For the last few years, Jim Foster has had a key role in running a major part of Sage Software's organization as executive vice president where he was responsible for strategy, operations and planning for the company's mid-market lines. In a sweeping reorganization announced in May, Foster was chosen as Sage's first chief technology officer and is in charge of developing ways to integrate the company's line of unrelated software products that have been assembled through acquisition.
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Sage narrowed the focus of Foster's work as it classified some of its products as strategic, meaning they will get research and development funds, along with full marketing support, and classified others as value products, which will not get the same funds.
In this interview, conducted at the Sage Software Insights reseller conference in May, Foster discussed Sage's plans, past and future for integration.
Sage had previously announced the Integration Framework. What happened to that effort?
It still exists. We acquired Dynalink from the Macdonald Consulting Group. It's exchanging data and some processes between MAS 500, Sales Logix MAS 90 and Sage CRM. We probably painted too big a vision for Dynalink. It's not as big a picture. It's one of three pictures.
How far along is the integration effort?
We started this a year ago as a small team. We tried to find out "What do we need to do from a customer perspective and a partner perspective?" We are not going to rework every one of these products to go to a new framework. For example, we are using Gobi, which is a presentation layer that we are rolling out first in SalesLogix, and next in one of the ERP products. We are creating more layers in all our products as we move to more of a service-oriented architecture. It will enable us to provide a rich user experience in terms of multiple-device support, including the Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices.
What kind of decisions do you need to make to accomplish integration?
The project lets us take the research and development money that we had spent on all the products. With the creation of the strategic and value products, we are aggregating that money. We need to find out how we can create common components and a common process so we don't invent it 50 times, just one time.
What goals do you have for design?
We need to improve the interfaces of the accounting systems. Most are awful. It's nothing that gives you a good experience. The next generation of workers has a whole different view of how systems should work, that they should be meaningful. They have a collaborative view. And it's got to be simple. We have too much complexity in everything we have.
Last year, [CEO] Ron Verni announced that Sage would be database agnostic and support multiple databases. Is that still the case?
Database agnostic? We still are. We have made a mandate that all the ERP products will support at least two SQL Engines, not just SQL Server. We have signed an agreement to put MySQL into the Peachtree line. The products that we are choosing to go forward with will get some kind of SQL support. The back-end server part of technology is getting to be more essential to customers. We want them to be able to choose what kind of infrastructure products they can deploy.
Does Sage also plan to utilize other open-source applications?
We are using as many open-source items as we can in order to provide the capabilities that Microsoft likes to add into "the stack." Users don't necessarily want the stack; they want some of that capability. For example, Google is trying to compete with SharePoint, that is allowing collaboration on the Net. That is something that we support, and we will probably support SharePoint as well.
Are there other plans for finding alternatives to Microsoft products?
One of the models I would like to remove is one in which all of the Microsoft products have to be loaded. Suppose you say, 'I don't need Word. How do I get rid of Outlook? I don't need all this.'