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Posts Tagged ‘x3

Sage Insights and Summit Conferences, Wellington 2012

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Introduction

This year Sage had its regional partner conference for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands in Wellington, New Zealand. This is the first time this conference has been held outside of Australia and was a great success. Since we were there already, we also had a customer conference a day before the partner conference started. The customer conference is Sage Summit and the partner conference is Sage Insights. After Wellington, Sage had two more customer Summit conferences in Sydney and Melbourne.

Wellington is located on the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. It has a population of around 400,000 people and is the capital of New Zealand. Wellington is a very compact city with the downtown nestled between the harbor and some hills. I took the picture above from the top of Mount Victoria looking back on downtown. You can easily walk from one side of the main downtown area to the other. It’s a fun place with a very vibrant arts scene, café culture and nightlife. While we were there the city was gearing up for the global premier showing of the new Hobbit movie which will be a giant party, unfortunately we were ten days to early. Certainly Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are playing a large part in New Zealand tourism promotions and attractions around the country (see the picture at the bottom of the giant Golum over the cafeterias at Wellington airport).

Weta

The guest speaker at the gala awards dinner was Wayne Stables from Weta Digital. Weta did the special effects for movies like Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Prometheus, The  Avengers, Tintin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Amazing work and many academy awards received. Interesting to see their development processes. They are preparing for the work on Avatar 2 right now, working on what is really their DevOps process to streamline the production of software into the video workflow. Interesting to think about their tight deadlines and how they have to deliver top quality each time. Since they are a separate entity from the studios, they have no job security from job to job. In business software we aren’t producing anything as beautiful as Avatar, but at the same time we want to produce screens with an excellent user experience, but at the same time deliver software to end users very quickly. I think that we can learn a lot from the movie and video games industries on how to deliver higher and higher quality user experience, but still stick to tight deadlines.

ISVs

The Sage ISV community is very active in Australia and New Zealand. Some local representatives exhibiting were Technisoft, Pacific Technologies, Enabling IP, Orchid, Redmap, BSP Software, InfoCentral Solutions, Modulo Software, Netfira, On Center Software, Wageeasy and XM Developments.  Then there were a number of exhibitors that had travelled from other regions including Iciniti, AutoSimply, Accellos, ACDEV Software, Accu-Dart, Altec, Enbu Consulting, Global Software, idu Software, Netstock, Tema Business Systems and Vineyardsoft.

There were several new SDK modules on display. It’s great to see accounting modules for new verticals making it to market and new bits of functionality being added to the existing solutions. Plus there were several additional ISVs that attended but didn’t have booths.

Redmap is an interesting ISV. They became an ISV by becoming a Sage customer first. They were originally a Netsuite customer, but the spiraling costs of Netsuite drove them to look for another solution and they chose Sage ERP X3 (see the articles here). Redmap creates a document automation and management solution. Now that Redmap is a Sage customer they decided to integrate their solution to Sage 300 CRE, Sage 300 ERP and Sage X3 ERP and to market this solution globally.

Hybrid Cloud

As part of the keynote, myself and Mike Lorge the Managing Director talked about the Sage Hybrid Cloud and showed off a number of connected mobile services running against this cloud. I blogged on the Sage Hybrid Cloud here.  It’s always nail biting to demo something at a keynote that relies on an internet connection. I demo’ed the Service Billing connected service from my iPhone 4S, I just turned on data roaming for the demo, since then I didn’t need to worry about hotel Wi-Fi and the 3G seemed to work fairly well in Wellington. Keith Fenner demo’ed the Sales Manager service on his iPad connected to hotel Wi-Fi, which actually held up. So we got through that with the connections from the devices to the projector working and the internet connectivity working. Certainly adds some new challenges to giving presentations. On the other hand we are telling businesses that these are reliable services that are available 99.9… % of the time, so we should be confident they will work during keynotes and other demos. We also showed the Sage Connected Services Vision video which is on YouTube here.

Products

The keynote also covered the latest releases of Sage CRM, Sage 300 ERP and Sage ERP X3 along with some peaks as to what will be coming in future versions. Sage 300 ERP 2012 has just been released in this region, so people are just starting to get it. So this was a good time to highlight this release and point out all the various features, plus we also talked about the roadmap for the next 3 years. Sage CRM showcased some exciting developments with CRM running optimized for mobile devices as well as showing the next generation of social media integration. Sage X3 ERP highlighted many relevant features in the current version and gave a video of the Syrapedia feature coming in version 7.

Summary

All the partners, customers and staff from our Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands region are very enthusiastic and dedicated to what they do. It is always very energizing to attend such conferences and have the chance to interact with so many people. I have tons of feedback to bring back on our products and our processes that hopefully we can incorporate to keep a real positive feedback loop going.

Written by smist08

November 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Sage Visual Process Flows

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Introduction

Sage ERP X3 has had a feature called “Visual Process Flows” for some time now. These process flows help users navigate the product to perform their daily tasks. They are fully customizable and you can create these for all the roles in your organization. Below is a picture of a process flow in the Sage ERP X3 desktop.

However, this visual process flow tool wasn’t just built into the Sage X3 desktop. It was actually developed as a standalone component that could be integrated into any product. Now we are in the process of integrating this into a number of other Sage ERP products starting with Sage 300 ERP 2012.

Notice that there is now a “Sage Visual Processes” top level menu item on the Sage 300 Desktop, which contains the list of process flows that have been assigned to a user. To assign flows to users there is an Administrative Services program for this purpose. The shown example isn’t complete yet, but when Sage 300 ERP 2012 ships it will include a number of stock process flows. We can then augment this collection as we go along using Sage Advisor Update. If you have the proper security rights, you can right click on the item in the tree and select edit from the context menu to edit the process flow. The Process Flows we ship with go in the program files area as templates, and then any customized one go in a separate area in shared data. This way we can freely update the templates without overwriting customized flows.

Process Flows

The primary goal of these Process Flows is to allow users to quickly find their tasks and launch screens without searching through the ERP’s giant tree of icons. Within the Process Flows, it is easy to include much more descriptive text of what needs to get done. Most small business products like Sage 50 ERP present the user with this model of navigation. However for mid-market ERP, having a number of static hard coded process flows is inadequate. With this tool you can customize Process Flows for all roles that a mid-market customer requires. You have the ability to add your own graphics and to be quite creative in the creation and look of these flows.

You could argue that Process Flows doesn’t give you anything new since you are still running the same old screens and after all you can customize the tree of icons to limit what a user sees to run. However from all our usability studies, we find that even with this, users still spend quite a lot of time searching for the correct screen to run, especially ones that they run very infrequently. Plus, I think the Process Flows are quite attractive and more appealing than just displaying a list of icons.

You can run one process flow from another, so using these you can construct wizards to step people through longer processes. A great use is to create Process Flow’s for our old setup checklists. Another thing you can do is have a master process flow that drills down into more detailed process flows, creating a more graphical representation of our tree of icons.

If you are familiar with Sage ERP X3 and its Process Flows, then you should feel right at home with the tool in Sage 300 ERP. You can even export a process flow from one product and import it into the other, then you just need to change the Sage ERP X3 screen codes to the Sage 300 ERP screen codes (rotoids like OE1100). The actual Process Flows are stored in JSON format, which is a text file format which is easy to deal with. Along the same lines if you have taken the Sage University course on working with Sage ERP X3 Process Flows then you already know how to work with Sage 300 ERP process flows.

Sage 100/500 ERP

These are being fitted into the Sage 300 ERP Desktop first, and then later they will be fitted into the Sage 100 ERP and Sage 500 ERP Desktops. Later we will also consider running these from our Sage 300 ERP Web Portal. For that matter we can look at other places to run the Process Flow tool, perhaps as a starting page for tablet applications for instance.

Sharing and Collaboration

I know partners like to charge for what they do, but it would be nice if there was a central place where Process Flows can be freely shared. I wonder if Sage started such a site; would many partners contribute to it? Would customers contribute to it? If there was a lot of contribution it could eventually provide a much larger library of Process Flows than anyone could develop individually. The stone soup approach has worked quite well in other areas, but I know when we tried this with Crystal Reports, it failed quite badly. Still crowd sourcing and open source techniques are a very effective manner to really build critical mass. Sage X3 ERP has over 150 process flows, the other Sage ERPs are starting from scratch but will leverage the X3 work to catch up. Hopefully with community participation we can exceed this by quite a bit.

Summary

Adding Visual Process Flows to all our products, not only makes them easier to learn and use, but it complements the various branding initiatives to start making all the various Sage ERPs become a family of related products. Plus this feature gives all our desktops a nice visual refresh to make them much more appealing and modern.

 

Sage’s Portfolio Strategy

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A key tenant of many self-improvement strategies is that it is far more worthwhile to work on strengthening your strengths rather than working on your weaknesses (for instance: this one). You are much more likely to succeed working on your strengths, where you are talented and interested. You have a very good chance of progressing from good to great and being great has the most value. If you work on your weaknesses, you probably won’t be happy or motivated and improving a little bit will not be externally visible. Generally unless a weakness is a real show stopper, you are far better off working developing your strengths.

The same is true for Software Development. Customers realize far more ROI when you strengthen the strong parts of the program. That is why they bought the program and love it. If they cared about weaker features they wouldn’t have purchased it in the first place.

Many times software products suffer from trying to be all things to all people. Perhaps analyzing a competitor’s product and then working on filling in any gaps between the two. But then this is done at the expense of working on the product’s main features and strengths. And does broadening the product like this really benefit customers?

Within Sage we have many competing ERP and CRM products. Often we get criticized if we develop one product in a certain way, but not another. But do we receive any benefit from moving all the products together towards one shared end point? All our products have separate heritages and separate strengths and weaknesses, are we better off strengthening the strengths rather than filling in the weaknesses? For instance if a product has a strong Manufacturing module, but a weak Services module are we better off strengthening the already strong Manufacturing module or propping up the weak Services module?

After all with-in Sage we aren’t really competing one of ERPs against another, but against external non-Sage competitors like Microsoft, Epicor, SAP, NetSuite, Salesforce, etc. So aren’t we better off strengthening the Manufacturing in one product to compete more effectively for those sales and then strengthening the Services module in a sister product that already has a strong Services module to compete for those sales. Again it’s a matter of remaining externally focused rather than having all the Sage products chasing after the same deals.

Similarly our Business Partners have choice. For instance if you are a Business Partner operating in the USA specializing in Manufacturing and selling MAS-500, perhaps rather than branching out to more industries and carrying additional ERP packages, it is better to concentrate on manufacturing and stick with MAS-500. But if you do want to branch out, for instance say your customers are doing more manufacturing overseas then perhaps you would consider picking up Sage ERP X3 which is also strong on Manufacturing and supports multi-country installations. But when looking to grow, sometimes specialization can take you from good to great in one thing, as opposed to branching out and risking being average in a number of things. This is a very difficult decision for businesses and often a very crucial decision to make as you consider how to grow your business.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules about which is the best fit. It isn’t based strictly on company size or vertical industry. For instance a small company may have very sophisticated inventory requirements that are far beyond what Accpac can handle, and for that company X3 is the better fit. Similarly a very large company can have very simple operational requirements that don’t require the advanced features in X3, and there perhaps the simplicity of Accpac is the best fit. Plus all the mid-market products have advanced customization capabilities and large ISV communities allowing each one to compete in a very large variety of deals.

Basically our approach is to manage our products as a portfolio. As we look to fill gaps in our market coverage, we are looking to extend our portfolio to cover any missing elements, rather than all the individual products. So rather than each product trying to fill every gap, we will choose the product that is the best solution and then develop that product to serve the need. This gives us far greater market coverage since each product can be extended in a different direction and then benefit Sage, its partners and customer by providing the broadest solution possible by leveraging the entire portfolio. Again building on our strengths, including the strength of our product diversity.

Migration Strategy

Sage is unique among the ERP vendors in that we have a large range of products that spans from the owner-operator all the way up to the small enterprises (upper mid-market). This allows us to leverage our portfolio strategy and create a migration strategy where customers can move from one Sage product to another as their business grows. Generally we segment this into four markets as the diagram shows:

An owner-operator that choses Sage Spark or SageOne, when ready to move to the next level will be more likely to choose another Sage product that meets his needs such as Simply Accounting, Peachtree, Sage 50 or Pastel, than go to a competitor. Especially if they have received a great customer experience from Sage and we provide a simple way for them to migrate their data. In the same way when they grow further they will hopefully choose on of MAS-90, MAS-500 or Accpac next and then as they grow bigger still they will consider moving to Sage ERP X3. This also assumes that we have a selection that works well for their business, and by having a choice of complementary products, the possibility is much greater.

For mid-market ERP this is crucial, since the days of non-consumption are over. Everyone is already running some sort of ERP package. In fact, by far the most new sales of mid-market ERP that we get are people out-growing and moving up from a Small Business ERP whether one from Sage or one from one of our competitors. The second highest category is people moving off a home grown custom programmed system that has become too expensive to maintain. These studies show that doing migration well is a key enabler of new sales.

Just to show some of our variety, below are screen shots from four of our mid-market ERP packages: Sage ERP MAS 90, Sage ERP MAS 500, Sage ERP Accpac and Sage ERP X3.

Summary

It would be nice if all our Business Partners carried and were expert in all our products. Then for each deal they could step forward with the best product to compete with the various external companies for a deal. It would be nice if all our Business Partners could shepherd our clients from one Sage package to another as the client’s business grew and their needs changed. We know we are a long way from this goal and that it can never be fully achieved, but we are working to develop our products within this framework and to put new programs into place to make this an easier process.

Written by smist08

January 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Business

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