Just thought I’d mix my metaphors a little, but in this case it’s an appropriate mix.
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with Sage. Around the time of the ill-fated release of their SageLive product last year, I spent some time talking to the parent company in the UK about the offering and about SaaS in general. I also commented a little around some “issues” they were having with SaaS accounting company KashFlow – trying to get a little bit of balance around the usual corporate bashing mentality.
Then recently I was approached by the US division of Sage to talk about some stuff they’re doing in that market. All in all the contact has been somewhat sporadic and symptomatic (in my mind) of corporate lethargy and inertia.
I was pleasantly surprised then to have received some contact from Sage’s parent company, Sage PLC, with the message that Sage wanted to reach out to myself and a number of other industry commentators to understand where their company communications were poor and where they could improve on them.
I’ve spent several hours in the past few weeks talking to a couple of people connected with Sage and I’m heartened that they’re starting to realise that they need to engage with their community of interest.
Just the other day Dennis posted a somewhat scathing (and arguably deservedly so) commentary on an interview with Sage’s CEO Paul Walker. In my mind one paragraph summed up the issues that Sage (and to be fair other legacy vendors face);
Sage has had many opportunities to engage with people who do ‘get it’ but so far has presented a ‘tin ear.’ This is a common problem in the software industry where past success is seen as the road for the future, regardless of the surrounding facts. It’s almost as though vendors live in an alternative reality.
The contact I’ve had in recent weeks goes some way to assuring me that the “tin ear” is softening somewhat, but the fact remains that cloud computing is a growing trend and on so many levels these incumbents are apprehensive to do any more than dip their toes into it. Walker commented that;
In the back office accounting area, business solutions, we’re seeing very small, slow growth in terms of demand [for cloud computing]. We have a number of products that meet that demand that so far is relatively modest….it’s going to be a three- to five-year journey as you move up that curve of more and more people demanding cloud computing.
The peril of course of being a massive player (Sage has around six million customers for its desktop products) is that micro trends can build significant momentum without showing up “on the radar”. It’s what has happened in the past few years to the publishing industry and to the music industry (although in fairness most saw that coming). Sage and other listed companies also have the double edged sword of shareholder pressure to maintain understood and consistent revenue patterns – the subscription models are just too different to the shrinkwrap, sell in every corner store model that they’re used to.
So I give Sage significant kudos for reaching out and contacting some of us, but I’m also mindful that they’ve created an air of expectation, the hope of an organisation that proactively talks to industry commentators, both as a public relations channel, but more importantly from a product development perspective.
Watch this space…