance-related activity, and bring along the shoebox of receipts and documentation.”
The way forward, said Agiasotis, was one in which AI and automation delivered near real-time data to accountants. This data will allow them to provide data-driven insights to their customers.
“Data has always been at a very summarised level. But now that you have detailed transactional data, you can see trends in the business. So, data is not just about compliance but also about analytics," Agiasotis added.
“And that is when you start to get your true value-add from the accountancy profession.”