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Sage promises a deliberate approach to cloud computing

Business software vendor Sage is rolling-out new cloud offerings and a roadmap with more to come, but promises it won't be rushing into the off-premise world

NASHVILLE, TENN. – Sage North America put cloud computing and a mobility strategy front and centre as it opened its Summit partner conference on Monday, but CEO Pascal Houillon (pictured) warned those that want Sage to move faster into the cloud that its approach will be deliberate.

“Some have accused Sage of moving too slowly on cloud computing,” acknowledged Houillon. “(But) let’s not move to the too fast category.”

Despite that note of caution. Sage executives made several cloud-related announcements and outlined a hybrid cloud strategy that will see Sage’s core platforms focus on key business functions, with additional functionality available through the cloud on a subscription basis, allowing customers to pick just features they want and need. Houillon is also focusing Sage’s research and development focus more tightly, with hybrid cloud offerings being the priority.

Sage’s cloud vision is tied to Connected Services, a hybrid of on premise and cloud-based services it launched last year. Himanshu Palsule, who was recently promoted to become Sage’s CTO and head of product strategy, said customers want a common experience across platforms, and are getting tired of feature fatigue. It’s why Sage is working to scale-back complex platforms and replace them with Connected Services, where customers can pick for and pay for the features they want.

As part of this transition, while Sage 500 ERP (formerly MAS 500) will continue to be supported for at least five years, the vendor will be working with partners to provide clear migration paths to products such as Sage ERP X3. Other products are also being sun-setted.

A flagship product of Sage’s new cloud focus is Sage One, a cloud-based service offering booking, invoicing, project management and other business management tools for small businesses. Sage has also announced new cloud applications as part of Sage ERP X3, adding cloud-based CRM integration with SalesLogix and cloud-based payment products to its latest release. New cloud-based capabilities were also demonstrated, including a tablet application to allow field sales staff to feed orders directly into their Sage order-taking and processing and payment processing systems.

“A hybrid cloud model allows customers to access all these services and devices without disrupting their on-premise investments,” said Palsule. “But if you want to move from on-premise to cloud, we can do that too.”

Houillion added Sage doesn’t want to become a pure SaaS player, as that’s not what customers are asking for.

“They want to preserve their investment but leverage the cloud at the same time,” said Houillion. “We’re going to move step by step introducing some services in the cloud, and reducing core applications by moving some services to the cloud.

The hybrid cloud approach is resonating with several of Sage’s Canadian reseller partners. George Braun, president of Markham, Ont.-based TGO Consulting, is a Microsoft Dynamics partner that started working with Sage ERP X3 about one year ago. He came to Summit wanting to understand Sage’s cloud strategy better.

“It’s still early,” said Braun, although he said he’s satisfied with Sage’s direction. “Customers are asking about cloud right now but they’re not buying. I like the tablet (applications), and the direction with tablets and the cloud with a hybrid model including on-premise. Giving clients choice is what you want.”

The importance of offering clients choice is echoed by Imran Syed, marketing manager with BAASS Business Solutions, a long-time Sage partner based in Thornhill, Ont.

“We love options, and what Sage is doing with the hybrid model is listening to the customer base and providing options,” said Syed. “Providing options is what will make it attractive, and the cloud option makes us competitive in different areas and with new pricing models, reducing barriers to entry for certain companies.”

It’s going to take an education process to get customer there though added BAASS president Joseph Arnone, who notes with Canadians being typically slower to adopt new technologies they haven’t had too much demand for cloud-based ERP yet. But they’ll get there.

“I like the hybrid model they’ve introduced. With the common applications clients are able to use it starts them on that road to the cloud,” said Arnone. “I like that X3 will be fully cloud, and for our Accpac clients that’s their path to growth.”

Mobility is a big ask for BAASS clients today though said Arnone. Before Sage’s announcement today of its new tablet integration, BAASS had already developed its own mobile applications internally so clients with sales people could do orders on the road, with their iPads.