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PROS

  • Based on popular Sage 50 Accounts product
  • Makes good use of secure Office 365 platform to share accounts data
  • Mobile app to capture and upload receipts and other transactions
  • Bundled Office 365 license with some editions
  • Backup to OneDrive cloud

CONS

  • Only three new apps in first release
  • Sage Capture app is Apple iOS only to begin with
  • Overly complex pricing

Price
From £20 (ex. VAT) per month for a single user Sage 50c Essentials licence (Office 365 is not included, but is bundled with higher-priced editions)


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 Image: Sage UK

When it comes to accounting software, Sage is one the best-known brands around, popular with both professional accountants and business buyers, and offering a large portfolio of products to suit business of all sizes. In the face of growing competition from more agile cloud-based alternatives, the developer has recently revamped its flagship Sage 50 product line to better reflect increasingly mobile ways of working. Rather than do this by migrating the software wholesale to the cloud, the company has opted instead for Office 365 integration and the use of OneDrive storage to provide the connectivity and data-sharing features implied by the 'c' in the new Sage 50c name.

The same but different

Core book-keeping functionality remains unchanged in this first release of Sage 50c, which is based on the September 2016 update (v23) of Sage 50 Accounts. Customers are not required to use Office 365 if they don't want to, and can simply carry on using the Sage desktop application as before. However, many will want to take advantage of the new features and can do so either as existing users of Microsoft's cloud service or as new customers: a 'free' Office 365 Business Premium licence is included in the subscriptions to both Standard and Professional editions of Sage 50c.

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Office 365 integration is a new option in the otherwise unchanged Sage 50c desktop product.
 Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

There's also a budget Sage 50c Essentials edition, but this doesn't come with an Office 365 licence, which will mean having to subscribe separately in order to use the new features if you're not already an Office 365 customer. Additional setup is also required if the Office 365 account hasn't been sourced through Sage, although this is minimal and can done free of charge by the Sage support team.

Joint enterprise

Despite the new name the desktop Sage 50c interface remains much the same, with all of the changes be made behind the scenes. When using the scheduled backup option for example, you can set the software to upload backups automatically to Microsoft's OneDrive. Sage 50c can also synchronise the accounts data it manages to Excel workbook copies stored in the OneDrive cloud, where it can be accessed using Office 365 applications and add-ins provided by Sage.

A number of these 'apps' are promised, although this first iteration of Sage 50c includes just three, starting with Sage Intelligence Reporting to enable customers to share, and even create, financial management reports online using Excel.

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Sage 50c apps in the Office 365 My apps folder.
 Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research

Sage Intelligence Reporting is far from new, having been available as an optional add-on for some time -- and in some countries is still delivered that way. In regions selling the integrated Sage 50c product, however, this add-in now comes as standard and requires no additional setup -- you just select the Sage Intelligence app from the 'My apps' folder in Office 365.

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Financial reports created using the Sage Intelligence Reporting app can be replicated to OneDrive for access and sharing using Excel.
 Image: Sage UK

The advantage here is that, rather than have to learn and use the Sage interface, reports created using the Sage desktop can be replicated to OneDrive storage, where they can be both viewed, shared and further edited by non-Sage users via Excel. New reports can, similarly, be created from Excel (either Excel Online or the local desktop version) and saved to OneDrive for sharing and replication to the desktop product and its users.

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Sage 50c reports can be viewed and edited using Excel, and new reports created using the Office 365 application.
 Image: Sage UK

Shared Outlook

The second of the Sage 50c apps is an add-in to Microsoft Outlook called Sage Contact, which you could be forgiven for thinking does little more than synchronise customer contact details. In fact, it goes beyond that by associating key Sage accounts data with Outlook contacts and making this available to Outlook users, both on the desktop and from mobile devices.

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Sage Contact gives Outlook users immediate access to detailed customer accounts information, as here using Outlook on an Apple iPad...
 Image: Sage UK

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...or here, on a smartphone.
 Image: Sage UK

As with the Intelligence Reporting add-in, accounts data accessed through Outlook can also be edited without leaving the app, although this is mostly limited to creating new accounts on the go and updating non-essential information such as contact details.

Finally there's Sage Capture for smartphones, which can be used to capture and upload images of expense receipts and other paper documents along with manually supplied details for posting the associated transaction direct to Sage 50c accounts. Currently only available for Apple iPhone, but with Android support planned for later this year, this app puts Sage 50c on a par with cloud-based accounting packages, most of which already have this facility.

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Images taken using the Sage Capture smartphone app can be uploaded along with transaction details direct to Sage 50c.
 Image: Sage UK

A good start

An innovative way to extend access to Sage Accounts data using the Microsoft Office tools to which most users will have access, we found Sage 50c very easy to use and would expect existing customers to welcome the upgrade. It might even tempt some to look more closely at Office 365 itself. On the downside, Sage has yet to fully exploit what Office 365 brings to the party, and continues to lag behind the competition when it comes to mobile access.

We also found the pricing a little confusing. Essentially still a desktop application, Sage 50c is priced as a service with what, at first glance, appear to be just three simple tiers. However, there are multiple options and feature sets that can increase what you pay. Still, there are no limits on the number of users who can connect and use the Office 365-specific features (such as the Sage Capture app), and overall it's an affordable and very workable product that promises to get even better.

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