Accounting and related technology makers like Sage North America, and other business technology product vendors in general, are in an undeniable state of flux given how people and companies are looking for ways to work more efficiently in an increasingly mobile world. 

At the recent 4th Annual SaaS Executive Roundtable event hosted by the American Institute of CPAs and CPA2Biz, we were able to sit down with Sage North America chief executive Pascal Houillon and ask him some pointed questions about how change is affecting his company and accounting technology overall, as well as where accounting professionals factor in.

AT: What is the biggest challenge facing your company today, and perhaps even accounting technology in general?

Houillon:  One of our challenges is that while we have been promoting the Sage business, how do we get Sage Advisor inside to our customers. We have millions of touch points, but also with Sage Payments we conduct a lot of transactions. We could benchmark our customers, but right now that is just a concept. Everyone is about big data and there’s lots of intelligence in the software. 

Also, our customers don’t always use our products to their potential and we feel this is our fault. They can’t all be specialists in our software so the biggest challenge for us is to simplify the software and be more meaningful. We thought more features would deliver more value and some [of our customers] have paid us for 20 years to increase features, but most only use a small part of our software. It’s about training and, to a degree, dealing with staff turnover at our customers.  How can we simplify the product and increase the value?

AT: Just a follow up, how are you specifically addressing that?

Houillon: Our partners are pushing us to add features, our customers are too. We’re not reluctant to pure SaaS, but we don’t want to reproduce what we have developed for on premises. The cloud is more complimentary for our customers, so is mobile.  We need more simple tools to take to our customers. We are thinking about what kind of information our customers and partners need now and what data do they need to extract.  Customer experience has to be consistent and we are working hard on that, this is why we moved the brand first so it’s easier for us to align processes behind that. We don’t want to develop any major new features for on premises [products], we have to reengineer our products to move, at least parts of them, to the cloud. There are things you don’t need in your on premises software and we can move those smoothly to the cloud. Each time we develop a cloud feature, it’s for all products; it has to be.

AT: How do you see the role of accounting professionals affecting your business and accounting technology on the whole?

Houillon: We have a lot to do, we want to develop more of a relationship [with accounting professionals]. They can give the right advice to our customers and we want to support them in providing them with the right tools for the CPA to do their job. We want to develop some solutions for them and we are looking at the market to see what we could buy to help better serve them.  All of us can do better in working with the CPAs.

AT: It was stated in a recent report that outdated accounting platforms are “a hazard” and state of the art systems are what’s needed from a functional and security perspective. Your thoughts and where do you think Sage can improve in this area?

Houillon: Our products right now are very compliant so we aren’t as concerned, we really follow the accounting rules close to the book. Some people may not think what we have is flexible enough, but I will say some products have been on the market for years and some cloud products could run into some security issues too. We have customers that are on older products and moving to a subscription model, we also have products that have been improved. It’s a good way for us to maintain the right level of versioning. In the future the connection will work just with the latest version so this will push some migration.

AT: Who or what is driving innovation now with regards to accounting technology?

Houillon: It used to be just tax and BPO(business process outsourcing) products and suddenly our core service is something else, trusted advisors are looking beyond what they traditionally have done. Using data in new ways as well, it’s not about having data access just once a year. If accountants want to be proactive it will be to have access to information more often, more interactive and this is a brand new demand. We are still pretty far from that, but it is happening.