Education, collaboration and innovation were the central themes swirling around Insights 2008 — the sixth annual reseller conference of business management software provider Sage Software.More than 3,000 attendees, including 1,800 resellers, flocked to the four-day confab held here last month to learn more about the products, to network, to glean new ideas and strategies, and to meet Sue Swenson, the new president and chief executive of the software conglomerate’s North America unit.

“You may be expecting me to come out with some big proclamations about what Sage is going to do to march to a different drummer,” Swenson said during her keynote address. “I hate to disappoint you, but I think it’s early for our first meeting. It’s certainly a great market and a great industry,” she added. “It’s also a great business.”

Some 20 percent of U.K.-based Sage’s 25,000 resellers are in North America.

Despite flat first-half revenues for its North American unit, at $500 million, energy at the conference was high, with a series of new product releases coupled with demonstrations and networking events highlighting the event.

“It’s great,” said Delvon Cowans, a project manager at MCG Business Solutions in Mobile, Ala., who has attended for three years. “It’s your one chance to see the people you talk to on the phone all day long, your one chance to mingle with upper management.”

At this year’s meeting, action seemed to speak louder than words.

Nina Smith, president of the company’s Business Management Division, acknowledged this, and although she tossed out boilerplate buzzwords and market trends such as “easy everything,” “ease of use,” “going mobile” and “globalization” during her keynote, she stressed that this is the time the company needs to present tangible solutions and answers for both partners and customers.

“We must have the right solution and the right products on the market,” she said. “We have to have the right relationships and the right presence culminating in the right experience for our customers.”

READY TO LAUNCH

The show also provided a platform for new product releases and upgrades, albeit many were accompanied by non-specific timelines.

Sage Accpac, Peachtree, Sage MAS 500, Sage MAS 90 and Sage MAS 200 were among the brands trumpeting scheduled new rollouts, while products such as DacEasy, Sage Pro, TimeSlips and Sage BusinessWorks are set to feature new releases as well.

A new strategy, “Extended Enterprise Approach,” also was unveiled at the conference, an effort that includes the concept of total office integration through new suite offerings for Sage MAS 90 and 200, which will be available in late June. According to Sage, the goal of the suite approach is to provide employees in sales, service, finance, operations and management with an integrated, “360-degree” view of business operations.

“It’s not just about the front office and back office,” Smith said. “It’s about linking people and how work flows in and out of the organization.”

Those in the CRM group also shared progress reports on their recently launched Sage CRM Solutions 2010 Strategy. The strategy guides the global development of the Sage CRM Solutions family comprised of Act! By Sage, Sage CRM and Sage SalesLogix.

“It’s a comprehensive business and technology strategy that is intended to drive the delivery of CRM on a worldwide basis,” explained Joe Bergera, executive vice president and global general manager of Sage CRM Solutions. “We want to create a really powerful synergy among our products.”

Aside from the upcoming Sage MAS 90 and 200 Extended Enterprise Suites release, which includes integrated Sage CRM, mobile capability is available through SalesLogix Mobile V. 5.1. The group also launched a new partner-hosted Act! program that offers users subscription-based licensing of the Act! By Sage Premium for the Web.

“The trends in the mid-market are getting squeezed,” explained Himanshu Palsule, executive vice president of the strategic business unit of Sage. “I don’t worry about the people from the top coming down. I lose sleep on the competitors who have figured out ease of use in the lower end of the market moving up.”

The conference also saw the rollout of Quantum 2009, a new version of Peachtree by Sage, which includes capacity for up to 30 users, an increase from the original 10-user access. Specifically for certified resellers who carry products in both the Business Management Division and the Industry and Specialized Solutions Division, the company reworked its Partner Advantage Program to include an oft-called-for single-sign-on partner portal at www.sagepartnerportal.com.

Also announced this year were three additional slots in the President’s Circle — awards for resellers who generate the most revenue for the company. For 2007, MIS Group, out of Dallas, was named Business Partner of the Year.

A PATH TO GROW

Aside from the announcements and updates, the conference provided time for attendees to network and gather ideas on how to grow their business.

“I’m a first-timer,” said Michael Block, a managing partner at SoftConx Solutions in Park Ridge, Ill. “We introduced a new product that integrates with several of the Sage Software offerings. This is my first introduction to the Sage community of VARs. Sage is very supportive of its partners. We’re here to spread the word and find those partners who can tune in to what our product does.”

“I come to see what’s new with my particular line — Accpac and Business Works — and to see people I haven’t seen in a while,” said Stephen Palmerio of Paradigm Technology Consulting in East Windsor, N.J. “Seems to be new commitment all the way around, at least from the Accpac end. The promises they made last year were delivered on overall user-ability. I’m happy.”

“I’ve been to too many of these things,” said Geoffrey Boulden of Twelve Three Marketing, a sales force automation company in Amherst, N.Y. “I have this inverse thing [going on]. The higher up the speaker, the less I learn. I’m here for specifics. I like tech sessions; we get into the real nuts and bolts of the products. Sage is a pretty good business to work with. I hope the current team, just for the sake of stability, stays there.”

Perhaps Gerard Brown, of MIS Consulting & Sales Inc., in Beaverton, Ohio, summed up the mood best. “You get to meet a lot of different people in upper management,” said Brown, who sells Sage PFW ERP. “It has given me a sense that we are important. That all the products are important and they’re listening.”

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