Sage – Sage Accountant Cloud

Allowing accountants to collaborate with clients and embrace Making Tax Digital.

The thing

Accountants aren’t traditionally early adopters of new technology, but new legislation is forcing people to change.

Sage Accountant Cloud is a significant new release aimed at providing a home for all Sage’s accountancy products as well as being a full on practice management solution.

Ultimately, Accountant Cloud is a reflection of the way the industry is going. More and more accountancy practices are being forced to use cloud based products, due to legislation, changes in client behaviour and the need to easily work in different locations.

Many accountants are being dragged into the digital world kicking and screaming and Accountant Cloud is Sage’s attempt to showcase the value of working in the cloud by saving time and cutting costly manual processes.

My role

I worked as part of a small UX team, spread across the UK, on many different features. I specifically led a feature aimed at improving the way accountants communicate and collaborate with their clients.

In addition, I worked alongside business analysts, developers and solution designers to ensure a unified product was meeting expectations from all perspectives.

The problem

Accountants often work from desktop based products, which are installed via CD-rom and don’t communicate with the cloud in any way. Sometimes these pieces of software are no longer being supported by developers.

Ultimately, providing a solution that showcased the significant potential and value of online communication and cloud based storage to people who don’t necessarily want to know was the biggest challenge.


Before undertaking this piece of work, I wanted to learn more about accountants and the best way of doing that was to ‘get out of the building’ to view accountant workflows up close.

Conducting numerous contextual inquiries was an extremely valuable way of understanding how accountants work on a day to day basis. Prior to joining Sage, I’d never before stepped foot in an accountancy practice and there were plenty of eye opening processes that seemed to be easy pickings for improvement.

Key deadlines scrawled on whiteboards, customer contact recorded on post-it notes, colossal Excel spreadsheets with thousands upon thousands of lines. The similarities between different practices was staggering and even the more forward thinking ones were incapable of using the tools at their disposal to their full potential.

It quickly became very clear that many accountants were still reliant upon sending their clients letters in the post.

They would send an important document on a Monday, receive no reply for a week, pick up the phone to chase (repeating this numerous times when their busy clients couldn’t answer the phone), before eventually going round to the client’s house and getting the document signed there and then.

This was quite clearly unsustainable and we needed to try and help accountants provide high value, chargeable work.

Contextual inquiries also allowed me to take colleagues with different skillsets; such as business analysts, developers and content designers, to visit customers. This helped to spread the importance of UX and understanding of the field itself.

User interviews

Alongside contextual inquiries, it was important to speak to users even when I couldn’t pay them a visit.

It’s not always easy to find the time and resources to undertake a successful contextual inquiry. At times when I faced constraints, I took time to conduct video calls with accountants across the country. This provided me with the opportunity to gain a more in depth understanding of how accountants currently work and the areas in which I’d be able to help with potential solutions.

It was important that I structured each interview in a similar way, in order to gain results that weren’t skewed by my own biases.

Early insights

Accountants are concerned about legislation changes

It was very clear that accountants had many concerns about future legislation changes and how they would impact the work they do. Many felt unsure about which specific software was GDPR and Making Tax Digital compliant.

Chasing customers is a huge blocker

All the accountants I spoke to were concerned about how much time they spent chasing customers for important documentation that required signing. The end to end process from creating the document to receiving it back from the client contained many more manual steps than was actually necessary.
It was vital that any solution took this load off the accountant’s mind and automated the process of chasing clients for documentation.

Repetitive templates eat up time

Accountants use a lot of templated documents, which they edit and send to different clients. This process includes a lot of Microsoft Word manipulation, which can be fiddly and time consuming. It quickly became clear that accountants want a means of creating multiple templated documents within a couple of easy steps.

Keyboard shortcuts are king

From their time using desktop products, accountants are used to using keyboard shortcuts in order to help speed up their workflow. There’s an overwhelming sentiment that online accountancy products aren’t good at this and as such many accountants have refused to migrate to the cloud.

Salesforce Files

Understanding Salesforce, its capabilities and restrictions, was key to understanding the direction we should go in.

Salesforce is an extremely powerful platform, which provides users with a wealth of features and capabilities. As a designer on the platform, it can be extremely frustrating to understand that it is either ‘Salesforce’s way or the highway’.

Most accountants currently use the Microsoft Office package, some have migrated towards G Suite, however you can walk into the majority of practices within the UK and find Outlook, Excel and Word in a regular rotation.

With this in mind, it felt obvious to try and provide a solution that tapped into their existing ecosystem and seamlessly integrated across the board.

After early investigations, including collaboration with business analysts and developers, it became clear that Salesforce and Office don’t play particularly nicely without a heck of a lot of user configuration, which was out of the question.

This led us towards using native Salesforce for managing and sharing documents with clients. It may not have provided the instant integration to the accountants existing software packages, however it allowed us to leverage the power of the platform we were building upon.


With such a wide array of ideas, wireframing proved to be an important step in ensuring that I was able to stay on the straight and narrow.

By completing quick and simple wireframes in Balsamiq, I was able to focus on information hierarchy and user journeys rather than getting hung up on high fidelity design decisions.

My wireframes also allowed me to showcase and discuss my initial findings in a presentable format, that could be easily interpreted and understood.

This meant that I was able to gain early thoughts from users on my progress. This feedback helped to feed into the high fidelity mockups that I would soon produce.

High fidelity

After a round of usability testing on the low fidelity wireframes, I was able to produce a higher fidelity version safe in the knowledge that my initial assumptions had been validated or discarded.

It’s always tempting to delve into high fidelity mockups as soon as possible. This is a dangerous mistake to make and can causes hours of lost hours following long winded mistakes.

At this stage of the process, I understood that I need to ensure that users were met with a product that enticed them to interact with it.

The ability to easily create, share and manage documents were the key tasks and journeys that I was focussed on nailing down.

The next round of usability testing taught me that:

  • Accountants needed an easy way of viewing documents that still need signing/approval
  • Documents that were syncing from other products needed to be clearly defined
  • A clear in app method of notification was needed


The next step was to iterate on what I had learned and improve the existing design.

After another round of usability testing, I was able to iterate on my existing ideas and further refine the designs that had already been produced. This helped to build confidence within the team and the wider business that the developing solution was a positive step forward and meet expectations.