Five years ago: Sage ready for accounts war

If you notice large queues outside the UCI cinema in Regent Street in December, don't imagine it's Sylvester Stallone or Arnie hyping a beat'em-up movie. It's bigger than that; it's the clash of Sage Accounting versus OneWorld

OneWorld is a suite of modules from JD Edwards, which reckons itself to be the world's fourth largest software provider after Computer Associates, SAP and Oracle (the list is their own ranking, by the way). It is "integrated", that is to say, available to mainframe users; specifically the IBM AS/400. Sage, traditionally, is a PC-based system, now expanding up into larger corporate sales, through the network.

This autumn, the two will meet in the middle, as Sage goes live with the Sage Intranet Club, the new integrated cross-platform version, and new strategic partnerships. At the same time, OneWorld is moving into client-server and down into the PC space.

It promises to be a major publicity event; both groups are doing pre-bout posturing exercises for the cameras, and both are out to claim the Solution Provider crown.

Where Sage is traditionally aimed at the small organisation, and helps grow them up, OneWorld appears to be working down from the giant corporate. So modules for OneWorld include: product data management, shop floor control, sales order management, inventory management, purchase management, customer service workstation, financial modelling and budget, and general accounting,

To match this threat -- and it is a big one, with mindshare of a lot of US based corporate giants ready to stand up and proclaim the JD Edwards gospel as satisfied beta testers of the new modules -- Sage is moving not only into the corporate LAN, but also up into the Web and the Internet.

Over the next few months, starting November, Sage will announce "strategic alliances" with people in electronic commerce, networking, database development, Web finance, and other online banking services.

Oddly, Sage (though much the smaller of the two accountancy giants) is much bigger than most people realise. For example, its UK turnover is around 30 per cent of its global business, and it is far bigger (45 per cent of global turnover) in France than here. Also, its US profile with Daceasy, Telemagic contact software and Timeslips time and billing packages, accounts for the rest of the operation; it is capitalised at £460 million by the stock market. It's big, in other words. Its major UK rival, Pegasus, is dwarfed by comparison.

What Sage customers are apparently anxious to see is a move towards genuine system integration. "Our users are not happy if they have to switch into Excel to do calculations, and then cut and paste to get the information back. They want the facilities available all the time that the accounting software is available," said corporate development director Paul Stobart. "They also want to integrate payroll with the stock control system."

Inevitably, both outfits are going to find themselves sucked into the Windows world, a matter of some concern to customers. Most customers want Windows-based accounting; most accounting systems are actually DOS- or mainframe-based. But Sage and OneWorld are now both converging into the Windows 95 arena.

It remains to be seen whether the inherent "openness" of Windows and OLE is a suitable environment for corporate accounting suites; but even if there are doubts about the wisdom of moving to Windows, the clash of the Titans will probably ensure that these doubts are hidden behind a smoke screen for a while.

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