I just returned from the Sage Insights 2010 conference in Denver, Colorado. The conference was really great and Denver was an excellent city to have a conference in. The good thing about Denver is that the conference center is in the center of the city and most of the downtown attractions are within walking distance. This meant we weren’t trapped in an isolated convention center at the mercy of those facilities.
The keynote addresses outlined Sage’s strategies going forwards. The main emphasis was to balance efforts between three columns:
- Providing value for the installed base.
- Providing connected “cloud” services.
- Developing strategic products for new customer acquisition.
These pillars aren’t just to do with R&D, they affect all aspects of our business, including marketing, programs, sales, support and services.
There tends to be a lot of confusion about what the difference is between developing for the installed base versus developing for new customers. After all both will be customers and their businesses will be very similar. Just one uses our products currently and one (hopefully) will shortly. These tend to be confused with an age old argument with-in our products of how many resources to put into developing “accounting” type application features versus “technology” features. Unfortunately anything that isn’t an accounting feature tends to be bucketed as a technology feature, even though many useful non-accounting features like better installation programs aren’t involving any new technology, just refining what we already use.
So to be clear, providing value for the installed base does not mean just adding some “accounting” type features and developing for new customer acquisition does not mean just adding “technology” type features. For instance three top requested features from the installed base are:
- Better reporting
- Better performance
- Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
None of these are “accounting” features. All may or may not involve new technologies to solve them. Number 2 may just be a matter of re-factoring existing code in the existing technologies. Number 1 may just mean providing more reports in the current tools, or improving the current reports. Sage ERP Accpac 6.0A is addressing numbers 1 and 3 with web based technologies. It includes a new Accpac Inquiry feature and real time dashboards to address number 1. It moves towards a true web based zero-client model to avoid having to install anything on all the client workstations to reduce TCO. Better performance is address by being able to use more advanced web based testing tools to guide code re-factoring for better performance.
By the same token, from the Win-Loss analysis it appears that we lose sales at the upper end because our operations modules don’t provide all the sophisticated features that larger companies require. So adding functionality like sophisticated re-stocking strategies is an “accounting” feature that will allow us to expand the reach of Accpac, but probably won’t benefit existing customers.
Then there is the question of meeting the competition head on. When going head to head with the competition we want our product to be the best looking and most exciting. Right now that tends to mean being the richest web based application. Many times this is categorized as a new customer acquisition strategy, since we need to impress the clients to make a new sale. But it’s also an existing customer strategy, since if we don’t do this then the competition will attack our install base and if they can convince them that our products aren’t moving forwards, then they can start converting them. So we need the new technologies to both make new sales and to protect our installed base from our competitors. We are lucky that accounting applications are very “sticky” and its hard to convert our customers, but they still can be converted and our install base does need to be tended to.
So we can see that for the existing customer and new customer pillars, each will be addressed by a combination of refining existing functionality, embracing newer technologies and adding application functionality.
The middle column above of connected “cloud” services is all about providing new services to all our customers. This includes a number of existing services like Avalara sales tax calculator and Sage Payment Services’ Exchange gateway. It also envisions many new services perhaps like a hosted software as a service (SaaS) model self service modules. For instance a web site where employees of a customer can go to enter expense reports, which are then entered into the on-premise accounting application (using Sage’s SData web services protocol). The goal of these is that they can be developed once and provide a standard interface and then be connected to every Sage accounting application. Some of these will be add-on modules, some may be complimentary.
After the keynotes, the conference was quite exciting as Sage ERP Accpac 6.0 was released to “alpha”, meaning an official installable image was released to all third party developers. The “beta” release that will be available to all business partners is scheduled to be about 7 weeks away. Accpac 6 was installed on many computers for partners to play with, there were many product demonstrations, which were very well received.
At the end of the conference we offered two days of developer training in the Accpac 6.0 SDK which went quite well.
The next year should be quite exciting as we see all these new initiatives and products rolled out.