“I’m not sure Sage is really innovating right now, but at least they are showing signs of change.”

This was a quote from a Sage North America partner at the recent Sage Summit partner and user conference, and it resonated with me on a number of levels. For the most part, I tend to agree.

When it comes to its product line, Sage has predominantly tweaked its offerings with the goal of better meeting its customer needs or expectations but, by and large, since the family of now Sage products came together several years ago, it has been an uphill battle to even establish who Sage is in North America.

To be fair, it seems they haven’t had a whole lot of time to focus on innovation, predominantly focusing on building its product arsenal through acquisition until the recession hit. In fact, it wasn’t until last year that the company came out with the grand plan of rebranding all of its products under one name -- a process that, from a marketing standpoint, can take years and may still not yield favorable results.

But this year, the tone of Sage Summit was different, and it appears that the company is ready to change more than just its product names. Sage’s message was, in fact, abundantly clear that it intends to compete in the current and future landscape of business technologies and offer more cloud, mobile, and even hybrid SaaS and on-premises versions of its products.

More importantly, Sage was heavily touting its first SaaS product for the North America market, SageOne, which is primarily designed to go after truly small business with a maximum of nine employees -- a market it claims it was never hitting, even with its most entry-level product.

Not that we won’t continue to see some improvements to Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree), but even chief executive Pascal Houillon last year admitted that Peachtree is “still not the [low-end] market leader here; Intuit is. We don't think [rebranding to Sage 50] is a big risk and the weight of retail on our revenue is not as big as you would think.”

That was then; now Sage may have something in SageOne that can at least attempt to go up against QuickBooks, QuickBooks Online and possibly other pure cloud players that hope to topple the small-business accounting giant, or at least put a good dent in its business.

The company is also working on something code-named Syracuse that is essentially Sage ERP X3 designed to be a fully Web-enabled ERP platform for the mid-market. We may see that offering in 2013.

Again, much like SageOne, this Web product too will see some key competition from the likes of NetSuite, SAP, Acumatica and others. But still, it is new -- for Sage – and shows that they are willing to throw their hat in the SaaS ERP ring, which is a far cry from last year’s message of pushing Connected Services as its answer to cloud. This is not to say that Connected Services won’t be a big part of Sage’s strategy going forward, but we finally have the company trying to build new products for the next generation.

Granted, X3 is a Sage product that got a makeover to come to the North American market, but this new version at least sounds more forward-looking.

Sage is also looking more mobile — well, more than it ever has — with its Sage Mobile Sales app, which is designed to integrate with Sage ERP products, including 50, 100, 300, 500 and X3.  At the same time, one of Sage’s top VARs, Blytheco, now has a mobile app that can be used on any current mobile platform and customized to extract select data from Sage 100. But again, Sage is coming up with new offerings, rather than just trying to enhance or add on to existing ones, which it will likely continue to do for most of its product line over the foreseeable future.

So what does it all mean? I’d say Sage has taken a fair share of kicking around in recent history, and may still. It hasn’t yet worked through all of its rebranding issues, though nothing major has come up from a sales perspective beyond its channel having to occasionally explain that Sage 300 is not necessarily “better” than Sage 100, or a natural upgrade.

Yes, executives will continue to come and go at Sage, and we may even see some “non-core” products fall by the wayside over time; allegedly, Sage 500 is the first one on that chopping block but not for another five years anyway. Regardless, Sage will still be standing for a while and, as they say, change isn’t always a bad thing.

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