Sage Challenge: Update Aging Products To Attract New Buyers

"Our installed base of customers expect a superior ownership experience from our products," said Sage North America CTO Motasim Najeeb, delivering Tuesday's keynote speech at Insights, the vendor's channel partner conference taking place in Nashville, Tenn., this week. "But most of all, they expect stability from one release to another."

That's a problem, given the emphasis from Sue Swenson, president and CEO, and other Sage North America executives on winning new customers for the company's products to jump-start growth after sales in the first six months of fiscal 2009 declined 9 percent.

"Some of our products have fallen behind the technology curve and need increased R&D investment," acknowledged Najeeb, who was named CTO in January. Najeeb, who previously held management positions at TradeBeam, Oracle and WebMD, said he has spent much of his first five months on the job visiting Sage's development centers and reviewing the company's product strategy.

Najeeb said the task facing the company means walking a fine line between keeping the customer base happy while updating its products to make them attractive alternatives to software from Microsoft, and other competitors.

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For current owners of such Sage products as MAS 90, Act, Peachtree, AccPac and Abra, Sage is emphasizing performance and stability, product quality, integration with other Sage applications, and simplified upgrade and installation capabilities in new software releases, Najeeb said. On-time delivery is another checklist item: Sage is committing to annual new releases of most of its products.

For new customers, Sage is developing new graphical user interfaces for many of its products, adding support for relational/SQL databases, and building in business intelligence capabilities. A new version of the AccPac ERP application set, for example, will offer both a new user interface along with the current one. An upcoming release of Sage MAS 90 will support SQL databases while continuing to support aging ISAM databases.

"It's needed," said Dave Beath, president of DAPL Accounting Systems, a Guelph, Ont.-based Sage solution provider and AccPac reseller, of the company's plans. While he said AccPac is a pretty flexible product, "the rest of the Sage product line needs that as well." He pointed to the Sage MAS line of ERP applications that he said have a "dedicated group of customers who don't want to change. But new customers' needs are different from those who have been customers for 20 years."

Offering what appear to be entirely new products for prospective customers will be key as the economy begins to improve, Najeeb said. "The SMB market will likely be the first to blossom and start investing in information technology again," he predicted.

As part of his keynote, the CTO also spoke about what he sees as three key trends in IT: cloud computing, mobile computing and collaboration networks. While he said it would likely be three to five years before Software-as-a-Service surpasses on-premise software, he called it "an important trend that over time will gain widespread adoption."

The explosion in mobile computing is "making mobile devices the new client platform," and Najeeb said Sage is adding mobile capabilities to some of its products, including providing GPS capabilities to the mobile client for its SalesLogix CRM software. In addition, the vendor is using collaboration software to build online communities for such products as Peachtree and Act.