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Sage 50 Accounts 2008: review

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Given that half of all start-ups don’t make it past their first year and only five per cent survive beyond year five, having decent software that can help you manage cash and track profitability is a must.

Sage 50 2008 is one of many small business accounting packages designed to help you speed up the process from winning an order to getting the cash. The difference is that it comes with a boatload of extra features that you’d normally need to buy elsewhere.

Despite its name, Sage 50 2008 could hardly be described as the latest generation of accounting system. Previously called Line 50 (it was originally aimed at 50-employee companies), the original code was written nearly 30 years ago by then student Graham Wylie for David Goldman’s printing business. The two subsequently set up Sage, one of the UK’s most successful IT companies.

It’s come a long way since then and Sage makes a virtue of its long development heritage. While a feature-for-feature comparison with rival products such as QuickBooks might lead you to think they’re pretty similar, Sage 50 has more depth. It has greater flexibility for different accounting processes, for example, and provides a host of invoice discounting options and the capability to do mark-ups and mark-downs.

Sage 50 2008 is designed to make accounting processes run more smoothly. The reporting also gives you better insight into the way your business is running, with 760 standard reports on P&L, balance sheet and budget, plus the ability to drill down to individual transactions. You can also customise reports and dump data in Excel for analysis.

Where Sage isn’t yet as strong is in offering its software as a hosted service that you can access over the internet for a monthly fee – an increasingly popular option, particularly for businesses with people in multiple locations. Sage 50 Online is a stop-gap, but later this year it will release an entirely new product, Sage Live, to fill this hole.

Finally, you need to keep your growth plans in mind when you buy. One of the criticisms of Sage over the years has been that it’s acquired a lot of products rather than develop its own, which has left it with different types of product design. If your business outgrows Sage 50 – for example, if you find you need more than 10 users on the system – you can’t just upgrade to a bigger version. The next product in the range, Sage 200, is an entirely different package that you need to install from scratch.

The upside is that it looks and feels the same, since Sage has standardised the interfaces across its range.

That work also means other products from the Sage family – such as its payroll and customer management systems – will have a familiar feel for your admin people.

By David Longworth, Webster Buchanan Research. David will be giving Sage 50 2008 the specification once-over in the next few days here at www.realbusiness.co.uk

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