- Sets the de-facto UK standard
- integrates with Word, Excel and Outlook and accommodates many Sage add-ons
- offers file compatibility across the entire Sage range.
- Expensive compared to its competition and not sufficiently flexible that you might have to change the way you do things.
Line 50 v9 is the latest accounting ‘solution’ from Sage, probably the UK’s best-known publisher of business accounting software. The Sage range, split into five product groups, covers practically every business situation, from Instant Accounting for the one-man band to the Web-enabled Line 500 for large-scale industries. Within those groups, there are different levels of functionality dependent on the extent of your requirements and the depth of your pocket.
Line 50 is aimed at small-to-medium businesses and comprises three products. In ascending order of cost and functionality, there’s Sage Accountant, which offers three-ledger (sales, purchase and nominal) accounting along with features such as profit & loss, balance sheets and budget reporting as well as VAT management and credit control. Then there’s Sage Accountant Plus which adds stock control, invoicing and cheque printing. Finally, there’s Sage Financial Controller, reviewed here, which has all of those plus extras like sales and purchase order processing, quotations and pro-formas. In fact, whether as an upgrade or starting from scratch, sales and purchase order processing are so useful that there’s a case to be made for bypassing the lesser titles and jumping straight to Financial Controller. Other useful facilities include fixed asset tracking, component stock verification, bill paying online via BACS, various e-commerce options and, if you’re brave enough, applying credit charges to customers who do not pay on time.
Features new to version 9 include allowing you to archive a complete set of company data; grouping tasks to suit your usage; the ability to process transactions in all major foreign currencies (although if this is a significant proportion of your business, Sage recommends Line 100 instead); and predefined graphical reports of key management information. Improvements to other areas allow you to view summary details of your customers' payment history, stock levels and business performance; keep track of how much stock you have (or don’t have); write debt-chasing letters (and if this fails, put them on ‘stop’); use wizards to calculate your VAT Return and run your month and year end. The program also boasts Plain Paper Printing (instead of buying pre-printed forms), and although most other accounting systems can do this, Sage gives you lines, boxes and other graphics to play with. Other thoughtful touches include the ability to scan in images such as signatures on reports, a warning when the Sales Price entered on an invoice is less than the cost price on your product record and the option to have every VAT number validated on entry (country format only).
One new feature, Transaction e-mail (only in Financial Controller) lets you send and receive orders, invoices and other trading documents by email instead of through the post. This naturally saves time and paper and if you receive transactions by email it can eliminate re-keying errors. Transaction e-mail can be sent to anyone with an email address and still, says Sage, satisfy the VAT regulations. It does, though, cost you -- the first six months are free, but after that it’s £99 annually -- in contrast to competitor Intuit’s QuickBooks which can also email invoices but at no extra charge. Sage says it uses structured email containing a security code to make it difficult for tampering to go undetected. You need Microsoft’s Outlook as your email client.
Although it falls into the integrated software category (rather than being modular), Line 50 professes to be able to establish links to other Sage offerings like WebTrader, Payroll, Job Costing, Contact Manager and Timeslips, plus third-party software. In the box you get Sage Forecasting (that lets you apply ‘what if?’ queries to your data) plus a report designer.
If you’re upgrading from a previous Line 50 installation, or from Instant Accounting, you just point the program at that existing data. If you’re coming from a competitive product, the only way to get your data in is either to re-key or to export it from your previous program and import it into Line 50, a surprisingly cumbersome procedure for software that hopes to make you a Sage convert.
You can buy Sage Accountant for £395 (ex. VAT), although you wouldn’t if you need invoicing. The standard Financial Controller costs £840, unchanged from the previous version, and there’s a network version for £2,175 (which includes one year’s SageCover). Line 50’s competition includes the likes of QuickBooks Premier at £350, Access Foundations starting at around £600, and Pastel Accounting also from £600, although none match it feature for feature. Sage also throws in a nice thick manual, and you can buy a support contract and extensive tailored training.