Archive for July, 2012


The sales team from Softline Pastel donated their time and year end function money to donate 1800 meals to Stop Hunger Now! The team will go out with volunteers over the next months to help with the distribution of their donated food parcels and see first-hand what difference their donation will make.

by Steven Cohen, managing director Pastel Accounting

Technology, like most things, operates in cycles; there are times when the changes taking place don’t really affect you and then there are times when so much is happening that it’s very difficult to grasp what can really benefit you.

And today, we find ourselves in one of those cycles where a fortune is happening and it’s all related to the internet, web, cloud, or whatever you want to call it.

With so much tech-activity, there’s a real possibility that you’ve chosen to shut out the noise and ignore it all but currently there are a number of trends that would benefit you and you’re probably missing out and starting to lag in you work environment.

I try and stay as current as I can. It’s easy for me because technology is one of my passions. So, what I’m going to do in this article is cut through the noise and tell you about some new technology I’ve been using that I think could be of benefit to you too.

 

It’s all in the cloud

Accountants are clever people, but I recently realised that the term ‘cloud computing’ is not as broadly understood as I had assumed. In some research that we conducted amongst professional accountants towards the end of last year it emerged that 77% of respondents have no understanding of what accounting in the cloud is but 53% said they would recommend an online accounting product to their clients. So, there’s obviously confusion out there because cloud computing and working with an online application is exactly the same thing.

 

Cloud computing 101

When we refer to the cloud we’re talking about where the program is hosted, or stored, and the answer is that it lives on the web and not your computer. It’s the same as your Facebook account where all your information is stored ‘somewhere on the internet’.

Facebook (although I am not an avid user) is a great example. When you’re using it, I guarantee that you don’t think about whether it’s the latest version or if the information you see is the most current. You just know that the answer is yes and that somebody clever ‘out there’ is taking care of everything!!

Well the ‘out there’ is the cloud! Perfectionists will criticise me for this – but the heart of the argument is that the cloud refers to the web or the internet – they’re basically the same thing.

 

Online accounting systems

Being a chartered accountant gives me a decent understanding of how accounting in the cloud can make life easier for everyone: clients and accounting practices.

I remember the early days when we would have to go to clients to perform the audit function, test samples, review source documentation, etc. Sometimes we would back up the client’s data, take it back to the office to work with it and then once complete, process our adjusting journal entries on the client’s live data.

So, imagine an accounting system where you can perform a material amount of audit work on your client’s live data from your offices – while the client is working on the accounting system at the same time. By simply logging onto your client’s system from anywhere you could perform any task, and imagine; no more time in the traffic!

Think of the time saved by preparing provisional tax estimates and producing an income statement from your office. Or being able to produce management accounts whenever you choose and simply emailing them to your clients. And when it’s convenient for you, reconciling live bank accounts and producing VAT returns while your client processes invoices concurrently.

I remember when our client accounting department would receive documentation from our clients whereupon we would enter all of their transactions on our own internal client accounting systems. In the internet world, this is no longer necessary.

Depending on the client’s size and skills, the accountant (who in most cases is offsite doing the books) could do all the accounting work while the client produces customer invoices, concentrates on stock control, collecting money, etc . And you will all be transacting real time on the same live system.

Because all the information for all of your clients would be in the cloud you would be able to take a bird’s eye view of multiple clients at the same time.

What this means is: no more year-end or month end procedures – ever – so you would be able to produce financials at any point in time no matter how far back you wanted to go. And because the data resides in the cloud, you could work from anywhere at any time that was convenient for you.

Another huge plus factor is that no software needs to be installed on your computer; you simply login through your browser. So it makes no difference whether you choose to work on your computer at work, or your computer at home, or a computer at an internet café or airport.

Consider the difference this could make to your life, your practice and your client’s life.

And best of all, everyone would be on the same version of the software all the time. It’s the same as internet banking. When you logon to your bank’s internet site, you’re always logging onto the current version.

Ok, so that’s accounting in the cloud.

 

Money or the box

Another extremely useful tool that I use is called Dropbox; a data keeper in the cloud.

People often get confused with Dropbox because the concept is a bit weird – but once you understand it, then the possibilities appear.

Imagine carrying a briefcase of documents around with you wherever you go. What’s good about it is you know that the document you are looking at is the same – because it comes out of the same briefcase. Dropbox allows you to do this, but without having to carry the briefcase.

Pretend you have an expense schedule spreadsheet called Expense.xls on your work computer. As you save it, Dropbox will send a copy of it to your personalised Dropbox in the cloud. It will then make a copy of it to all your other devices (even your mobile phone or iPad or Samsung tablet) where you have Dropbox installed.

So effectively, on whichever device you choose to look at the Expense.xls spreadsheet, you will always be looking at the same version of the file.

If you are at the airport and update the spreadsheet to add a few new rows of expenses, as you save the file on your laptop, so it will be updated on all your other devices.

That’s the basic functionality of Dropbox, but it goes much further.

Let’s say you have 20 folders on your computer, but you want to share one particular folder with your associates. You can do this by making that folder a shared folder. And whenever you add or change a document in that folder, the people with whom you’ve shared it will be notified that the document has been added or changed. And vice versa.

So you could setup a folder for each client and they can put documents in the folder which updates the folder on your computer.

The benefit of Dropbox is that your data is always up to date and can be accessed from anywhere, so your data is guaranteed current and safe!

Feeling inspired with the Madiba Magic, Softline spent our 67 minutes with the children of Afrika Tikkun.

We spent a colourful morning painting egg cartons to sound proof their hall.

It was a fun filled morning celebrating the life and achievements of the wonderful Madiba!

Happy 94’th birthday Mr Nelson Mandela!

Payroll and HR software specialist Softline Pastel Payroll has a Connected Services division that enables SME companies to extend their desktop payroll with an online solution that will ease the growing burden of HR managers and payroll administrators.

Connected services includes a web-based self-service tool that enables employees to manage and maintain their own information online and thereby carry some of the overall HR administration responsibility as they are able to make on-line applications for leave, loans, bursaries, travel claims, view their payslips and update personal information no matter where they are so long as they have an internet connection.

“The internet is here to stay and its capacity and connectivity have tangibly improved recently, providing an increasingly compelling service at progressively competitive prices although South Africa still has some way to go in terms of truly competitive pricing,” says Philip Meyer, technology director at payroll and HR software specialist Pastel Payroll, part of the Softline and Sage Group plc.

“Generally accepted standard online applications – those which many people are comfortable using on a daily basis such as internet banking and online flight reservations systems, news feeds and social media sites are all being complemented by steady streams of new online business applications and services.”

Meyer says the adoption rate of online business software for new entrants into the market is increasing, posing the question of how to bridge the gap between the growing trend towards online software adoption and the traditional desktop application users in the same market segments.

“The adoption of what many consider to be commoditised uses for the internet is seen as a steady evolutionary process and the switch from legacy desktop applications to the cloud is proving to be a gradual adoption rather than a rush to jump on the bandwagon.”

The advantages and conveniences of connected services can aid and expedite the many benefits of dual-deployment business software models such as client-side hosted applications with significant connected services capabilities and functionality together with a seamless upgrade path to ultimately complete cloud-based models facilitated by vendors.

Connected Services has workflow capabilities based on the organisation chart or a specific workflow order per online form. Once an employee applies for leave online and the manager approves it, the payroll system is automatically updated. The software also provides for leave scheduling, which is particularly practical over traditional December holidays when “skeleton staff” are required. The program helps to manage minimum staff levels by providing system warnings.

Meyer reckons frictionless updates are another example of connected services that enable traditional desktop applications to seamlessly update over the internet with minimal intervention from the end-user of the software. “Customers no longer need to visit a website to download and install updates manually and install CD versions, the software now does it all for them. The days of CD-based updates and disruptive installation and implementation cycles are over.”

Another component of Connected Services allows HR managers and payroll administrators to receive RSS feeds to their desktops notifying them of legislative and tax changes and new system software releases so that the company is always on track and up to date.

“The internet and, more specifically, cloud-based and online business applications constitute some of the most compelling opportunities for streamlining the way business is conducted in the 21st century. It is reassuring that the optimisation of internet capabilities will almost certainly not amount to a one-size fits all models.

“It is rather the incremental evolution of traditional desktop software, leveraging the internet where it is appropriate and business enhancing, that will play an important role in the evolutionary shift to complete cloud-based business software provisioning, billing and deployment. This will provide a flexible and extensible migration path to the cloud taking into account preferences of individual business requirements, as will pure cloud-only offerings,” concludes Meyer

The Tax Season commenced on 01 July 2012. Taxpayers can now submit their IT12 Returns for 2012. To avoid fines or penalties, individuals need to file their tax returns within the SARS deadlines, for the period 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

Submission Deadlines

Please take note of the submission deadlines below:

•Manual returns have to be posted or delivered to local SARS branches by 28 September 2012.

•Non-provisional taxpayers may use SARS eFiling until 23 November 2012.

•Provisional taxpayers have more time and may submit electronic returns via eFiling until 31 January next year.

 

Tax Return Guide 

Visit www.sars.gov.za  to obtain the 2012 Tax Season electronic guide to help with submitting your IT12 Returns.

Help-You-eFile

A Help-You-eFile service will also soon be launched by SARS. The Help-You-eFile service is an innovation that will provide taxpayers with access to contact centre agents while the taxpayer is online. SARS Agents are able to see what taxpayers are doing and assist with the completion of the tax return. SARS has also embraced mobile technology and this year individuals with mobile devices will also be able to file their returns through the new SARS eFiling mobisite (sarsefiling.mobi) or a soon-to-be-launched eFiling application for people on the move using smartphones or tablets.

SARS is also enabling taxpayers to view eFiling videos on YouTube demonstrating how to register for eFiling, complete and submit the IRT12 tax form, accompanied by supporting documents if these are required. SARS has said that eFilers will receive their ITA34 assessment and statement of account within a few minutes of submitting the return.

 

eFiling

e@syFile™ Employer version 6.0.4 is available to download from www.sars.gov.za. An updated security certificate is included in this release to ensure successful installation. There are no additional changes in functionality.

Taxpayers who may have forgotten their eFiling login or password will be able to request their login name and reset their password from the login page

 

Find out more from www.pastelpayroll.co.za

Tax season 2012 has been officially launched. To avoid fines or penalties, individuals need to file their tax returns within the SARS deadlines, for the period 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

Manual returns have to be posted or delivered to local SARS branches by 28 September 2012 while non-provisional taxpayers may use SARS eFiling until 23 November 2012. Provisional taxpayers have more time and may submit electronic returns via eFiling until 31 January next year.

Phil Meyer, technology director of payroll, tax and HR software developer Pastel Payroll, part of the Softline Group and Sage Group plc, recommends that individuals begin to get their tax documentation in order now.

“It makes sense to gather proof of contributions to Retirement Annuities or private pensions and medical schemes, investment income, dividends and lump sum payments now. The earlier the return can be finalised and submitted the better. It is less stressful than the panic last-minute rush.”

Meyer adds that taxpayers can obtain the Tax Season 2012 electronic guide from the SARS website www.sars.gov.za

“This year SARS is offering taxpayers assistance with their returns through a number of channels, helping to ensure that tax returns are submitted accurately and on time with minimal effort. A Help-You-eFile service will also soon be launched by SARS.”

The Help-You-eFile service is an innovation that will provide taxpayers with access to contact centre agents while the taxpayer is online. SARS Agents are able to see what taxpayers are doing and assist with the completion of the tax return.

The Help-You-eFile service is an innovation that will provide taxpayers with access to contact centre agents while the taxpayer is online. SARS Agents are able to see what taxpayers are doing and assist with the completion of the tax return.

“Taxpayers will also be able to view eFiling videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to registers for eFiling, complete and submit the IRT12 tax form, accompanied by supporting documents if these are required. SARS has said that eFilers will receive their ITA34 assessment and statement of account within a few minutes of submitting the return.”

Finally, taxpayers who may have forgotten their eFiling login or password will be able to request their login name and reset their password from the login page.

by Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

This is a difficult topic to discuss, particularly as I am a passionate employee of a Business Intelligence (BI) software vendor. So of course Alchemex is the best solution, but seriously in the interests of fair blogging and not to market our own product, I will try to be as objective as I can and keep away from naming vendors.

I was in a meeting in Europe last week and in the meeting there was a person from a large ERP vendor trying to make a selection from a set of BI tools. They were evaluating from a list of 250 BI products! And a large portion of these were developed in just one country, Germany.  I was quite amazed. 10 years ago or so there were only a handful of BI vendors to choose from. Wow things have changed.

These days none can really answer the question “which BI tool is best for SMB’s?” as it is very general. The good news is that in this time the set of technologies, solutions and practices that sit under the BI banner has expanded vastly creating more specific niche areas within that BI banner that individual vendors can choose to excel in and then to eat their piece of an ever expanding pie.

No BI vendor can be the best, or realistically even do well, at any one time in all areas. Those that specialise well for the market segment they serve will continue to thrive. This still does not mean that the task of selecting a BI solution is not daunting for the end customer (SMB customers for the purpose of this blog). They are generally not IT savvy and the BI jargon and technologies can take years to fully understand. It is like being English and being in a foreign country ordering food off a menu with no English translations.

But perhaps a way of simplifying it is not to look through the vast menu of BI vendors and then the non-trivial menu that each of these provide for the components in their stack, but rather to identify what the business needs most and through this trying to quickly eliminate the majority and then spending more time looking deeper into a refined list. Kind of like arriving at a restaurant having a good idea of what you would like to eat and then zooming in on that area.

I am going to generalize as an example but some of the generalizations would probably ring true for customers in the SMB space. Assumptions….

1.            I am an SMB with only an ERP system

2.            My primary areas that I need insights into are around Financials

3.            Understanding my sales is also important to me

4.            I am interested in other information in my system to but these are less critical to me

5.            My ERP system is desktop based (bear in mind that ERP SAAS offerings are still a small part of the market today although this is changing)

6.            I don’t have a complex IT infrastructure

7.            I don’t want to spend large amounts of money on implementation, consulting and support

8.            I don’t want to pay large license fees

Immediately criteria 6, 7 and 8 eliminate ALL enterprise level vendors, criteria 5 and 6 eliminate Web based solutions and criteria 7 eliminates any solution that does not ship with reports for your specific ERP system out the box.

So in this generalised scenario one would be left with more commoditised affordable desktop solutions that target the ERP system with bundled solutions. This should narrow it down to a handful of product options and that is when it is important to  really start looking at the finer detail of a business’s needs.

And if one wants to get information in a familiar environment like Microsoft Excel, the choices are narrowed down even further.

Over the last few years most ERP vendors have acquired the BI solutions that they feel work best for their market. And you may find your ERP vendor is one of these that provide a bundled solution. This could eliminate many costs of ownership for you and the single point of ownership from the vendor can eliminate a lot of pointing fingers when you do require support.

BEE123 Panel Debate

By Thulani Fakude - Business Development Executive at BEE123

Thulani Fakude  (BEE123 Business Development Executive) , Kganki Matabane (Director, Transformation and Internal Affairs – BUSA),  Don Mkhwanzi (Member of the Presidential B-BBEE Council), Herman Radali, (BMF JHB Chair)  Saul Symanowitz (BEE123 Divisional Director) and Nkululeko Silimela, (BMF JHB EXCO)

Thulani Fakude (BEE123 Business Development Executive) , Kganki Matabane (Director, Transformation and Internal Affairs – BUSA), Don Mkhwanzi (Member of the Presidential B-BBEE Council), Herman Radali, (BMF JHB Chair)
Saul Symanowitz (BEE123 Divisional Director) and Nkululeko Silimela, (BMF JHB EXCO)

BEE123, a subsidiary of Softline Pastel, hosted its first Panel Debate on the 12 June 2012 entitled “18 years on…has BEE missed the mark”.  Co-hosts for the evening were the Black Management Forum.

The event was massively oversubscribed with approximately 300 guests in attendance.

The panellists’ comprised the following thought leaders in the BEE space:

  • Don Mkhwanazi, BEE Pioneer and Member of the Presidential B-BBEE Council
  • Kganki Matabane, Director, Transformation and Internal Affairs – BUSA
  • Teddy Daka, Executive Chairman, Tedaka Technologies
  • Lerato Ratsoma, Managing Director of Empowerdex
  • Jacob Maphutha, Director of BEE Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, DTI

The debate was facilitated by respected and prominent journalist and  3rd Degree executive producer Debora Patta.

Debora Patta

Debora Patta

Deliberations on the topic highlighted that, BEE has faced a number of challenges/ shortcomings but remained an essential policy to transform South Africa’s economic landscape. Panellist’s also encouraged companies to move from a tick- box approach to an attitude/culture of transformation that embraces BBBEE implementation as a mechanism aimed at addressing inequalities and mobilising the energy of all South Africans, to ensure that our country  achieves its full economic potential wherein together  we contribute to  sustained economic growth, development and social transformation.

Denis Becket (prominent social commentator and journalist ) with Saul Symanowitz (BEE123 Divisional Director)

Denis Becket (prominent social commentator and journalist )
with Saul Symanowitz (BEE123 Divisional Director)

Moreover, panellist’s sighted an on-going concern that fronting in corporate companies continues to persist. Thereby welcoming changes to the BBEE Act of 2003, as a significant milestone towards ensuring that such negative practices don’t continue to set us back in the pursuit towards the establishment of an equitable society.

Closing on a positive note, Mr Kganki Matabane of BUSA indicated that there has been an increased adoption of BBBEE within various businesses that have demonstrated commitment to transformation and empowerment of its greatest assets; the men and women who selflessly contribute to the sustainability and profitability of these corporations. Furthermore, Don Mkwananzi of the BBBEE Presidential Council commended BEE123 for the tools it has developed towards assisting companies to better understand and implement BBBEE in their respective companies.

BEE123 is a newly launched division of Softline Pastel.

BEE123 is South Africa’s leading a one-stop BEE Portal that offers a complete range of useful tools, software, news, information and BEE network partners ensuring that BEE is easy to understand and implement. Developed using Softline Pastel’s infrastructure, and with a partner network of South Africa’s leading Verification Agencies and BEE service providers, BEE123 is at the cutting-edge of the BEE services industry.

Web: www.bee123.co.za

Email: info@bee123.co.za

Tel: 0861 BEE123 (233 123)

By Steven Cohen, Managing Director Softline Pastel, part of The Sage Group plc.

Accounting in the cloud

Accounting in the cloud is exactly the same as the accounting we’re all used to; the only real difference relates to where the software application is hosted and where the client’s data is stored.

This way of working will not fundamentally change how the core business process is conducted but it will certainly make it easier for businesses to manage their accounting processes, particularly with an increasingly mobile workforce and the growing number of external corporate consultants. Accounting in the cloud gives accountants and business owners alike the ability to conveniently access records and transact from remote locations with little or no advanced setup.

But working online is about far more than just accessibility; the cloud makes the lives of users considerably easier. It removes the need for manual program installations, and the array of associated hassles. It also means that users never have to worry about upgrades or backups as the system will automatically be the latest available version that is, by its nature, backed up as information is saved.

So for those willing to embrace accounting in the cloud, the result will be a streamlined book keeping and accounting process across every client that feeds into a central database and minimises the risk of data errors, or worse, losses. The more tangible benefits are felt when new legislation or tax rate adjustments, for example, simply feed into the system without the cost or aggravation of having to buy and install new programs.

Safe as houses

Our survey also tells us that security concerns are a major driving force preventing the uptake of cloud-based services amongst SMEs. I hear this kind of commentary from our clients all the time. And I repeat myself at every opportunity that security concerns shouldn’t deter users from embracing the cloud because service providers in this sector probably offer better security than regular IT vendors, leaving your vital business information safer in the cloud than on your local network.

For example, the security for our online accounting solution, Pastel My Business Online is iron clad. It includes physical armed security and restricted access to our data centres. We have firewall and intrusion detection with ongoing system reviews to identify possible weaknesses and new vulnerabilities. There are also technologies in place to ensure that if server errors do occur we can minimise downtime. And we back up data daily and store that information in two separate locations.

Making the move

Moving your business applications online is a must for anyone who wants to ensure that they remain at the cutting edge of service delivery. The fact that the cloud assists with streamlining internal business processes is also a good reason to make the move!

While users remain apprehensive about all of their data and activities taking place in what they consider to be cyber space, I’ve started recommending a hybrid approach to tackling the move online. A less scary approach is to keep certain applications on your actual server while others run in the cloud. This allows users to remain in control of the majority of their work but can slowly familiarise themselves with the way online services work.

I would suggest that there is one of two ways to split the application locations. The cloud is either for the mundane yet necessary activities that end users spend disproportionate amounts of time getting right on their own or for highly specialised services that require outside expertise. The heart of the system –client and financial data – should sit on your mainframe in the office.