What’s New at Sage?

There were lots of announcements coming out of the Sage Summit in Nashville this week. Some were updates on previously announced plans and strategies; some were familiar themes but new for Sage and at least one was something new for the industry.

Update to Prior Plans and Strategies: Re-branding

Updates to prior goals included the status of the whole re-branding exercise that was announced at last year’s Summit. In fact this caused quite a stir last year with many of the Sage partners attacking it as a strategy.

Over the years Sage has acquired numerous brands, including some with high name recognition like Peachtree, Simply Accounting, Accpac, MAS and SalesLogix. And some partners, particularly those dedicated to a single one of these brands, had wrapped their whole identity around it. With the new re-branding all were destined to be re-named into a series of numbered product lines under the Sage master brand: Sage One, Sage 50, Sage 100, 300 and 500. This process has been chugging along in spite of some early resistance, although a couple of the brands did survive. Most notable in the exception category is Sage ERP X3, which now holds a special place in the overall strategy.

The success to date of the execution of this strategy is largely because it is more than just a name change. The website was revamped and there were a lot of back office changes like a single phone system and other infrastructure convergence. And the single master brand allowed Sage to launch its biggest PR campaign ever, which included television ads.

So, you might ask, what’s in a name? Those opposed to the change would answer: A lot. But money talks and they can’t argue with the fact that Sage is able to spend much more on a single brand than it ever could on any one of many. Maybe the partners that resisted the most just didn’t show up this year (although I doubt it), but I just didn’t hear a lot of opposition to this strategy at this Summit.

New for Sage: Focus

New for Sage is more focus. In the past Sage was organized by product, resulting in 11 different divisions. Now it is organized into four divisions and these center around markets. But more importantly, all products will not be treated the same. Each will be tagged as either strategic or non-strategic and also as core or non-core. At first glance, these might appear to be the same, but in fact they are two entirely different ways of categorizing the portfolio.

The difference between strategic and non-strategic is pretty self-explanatory.  There will be far more investment in strategic products while customers running non-strategic products should probably be thinking about moving to a more strategic solution. Sage is already thinking about this and will be advising them of the most logical path forward. While Sage characterizes this as a “migration” I would caution these customers that “re-implementation” should not be regarded as a dirty word. If all you do is carry forward all those decisions you made back when products were far less technologically advanced and feature-rich, then you will be missing out on a lot of the advantages of moving forward. For those long-time veterans who simply want to retire still running the same solution, it is time to either move forward or get out of the way.

This is not true for non-core products. In fact a non-core product may in fact also be strategic. A non-core product is one that doesn’t fit into the general-purpose mold of the core products. It makes no sense for a solution designed specifically for the construction industry to follow the same product roadmap as that of a general-purpose ERP. And it makes no sense for a general purpose ERP to try to meet the special needs of the construction industry. To do so would simply add complexity.  Distinguishing non-core from core products allows these specialized solutions to continue to concentrate on those specialized needs without trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

New for the Industry: Networthing

Sage brought networking expert Sarah Michel on stage to introduce Networthing. If you click on the hyperlink above she will explain exactly what that is. For purposes here, suffice to say that Sage put networking on steroids.  Everyone knows one of the primary reasons people are drawn to events like Sage Summit is to network: To meet, converse, share experiences with other like-minded individuals facing the same challenges and using the same solutions to meet those challenges. This draw largely explains why many vendors who tried replacing their events with virtual conferences soon abandoned that idea.

Yet apart from Birds of a Feather (BoF) tables at lunch and maybe a session or two, attendees were largely left on their own to connect with others. And let’s face it; some are a lot better at it than others. Sage took a different approach and in doing so took a big risk. Sage took several hours of the conference, a dedicated chunk of time, and organized a networking session.

They set up what they called Sage City, comprised of nine different villages (e.g. Manufacturing, Accounting, General Business, Real Estate and Construction, etc.), each with a “mayor” and a collection of discussion topics. Ideas for these topics came directly from attendees who were polled as part of the registration process. Then they divided the session into chunks of time. Think of it as speed dating where you move from conversation to conversation, although each discussion had more time allotted than a speed date.

This could have been a huge disaster with attendees just walking out after the introduction to wander the 56 acres of the Gaylord Opreyland. Or they could have walked out after the intermission (which served food and drinks). But they didn’t.  They stayed; they engaged, they discussed; they offered ideas and suggestion; they networked. In the end, Sage wound up extending the time allowed and finally had to kick attendees out of Sage City. Think what a gift this was for Brad Smith, Sage’s new EVP of Customer Experience, 14 days on the job, fresh from Yahoo!

These were just three examples of the news emanating from Nashville during Sage Summit. It was a much different event from last year: more energized, more change, more news. There were other announcements as well including the outline of their cloud and mobile strategy, and embedded in that strategy a new way of bringing innovation to customers faster, with less complexity and less disruption. But that deserves a lot more attention than a mere mention in this post. Watch for more on that!



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