• May 15, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Sage Delivers Insight on Changes

Sage Software's annual Insights convention for partners and customers appears to be focused less on what has gone before and more on what is to come. Guest speaker Joseph Pine II, author of Experience Economy and Mass Customization
, led the keynote with his views on the future of business as we move from a service model to one based on creating experiences for the customer. In a similar vein, Ron Verni, CEO at Sage, preached that last week's announcement of internal restructuring would enable the company to align its business more closely with the needs of its customers. "As our customers' needs evolve, our business must evolve to ensure we are presenting the best products and services to them in the way they need it," Verni said. "Our new organization positions us to provide the right face to our customers, and deliver products and services that can contribute the most to their success." The day's message was not entirely focused on the future; Verni paused to reflect that Sage has more than tripled in size since 2003, when the first Insights convention was held. The company's 22 acquisitions since 1998 and its "Power of One" message--one face to partners and customers, and an integrated yet diverse product line--will make Sage a $1 billion company in North America this year, based on its run rate. Some of the change in the near future will be technological in nature, as addressed by Jim Foster, Sage's new CTO. Foster's North American Technology Office will institute a standardized software development lifecycle to ensure on-time delivery and synchronization of new releases, improve quality, and thereby improve customer confidence. Project 360, Sage's broad tech initiative, encompasses this as well as a roadmap for SOA, common platforms, and a path forward for SaaS. Part of the process is user-centered design. "We'll increase utilization through true ease of use," Foster said. "By watching how our customers do things--as we did at the Peachtree design center in Atlanta," Sage will make its products more closely match real usage models. Doug Meyer, president of Industry and Specialized Solutions Division, spoke of achieving a deeper industry focus by better understanding business processes and problems, and "go[ing] beyond the traditional boundaries of a software vendor" to deliver quality and utility. Meyer alluded strongly to the power of business process outsourcing and industry focus for customers, and stated the company would be on the lookout for strategic acquisitions. Much of the burden for Sage's continued success appears to be falling upon the shoulders of Nina Smith, president of the Business Management Division. Certainly, she had the burden of delivering any less positive statements at the keynote. "There is an artificial boundary between small business and medium business, and this has left a big gap between [accounting solutions] Peachtree and MAS 90, which has been taken advantage of by our competitors," Smith said. The gap has resulted in considerable customer attrition. Smith intends to reverse the trend through "aggressive pursuit of competitors' customers, especially at the low end." Smith also discussed product portfolio simplification, a perennial sticking point for Sage and its many titles. "We have tried to be all things to all people, but that isn't possible," Smith said. For partners, the products will be grouped into "value" (older products maintained for customer needs, satisfaction, and loyalty) and "strategic" (the newer cadre of more integrated products for driving organic growth) categories. The goal is to continue Sage's policy of providing strong support and a clear upgrade path for customers as they grow. "We love our customers and will stand behind them until they're ready to move to our newer and better products," Smith added. This is an example of what she called "the right team, the right strategies, and the right goals." Verni returned to the stage in order to emphasize his colleagues' points. He told the partner crowd Sage would remain committed to the products they sell today while building the next generation of applications, focusing on the total solution for customers. "We're in a world where the stakes keep rising," Verni said. "By focusing on customer needs, we make it easier to do business with us." Related articles: Wise Move: Sage Software Undergoes a Restructuring Sage Unveils a New Taste of CRM Sage Climbs Up VerticalFalls to Spawn
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