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The Tech Take

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Once again I feel the need to focus more on a single topic rather than the news of the week -- and I promise this will be the last time for a while -- but with the show floor going through final sweeping at Sage Summit I thought it appropriate to give my take on the week-long user and partner event.

As many of you know, Sage North America has, well, gone through many changes in the past few years -- some of which have been highly publicized, but with them trying to get closer to accountants and customers while attempting to maintain some balance with their reseller channel, it’s been interesting and worth a closer look.

The first standout, for me, was the apparent reduction in attendees to the partner portion of the event. This was not really a surprise -- however notable -- given that earlier in the year Sage sold off three product lines: the nonprofit accounting unit, SalesLogix, and ACT!  Even so, it was still a fair showing, about 1,800 I was told but it looked more like 1,500-1,600.

More important than the numbers, really, was what came out of the keynote address or, rather, what did not. Every year for the past few years the keynote address was either given by a new executive, announced some kind of reorganization, or talked about rebranding -- bombshell-type news. This year, however, there was no bombshell; no big surprise or reveal.

In contrast, Sage North America chief executive Pascal Houillon and his colleagues delivered more of a State of the Union address, touting the past year or so’s accomplishments with branding and product and firmly stating, “We said we would do X and we did.”

Also of note was the appearance of Guy Berruyer, CEO of Sage Plc (the U.K.-based parent company, for those unfamiliar), who took some of the keynote thunder from Houillon.

He had never made it to a Sage Summit event, but took the time to stress the importance of the North America division, which apparently accounts for just over 50 percent of Sage’s overall business. Did not know that.

Certainly some attendees were wondering why Berruyer was even there; a few were even concerned he may have some “bombshell”-type news rather than coming by as a cheerleader. He was well received, as was Houillon’s message of positivity. Even so, one couldn’t help but wonder where discussions about “core” products like CRM were, as well as the lack of mention of any social media-like efforts.

Even so, there was a good amount of attention during the entire conference on moving the ERP line (Sage 100, 300 and X3 in particular) to “the cloud,” which will be in the form of hosting on Microsoft Azure. Mobility will also be pretty big for Sage too, in fact there was a well-received demo of a voice-enabled mobile application (a la Siri) that will allow access to data in its FAS and ERP products.

The other big standout, again for me, was how Sage appears to be moving closer to accountants --something it has had difficulty or few efforts in the past.

Sage’s vice president of partner programs Jennifer Warawa and Maryland Association of CPAs CEO Tom Hood were on hand to unveil -- in my opinion -- Sage’s largest accountant-centric effort ever. This came in the form of a partnership between Sage and the Business Learning Institute (founded by the MACPA in 1999). The two will, this year, roll out a new CPE program for accounting professionals in conjunction with the Business Learning Institute.

The new partnership will offer Web and live, in-person learning tracks focused on giving accountants more information on how they can grow their service offerings. The program also offers three separate tracks, with flexible and versatile training options: The technical expert track is geared at the CPA who is content with his or her practice structure, acts as an advisor to clients, and wants to enhance skills; the aspiring track attracts the accounting professional who wants to provide more consultative services to clients; and the visionary track focuses on the accounting professionals who are early adopters of technology, and already act as an advisor to clients.

To me, this is one of the key things that both established and younger accountants and CPAs need. Not more “change-mongering” and diatribe on how they need to do more to attract new business and deal with new technology but actual learning on what to do. This is something similar to what the AICPA through CPA2Biz has been trying to do as well, with its Digital CPA efforts as well as its white paper and new Crossing the Chasm tool, designed to help firms and businesses figure out where they truly are in the scheme of technology adoption and how to get to the next level. This app from CPA2Biz, with insights from business strategist Geoffrey Moore -- author of Crossing the Chasm -- is one of the more pointed tools on the market to help businesses make a real plan on how to evolve.

Between these two efforts, change management at CPA firms of all sizes may be well at hand. And for Sage, while their efforts aren’t directly about selling or even pitching product, if it happens as a natural course of events they will certainly welcome it.

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