[IMGCAP(1)]A few key additions came in the cloud accounting arena along with a couple of noteworthy tech consultant moves amounting to a pretty busy week, even with the holidays around the corner.

One might think it would be relatively quiet news-wise this time of year, but several vendors and accounting/ERP consultants felt it was time to make (and announce) some moves that will have significant impacts on them in the new year and beyond. Here’s my take on it all:

News: Sage North America released an accountant edition of its entry-level cloud accounting product, Sage One. The Accountant Edition is free for accountants to use and will feature regular updates at least two times per month. Key features of the product include complimentary account access for the entire firm; unlimited user access and support; opportunities to win new clients, including client discounts; reduced data entry due to bank integration; and one login access to all Sage One clients.

My Take: For one, this is Sage following through on a promise made several weeks back when it said it wanted to have more products specifically for accountants; in fact, the company formed a specific business unit to do so.

The thinking behind this product is that, even though Sage One is primarily designed for truly small business, sole proprietors and independent contractors (i.e., 1-9 employees) these users still need an accountant to work with. As such, Sage wants them to be able to work with them more collaboratively and has built in features designed to do just that.

In addition, Sage is looking to connect more small businesses with the right practitioner and plans to do so via this product. Xero has had a similar plan in place with its product for some time as well.

Sage also promised more accountant-focused products to come by this summer so we’ll see, but for now this is the first logical step in that they are creating an accountant version of something already on the market. Now, as for these yet-to-be-named products, whether they will be cloud-based as with Sage One remains to be seen but we’ll keep an eye out.

News: Xero has officially released an integrated payroll offering as part of its cloud accounting platform, just months after announcing a beta version. While Xero still has third-party payroll relationships with ZenPayroll and SurePayroll, the integrated product is designed to be a seamless single accounting and payroll offering that automatically updates the general ledger, tax calculations, and tax alerts/filings, and provides employees easy access to their payroll information.

My Take: Here’s another one from the “We told you we were doing this and now it’s here” files. Xero has been building its own payroll offering for quite some time now and has been bursting at the seams to let everyone know about it as soon as it was ready for prime time. Back in September during its Xerocon user and partner event in San Francisco the company gave attendees a hint that it was on its way, offering a brief overview of what they’d see and even some beta testing.

Well, this week was the official unveiling of Payroll for Xero, which will allow users to access a fully integrated payroll product, which right now can be used in six states with more on the way likely through next year. And of course if that doesn’t work for Xero users, present or pending, they also can go with the third-party payroll relationships Xero already has.

It’s no surprise that having a payroll offering -- integrated or working with an existing accounting product -- is a big deal for firms. Look at all that’s out there on the market and you will likely see some kind of payroll partnership or internal offering. Heck, even Paychex -- one of the biggest payroll services in the country – decided that rather than waiting for the next cloud accounting vendor relationship to come its way it made a significant investment in Kashoo and rolled out its own branded cloud accounting offering (powered by Kashoo, of course). I had mentioned previously that it’s likely not going to be long before Kashoo will become a part of Paychex, much in the way SurePayroll has.

And, not to be outdone, Xero’s self-professed nemesis Intuit announced (albeit more quietly) that one in 12 Americans gets paid via Intuit’s payroll offerings and they have spent the last several months seamlessly integrating their online payroll into QuickBooks Online. Now within QBO, users can start paying employees in just three steps, right within the product.

Let the accounting/payroll battle continue!

News: SAP AG this week announced new capabilities for its SAP Business ByDesign product, which leverage SAP HANA, mobile and cloud technologies, and global version expansion.

The news comes after confirming in October that the company would be “slowing” development of the Business ByDesign product.

My Take: For those who were under the impression that SAP would not be doing anything further with their Business ByDesign product, this news may have come as a bit of a shock. For the rest who actually paid attention to what the company said several weeks ago regarding development of the product, this news is probably not that big of a deal, and was even expected.

Yes, Business ByDesign is likely going to be “evolved” or “re-imagined” into some other phase of life in the coming year, SAP admitted as much though that hasn’t stopped many channel partners from abandoning it altogether or looking for alternatives. Regardless, in the meantime SAP still has a user base to consider for ByDesign and, as such, added some features they had been asking for or the company felt the needed. Not much more to say, really. I’m more interested to see how exactly this next phase will play out and, of course, where if at all partners will fit in.

News: Top Sage partner and VAR 100 firm ISM has joined the Acumatica channel, just weeks after divesting the majority of its Sage 500 ERP practice. ISM ranked No. 51 on the Accounting Today VAR 100 list and currently also represents Sage 100 ERP, 300, X3 and NetSuite.

My Take: It’s no surprise that accounting/ERP technology consultants that have spent 15, 20 years or more with the same vendor partner have been looking elsewhere to serve their customer base. The fact that what they are adding are cloud or cloud-related products is also less of a shock than there being so few midmarket cloud accounting/ERP offerings to choose from. I’m suspecting that will change before long, but for now Acumatica – regardless of being a comparatively new player – is being very aggressive about getting the partner community to look at or even re-evaluate what it has.

ISM is the second VAR 100 firm to take on Acumatica in the past month, which does have a ripple effect on the partner world since, let’s face it, it’s pretty small and most everyone pays attention to what their colleagues and competitors are doing.  For ISM, this was – as I’m certain other such partnership signings are – about filling specific customer needs that its current product offerings were not, or not as easily as they will be with this addition.

Taking on any new product is, however calculated and well evaluated at the time, still a gamble and according to ISM they took their time with this one. So now in theory the firm can do its Sage 100 and 300 deals and if they want cloud in some form they can offer Acumatica. For larger deals they can look to NetSuite and X3; not a bad situation to be in. If they have the right people to focus on Acumatica, it could do well for the firm too as right now, with midmarket accounting/ERP, more partner success stories are needed to tip the scale.

News: BAASS Business Solutions Inc. formed a strategic alliance with Southeast Computer Solutions Inc., designed primarily to aid growth in its Sage ERP X3 business. SCS has over a dozen Sage X3 consultants and is positioned to help BAASS serve its expanding North America, Latin America and Caribbean business. BAASS will also assist SCS by extending their professional service resources and offerings including CRM, business intelligence, and human resources information systems.

My Take: OK, so some of you -- and I’ll admit, myself included – were probably wondering why BAASS didn’t just buy SCS. The firm has made some significant purchases over the past year or so, not the least was merging in VAR 100 firm Axis Global Partners, which also has key ties to similar markets as SCS and a buy would only further expand BAASS’s reach.

I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it may need to happen when the time is right. SCS may not be ready to be a part of another firm, but with this deal they get some deal and consultant support and BAASS gets access to Sage X3 consultants to help it further grow that part of the business.

Overall, this seems pretty mutually beneficial here and again I am not ruling out a full merger in the next couple of years.

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