After a year of weathering the recession, hunkering down and listening to its customers, Sage Software is emerging from the downturn in the economy with growth on its mind. A key element of that growth plan includes the introduction of Sage X3 Version 6.2. With over 300 enhancements that broaden an already broad footprint, the new version adds multi-national support, extended accessibility, portable widgets for mobile and casual users and visual process flows. Embedded Business Intelligence (BI) brings added visibility and new packaging options offer rapid implementation for smaller companies.While Sage is a household name in Europe, will this new release of a mid-market Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application help Sage to gain mind share and market share here in North America?
Quick Snapshot of Sage
In introducing itself, Sage cites sources that rank it number one in business software in the Small to Mid-size Business (SMB) market1. With over 6.3 million customers worldwide, $2.24 billion in annual revenues, headcount numbering 13,600 employees in 24 countries and 27,000 value-added resellers, Sage certainly takes an imposing lead in sheer numbers. However, many of its customers use Sage products which fall into a category that Sage itself calls “small business accounting.” This is separate and distinct from its ERP product lines, which is the category into which X3 falls. Even when combined with its other ERP product lines, given some of the very prominent competitors on the scene, Sage falls short of ERP market domination. But these statistics serve to identify Sage as a stable and financially secure vendor. Given the influence of the internal and external financial stakeholders in any business software decision, this can be a strong endorsement.
Sage X3 Version 6.2 Highlights
The underlying themes of Sage X3 Version 6.2 are threefold:
- Focus on productivity, particularly in recognizing increasingly complex processes especially in mid-market companies, all the while responding to the pressure of time and cost constraints.
- Visibility, flexibility and the need for collaboration. Market volatility requires agility in responding to fluctuating demand. Success is based on managing both the relationship with the customer, in addition to transactions. As customers become more demanding, the need to deliver more and better value increases, adding further complexity to the relationship.
- Increasing need for global management. Global expansion is changing how and where products are made, bought and sold. Rising material and energy costs and emerging markets impact decisions on sourcing of materials and labor, adding increased complexity and new regulatory compliance requirements.
Here are some highlights of the release.
All the functional components of Sage X3 are grouped into two bundles for distribution and manufacturing, with distribution being a subset of manufacturing. While it is possible to purchase distribution without manufacturing, it is not possible to purchase manufacturing without distribution. Both include core business functionality for finance, sales, purchasing and customer management. The CRM functionality does not include any of the CRM packages Sage offers as stand-alone solutions and is in fact lighter than these other solutions. However, in the future full integration to Sage Saleslogix will be offered as an out-of-the-box solution for those who require a more robust CRM.
However, while the bundled CRM functionality may be considered “light”, the manufacturing and distribution modules are quite comprehensive, including some more advanced options such as support for both discrete and process manufacturing, including both Bill of Material (BOM) and formula management. Warehouse management includes Radio Frequency (RF) data collection, acquisition price tracking, multi-level warehouse and location management and can handle outsourcing and subcontracting.
Advanced Technology Underpinnings
The underlying architecture of X3 is web-native, built on Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) which is meta-data driven. This facilitates integration and inter-operability in multi-national, multi-location and heterogeneous environments. Seldom today does a mid-market enterprise exist with only a single enterprise application, even though ERP’s footprint has continued to broaden. Therefore the ability to integrate across a hybrid environment becomes more important.
The Sage Application Framework for the Enterprise (SAFE X3) includes common tools which support all the functional aspects of X3 Version 6.2, along with a toolset for administrators and developers which provides a 4GL integrated development environment:
- Workflow processing
- Visual Process Flows
- Portal and User Interface (Web/Windows)
- BI Engine and Data Warehouse
- Reporting tools
- DB Requester (Oracle/MS SQL Server)
- Multi-legislation support
- Multi-company/site support (significantly improved in Vs. 6.2)
- LDAP Authentication (added in Vs. 6.2)
- Web Application Server & Web Services (added in Vs. 6.2)
Ease of Use
Sage X3 Version 6.2 includes visual process flows which provide an alternative to traditional hierarchical menu structures. Role-based flows are visualized to provide a complete view of a process. Picture it almost like a subway map, identifying all stops along a route, with branches and optional paths. Predefined processes identified by role are delivered with the solution, but companies can modify these or define their own. Valid paths are identified and then serve to enforce quality checks and procedures for the processes.
Most executive decision-makers today are not tied to a desk for very long. With the introduction of a plethora of new devices, professionals are going mobile. Just as they are becoming more and more unwired, they are indeed becoming more and more tethered to the business. But top level executives have traditionally been hands off in terms of going to directly to the source for data. However, trends in mobility may be just the catalyst needed to prompt better engagement. With the advent of newer devices that are easy to carry, easy to use and allow for better visualization, executives are increasingly relying on these devices for more than email and phone.
Sage has introduced both a new method of interacting with Sage X3, as well as a mobility option through a partnership with Netvibes, allowing access to X3 through a Netvibes Dashboard. Sage is betting that this type of accessibility will draw in X3 users that today are not core users of ERP at all, expanding the audience and putting all on the same page with a unified view of data.
Who and What is NetVibes?
Netvibes Dashboard Intelligence is a universal platform that allows you to connect virtually any application, feed or system together on one real-time dashboard. Netvibes offers a large widget library, connecting enterprise feeds, CRM, ERP and analytics applications, and more through a customized dashboard.
Embedded Business Intelligence
One of the primary goals of ERP is to obtain added visibility to the business. Yet achievement of this goal has eluded most. Often the transactional nature of ERP makes it easier to collect data than to extract information and knowledge from the system of record it maintains. As a result, companies often turn to BI tools to extract this level of intelligence to fill the gap. But BI tools are just that – tools that need to be used to construct views and provide analysis.
Sage has embedded a BI engine (powered by SAP Business Objects) and data warehouse into X3 Version 6.2 and provided preconfigured data cubes for advanced business analysis through user-defined dashboards for real-time analytics. This removes the burden from its user’s IT department and in doing so further facilitates decision-making and removes the barriers from connecting decision-makers directly to the data.
In addition to functional and technical enhancements, Sage is also introducing some new packaging: Standard Edition and Premium Edition.
Sage is perhaps better known for its small business accounting applications (Sage Peachtree and Sage Simply Accounting) than it is for its ERP solutions. Now it is bringing its experience with these small companies to Sage X3. ERP is still quite intimidating for many small companies but globalization and new technologies are bringing a level of competition to running businesses that can’t be easily addressed without a full-fledged ERP solution.
In response, Sage has added Sage X3 Standard Edition, a preconfigured solution and implementation framework that is designed to maximize the efficiency of implementation and deployment for businesses with fewer than 50 users and standard industry processes. It provides the same core functionality as Sage X3 Premium Edition, with a full web client and role-based portals and the visual process flows, but without the Visual Process Editor.
Sage has determined that the average small company required 16 different roles and about 140 visual process flows. The implementation methodology and toolkit preconfigures these roles and processes and allows little deviation. Standard Edition customers are limited to three companies in a single instance of the software. French and English are supported, as is multi-currency. As a result, companies are ready to go right out of the gate and have experienced implementation and deployment in as little as 35 days.
As companies grow and require more flexibility, the transition to the Premium Edition is seamless. The Premium Edition utilizes the same underlying application but removes the limitations of number of companies and provides multi-company management, as well as the Visual Process Editor.
Key Takeaways and Recommendations
Upgrading to new releases is never a trivial process and a business case should always be created to justify the time and effort required. However, it is just as dangerous to let your ERP system become outdated. As new functional enhancements are introduced, new technology, accessibility and ease of use should be important considerations in making the business case. And don’t forget the cost avoidance and specific cost reductions that can be gained through added features and options. So existing Sage X3 customers are strongly encouraged to examine the potential benefits and build a solid business case for moving forward.
For Sage X3 prospects, look carefully at your functional needs and make sure they are met by any ERP options you are considering. But look beyond the features and functions and consider ease of use, accessibility and how ERP and its data blend with other sources of information. As decision-makers are indeed more tethered to the business than ever, it is important for today ‘s and tomorrow’s decision-making needs be met.