Tag Archive: Steven Cohen


By Steven Cohen, managing director, Sage Pastel Accounting

Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen

To succeed in business, exceptional service is essential. Everyone says they do it but I question its true impact, particularly when I consider that everything is automated these days. In the world of electronic communications, everyone auto-signs their emails with a warm and fuzzy salutation, your birthday is recorded in a customer relationship management (CRM) system that triggers a congratulatory SMS on the appropriate date and it’s seldom that you get to talk to a real person at a call centre anymore. The result of the, so-called benefits of technology is a techno-void between a company and its customers.

The Extraordinary Customer Experience

Sage, the global parent of Sage Pastel Accounting has launched a new Extraordinary Customer Experience initiative which will benefit its 4 million clients globally. The programme’s key objective is to build real relationships with customers using an old-fashioned method; people.

Initially I was cynical about the advantages such a plan would bring to the business. Our local contact centre is manned by real people and it’s considered one of the best – it wins local and international awards all the time and is currently a regional finalist in three categories of the highly regarded Contact Centre World Awards run by ContactCentreWorld.com.

However, our new service initiative requires more than just people to offer extraordinary customer service; it’s their attitude and approach to the customer that is so crucial. In addition to the programme’s need for passion, accountability, collaboration and being enterprising when dealing with customers, I am drawn to its requirements for creating working conditions that encourage people to succeed!

It’s all about attitude

As a business leader, I’ve always said that it’s important to stimulate the thinking of those around you. This can only be applied if you understand that attitude and not just aptitude is essential when employing at any level in the organisation. I like to see the interview process as a gate that only lets exceptional people in – and it’s part of my management ethos to pay more for a good person. So, I think I am on the correct path to getting the customer service experience right but now the hard work really begins.

For the Extraordinary Customer Experience to become a reality we need to change the way we think about customer service. I want us to own every customer experience and not simply sell stuff to people because we have targets to meet. We need to build real relationships with all of our clients and recognise that a new client or a satisfied contact centre customer is not just another successful transaction. In addition it’s important to define what we are delivering to our customers in relation to what our customers think they are getting – a disconnect at this point is the difference between exceptional or deficient service.

Softline, a provider of business management software to small and medium sized companies, today announced that after months of planning they will be rebranding and will be referred to as Sage  South Africa, effective immediately. Softline is the holding company for prominent South African software products such as Pastel Accounting and Payroll, VIP Payroll, Sage 300 ERP (Accpac) and Sage ERP X3. Softline joined the Sage Group plc in 2003 after delisting from the JSE and is the central team of the Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia (AAMEA) region, a grouping of territories headed by Softline co-founder and CEO of Sage AAMEA Ivan Epstein.

The Sage Group plc, a FTSE 100 company, is a leading global provider of business management software to SMEs with over 6.5 million customers in 24 countries. Epstein attributes the rebranding in South Africa to the alignment with Softline’s parent company, The Sage Group plc. in the continued pursuit of a global brand. “Softline has been part of The Sage Group plc for many years and over this time we have continued to grow in prominence.  To move forward we believe that it is now time to leverage the global power of The Sage Group and align ourselves fully with the brand.”

Softline was founded in 1988 by Ivan Epstein, Alan Osrin and soon after joined by Steven Cohen. The company was established in the formative years of the business software industry in South Africa, and soon became a leader in the provision of business software and services to SMEs.  The move to Sage will bring about name changes across all of the divisions including Sage VIP (formerly Softline VIP), Sage ERP Africa (formerly Softline ACCPAC), Sage Pastel (formerly Softline Pastel) and Sage Netcash (formerly Softline Netcash) as well as the newest edition to the stable, Sage Alchemex (formerly Alchemex).  “Our current and future customers will continue to enjoy the benefits of our locally and globally developed products that they have come to know and trust, whilst this alignment creates further opportunities to leverage global insights and collaboration.”

Epstein says that while the company’s branding will change, it is business as usual for Sage South Africa. “Our continued vision in South Africa, and globally, is to be recognised as the most valuable supporter of small and medium sized companies, by creating greater freedom for them to succeed,” says Epstein. “This vision supports the path of providing local expertise and leadership combined with global learnings and experience of Sage.”

Softline Pastel, South Africa’s leading developer of business and accounting software, today launched a portal for its range of online applications. The platform, known as Sage Pastel Online, provides the entrepreneur on-the-go one central location to access the company’s bouquet of cloud-based business tools, making running a small business a little easier.

Pastel Accounting launched South Africa’s first online accounting program, My Business Online, in May 2009 and since then has brought several online innovations to the local SME market.

“Times have changed,” says Steven Cohen, managing director of Pastel Accounting. “We have entered an age where technology is pervasive, allowing us more mobility than ever – and business has to be part of the revolution to remain competitive.”

The portal can be found at www.sagepastelonline.com and offers online accounting, payroll and marketing services – allowing business owners the freedom to run their businesses at any time from anywhere. Additionally, Pastel’s BEE one-stop-information-hub, BEE123 and brand new free-to-all-users personal finance applications are also available in the same location.

Pastel My Business Online is a full-function accounting program, designed specifically for the small business owner. All accounting lingo has been changed to simple English, so even the layman can manage the business’s books. It’s a multi-user system with dashboards, graphs and drill-downs to source transactions that provide a bird’s eye view of the business. The system allows users to manage customers, suppliers and inventory items and keeps track of sales and purchases. It comes with a comprehensive list of reports so that month-end management packs are quick and easy to create.

Pastel My Payroll Online is a simple payroll solution that allows SME owners to pay their employees anywhere, anytime.  It’s a SARS compliant system aligned to even the most complex legislation, including PAYE and UIF. Users can also process leave online with leave types already defined according to the BCEA requirements. Like, My Business, My Payroll contains no confusing jargon.

Did you know 70% of SMEs don’t have a website, or at least one with limited marketing capabilities or integration with smartphones and social media. Pastel My Webspace is an online marketing engine for SMEs with an HTML5 website builder designed for optimal marketing and e-commerce capabilities. In addition My Brand will manage users’ search engine optimisation, and mobile and social media integration. My Brand effectively integrates everything for the user and provides an all-in-one e-marketing service with analytics, social media insights, and creating and mailing a fully dynamic newsletter with marketing feedback.

“Moving your business applications online is a must for anyone who wants to ensure that they remain at the cutting edge of service delivery,” said Cohen at the launch event that celebrated the mobile business of the future.

As part of Pastel’s drive for business mobility, it has also formed a relationship with Samsung Enterprise Mobility. Selected Samsung devices will now come preloaded with the My Business Online Android app and Pastel is a reseller of Samsung’s SIII, Note and Tablet devices; all preloaded with a year’s free access to Pastel My Business Online. The devices will be available for purchase via the Pastel Webstore.

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.

Technology: adapt or die (Part1)

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

Image

I recently realised that the term ‘cloud computing’ is not as broadly understood as I had assumed. Maybe it’s because I work in the tech sector that these buzz words are part of my everyday vocabulary but I was surprised to discover that 77% of professional accountants claim to have no understanding of what accounting in the cloud is.

This statistic comes from independent research we recently conducted. And what is interesting to me is that while a large proportion of professional accountants don’t know what cloud computing is, 53% would recommend an online accounting product to their SME clients. So, there’s obviously confusion out there because cloud computing and working with an online application is exactly the same thing. And accountants are clever people, so if they are grappling with the principles of the cloud, so must many others!

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.

So, what are the advantages of the cloud?

I’m finding that in my personal life, things are getting messy. Between my desktop, laptop and iPad, my data is stored in too many places and I’m struggling to remember which version is the most current. But I firmly believe that this is the transition phase of migrating from the traditional way of doing things to having all my stuff working from the cloud. And I’m starting to make the shift by storing the documents that I work on regularly in Dropbox; a data keeper in the cloud. Dropbox makes sure that my data is always up to date and I can access it from anywhere, so I’ve already solved two main issues – my data is current and safe!

The anecdote: encyclopaedias go electronic

Remember Encarta – Microsoft’s excellent encyclopaedia that was around in the late 90s and early 2000s? I love this analogy. Let’s trace it from the beginning: For hundreds of years leading up to the 1980s, encyclopaedias like World Book and Britannica were actual physical books. There were usually 24 hefty books in a set; one for each letter of the alphabet as well as the annual year book which intended to keep the base information relevant.

Then a massive shift; encyclopaedias went electronic and two meters of shelf space in every home were freed-up. Encarta was available as a disk and offered something like 60 000 pieces of reference material including interactive images, timelines and maps. The ability to simply click links and jump around topics was great; you got the info you wanted quickly and knew it wasn’t dated. But can you believe that Encarta – this great invention – couldn’t have lasted for more than 10 years because the whole thing shifted to the cloud and is now called Wikipedia.

Books were our point of reference for several hundred years and now we just don’t use them anymore.

The moral of the story?

The world has changed – there’s a new way of doing things. Using the encyclopaedia example, no one questioned the shift to online – in fact it was a welcome progression, so why are we apprehensive about cloud computing when we make so much use of it already?

If businesses do not adapt to this new, and better, way of working, they run the risk of very quickly becoming prehistoric in their service delivery which is just not a sustainable strategy for success.

To read Part 2, click here

Men in the Making

What is the initiative “Men in the Making”?

The Men in the Making initiative was launched on the 25th of March 2009 and immediately gained support and endorsement from the Department of Basic Education, for which we are eternally grateful. The Department saw this initiative to be in line with their Girl Education Movement (GEM) and  Boy Education Movement School programmes; the (BEM)in particular.

The concept was derived from the realisation that the boy‐child in South Africa is calling out or attention, help, recognition and acknowledgement as he grapples with the challenges of life and the suppression that he sometimes experiences as more and more focus and glamour is placed on girl children.

Softline Pastel Accounting supports “Men in the Making”- Pastel Accounting  hosted 11 boys from Parktown Boys’ High School as part of the Men in the Making initiative, sponsored by Tracker. Men in the Making strives to build and restore the confidence of male school learners in South Africa by developing their understanding of business in our country.

In the boy’s own words…

“Steven Cohen is the coolest MD I have ever met”,

” the Pastel Culture is amazing”

And the greatest quote from one of the boys was “I would love to work here one day”.

From these quotes you can clearly see from these men in the making, they truly enjoyed spending the day with us at Pastel.We would like to thank BEE123 for embracing the men in the making initiative and the Human Resource department for support this course.  

To view all the photos, visit our Facebook page – click here

Scroll down for graphical analysis: South African results.

Softline, part of the Sage Group PLC, today released the results of The Sage Business Index – International and Local Business Insights. Polling over 10,000 businesses across Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia, the Index shows that while confidence in the global economic outlook continues to decline, the outlook for local market conditions and businesses is improving. In South Africa, over 1000 small and medium business decision makers were surveyed by Populus, a UK based opinion and research consultancy firm.

This year, The Sage Group PLC have created an infographic to display insights from their 2012 Business Index in a visual and interactive way. For the full infographic, detailed data, graphics and country summaries, please visit The Sage Business IndexBusiness Insights microsite.

Interested in getting more of the results and insights first? Sign up for our Newsletter…

Key Findings from the March 2012 Business Index

Responses show that while confidence in businesses’ own prospects (business outlook) has marginally improved against the last Index, there has been a slight drop in the rate of growth, with 67 percent of businesses experiencing either neutral or positive growth, a drop of two percent on the results from the Index in September 2011. South African businesses’ growth rate also decreased by two percent from the Index in September 2011 to 67 percent. This can perhaps be explained by concerns around the rising costs of fuel and raw materials which is the number one challenge to growth. However, the improvement in both local economic confidence and business outlook suggests a more optimistic mood exists within individual companies.

Economic Confidence – global pessimism, local optimism

Interestingly, South Africans are slightly more pessimistic than their global counterparts about the outlook for the global economy with a 1.21 decrease in the Index score compared to the .52 decrease of global sample.

Ivan Epstein, CEO (and co-founder) of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia) said: “It is encouraging to see that once again, businesses in South Africa are more confident about their own prospects. Companies are focussed on the day-to-day challenge of maintaining and improving their businesses, and Government should do all they can to harness and help the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists. We wait in anticipation to assess the impact of the latest fuel price increase on local sentiment when we conduct the annualised Business Index later this year.”

Business Confidence – South Africa

Business Confidence – World

March ’12 September 11
Index Scores Global SA Global SA
Global economic confidence 43.95 44.71 44.47 45.92
Country Economic Confidence 47.26 46.11 47.11 44.10
Business Outlook 58.86 64.44 57.88 62.58

(Below 50 is decline/less confident above 50 is improvement/more confident, 50 is no different)*

When looking at the data from a regional level the findings also mirror the broader economic news agenda. The UK and the US, who were the most pessimistic of the countries surveyed in September 2011 (with country index scores of 40.65 and 41.53 respectively), have both improved (44.97 and 49.28 respectively) while Euro-zone countries, Germany, Spain and France have all seen drops in confidence.  Malaysia and Singapore are still confident with a score of 51.53, but this is down from 53.26 last time.  South Africa showed increased optimism with an Index score of 46.11 up 2.01 from September 2011.

Business Performance and Challenges – revenues maintained, energy cost challenges

While local confidence is increasing and the rate of decline in global confidence slowing for the global sample, there are still a number of challenges facing businesses. Rising inflation and the increasing cost of fuel, energy and raw materials topped the list with all countries citing this as their top concern and locally 58 percent of businesses listed this among their top three concerns with 25% ranking it as their number one concern. Over a third of South African businesses see instability or uncertainty in the local economic market as a worry, and a similar proportion (34 percent) say the same of reduced cash flow in the supply chain.

Adds Epstein: “The Index is a vital tool for Softline and Sage in the region to take stock of the challenges and worries affecting our customers. The next six months will be telling and despite the input cost challenges that SME’s face going forward; we hope that the results indicate the first green shoots of recovery in South Africa with overall business outlook continuing to improve. As an indicator for the rest of 2012, three quarters of our respondents said that customer service has become even more important to their operations over the past year, which will guide how we will approach our business in the next six months.”

Revenue – World

Revenue – SA

About Softline

Softline is a leading provider of business software and related services. Founded in 1988 by Ivan Epstein, Alan Osrin and Steven Cohen, Softline was established during the formative years of the business software industry. Whilst Softline’s heritage is in the SME market the group also offers expertise and solutions that meet the needs of specific industries and larger organisations. In 2003 Softline was acquired by The Sage Group plc, a FTSE 100 company. Softline has a solid track record offering customers local expertise backed by the global Sage brand. The group delivers quality software solutions to make customers’ business lives easier.

About Sage

The Sage Group plc is a leading global supplier of business management software and related products and services, principally for small to medium-sized enterprises. Formed in 1981, Sage was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989. Sage has 6 million customers and more than 12,300 employees worldwide. We operate in over 23 countries covering the UK, mainland Europe, North America, South Africa, Australia and India. For further information please visit www.sage.com.

About The Sage Business Index

The Sage Business Index polled 10,009 small and medium-sized businesses across 10 countries – US, Canada, Germany, Austria France, UK, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore over a two week period in March 2012.  Businesses were asked a range of questions regarding such issues as business confidence and outlook, how they feel about the global and local economies and what challenges they currently face.

For the full report inforgraphic, detailed data, graphics and country summaries, as well as to read to see the full results of the first and second Business Indices, please visit The Sage Business Index – Business Insights.

Survey Methodology

Populus provided online interviews with 10,009 decision makers in businesses in the UK, USA, Canada, German, France, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Austria.  The businesses were drawn from two sources:

  • 8,575 respondents were drawn from Sage’s local customer databases across the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore and Austria.  Sage’s local operating companies sent an email invitation to participate to specially selected databases with a survey link provided by Populus.  In Malaysia and Singapore, customers were invited to participate via a letter which included the details of how to enter online.  All responses were collected centrally by Populus.
  • 1,434 respondents were drawn from a dedicated online panel of business people, which has 2.4 million members worldwide.  200 interviews were conducted in all markets apart from Austria, Malaysia and Singapore where research was undertaken via Sage local operating companies, as above.  A random sample of respondents whose profiles met the client criteria were invited to take part in the survey, ensuring a spread of business sizes and industries.  Respondents were then asked a screener question to ensure that they were a decision maker at their business.

*Index Methodology

As this is the third Sage Business Index, we have applied an index methodology which allows us to measure the changing mood of the businesses surveyed in relation to business and economic confidence.  The index is based on a scale of one to 100 where 0 means a significant decline, 100 means a significant improvement, and 50 means it is no different. For the business confidence question the scale translates to below 50 as less confident and over 50 is more confident, 50 is no different.

We retrospectively applied this index methodology to the countries that took place in the first business survey in February 2011 (US, Canada, UK, Germany and France) where the questions were asked as follows:

  • “Do you feel your country’s economy is recovering or declining?” and “Do you feel the global economy is recovering or declining?” Index scores have been derived from this data where answer options in this study, and their index score weighting, were: “It is recovering significantly (100)”, “It is recovering slightly (75)”, “It is no different (50)”, “It is declining slightly (25)”, “It is declining significantly (0)”
  •  “Are you more or less confident of your business prospects over the next year?” Index scores have been derived from this data where answer options in this study, and their index score weighting, were: “More confident (75)”, “No different (50)” and “Less confident (25)”

About Populus

Populus is an opinion research and consultancy firm that specialises in understanding the views of the general public, customers, businesses and key stakeholders.  Best known for its social and political research as pollsters to media organisations such as The Times, the BBC and ITV News, it conducts large, regular, research programmes for a wide variety of clients, such as large multinational companies in retailing, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical, financial services and communications sectors, to public institutions, membership organisations and NGOs.

  • Populus has significant experience in:
  • one-to-one depth interviews with senior decision-makers and stakeholders (e.g. Members of Parliament, senior business executives, investors and analysts, specialist journalists, government advisers and civil servants, members of EU institutions, and leaders of NGOs and trade associations);
  • constructing bespoke online panels for clients wishing to engage with their stakeholders, memberships, or consumers on a continuing basis;
  • employing call-centre based or access panel research both nationally and internationally for polling Business to Business groups, the general population and specific sub-samples of the public;
  • organising focus groups – including among hard-to-reach groups – to gain greater understanding of what drives opinion and motivates key audiences or to test messaging concepts and to use stimulus material.

Interested in getting more of the results and insights first? Sign up for our Newsletter…

By Steven Cohen, Managing Director, Softline Pastel Accounting

Did you know that only 53% of professional accountants would recommend an online accounting product to their SME clients?

This statistic comes from independent research we recently conducted relating to accounting and business solutions for the SME sector. What was interesting for me was that a lack of understanding and experience is one of the main reasons preventing the uptake of cloud-based services.

Accounting in the cloud is exactly the same as the accounting we’re all used to; the core difference relates to where the software application is hosted and where the client’s data is stored. So, when we refer to the cloud, we mean that the accounting program is hosted on the web and not on your computer. It’s the same as your Facebook account where all your information is stored ‘somewhere on the internet’.

Accounting in the cloud 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 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 the business 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.

Our survey also tells us that security concerns are the other 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 space probably offer better security than regular IT vendors, leaving your vital business information safer in the cloud than on the 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. We have technologies in place to ensure that if server errors do occur, we can minimise downtime. And we also back up data daily and store that information in two separate locations.

But users remain apprehensive about all of their data and activities taking place in what they consider to be cyber space. So, I’ve started recommending a hybrid approach, where certain applications sit on the actual server while others run in the cloud. This means that users can still feel 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.