Meet the accountant leading Sage's global play

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Talk in the City among investors this week has revolved around the “new Sage” emerging under the leadership of CEO Stephen Kelly, who moved to the accounting software house in the autumn from his previous role as the government’s chief operating officer.

For accountants around the world, however, the most visible face of new Sage is likely to be Jennifer Warawa, a Canadian trained accountant who became global vice president for accountant product marketing in April.

Within weeks of her appointment, Sage launched the Sage Impact version of Sage One, which is scheduled to hit the streets in July with a couple of additional enhancements.

Sage Impact is as good a symbol as any of the new approach. Sage demonstrated a concept practice package at the 2014 Accountex event and when Warawa sat down with colleagues for the first time in her new role the decision was made that “we needed to go to Accountex with this hub - we needed to rock ‘n’ roll”.

When colleagues suggested the deadline was crazy, her response was, “Crazy or not, we need to get this done.”

The resources were found to support a 24/7 transatlantic programming binge to get Sage Impact ready for its public debut.

“When we delivered, it proved we can get things done at a totally different pace than before. It’s pretty exciting for our people to work on a global solution. It’s been a real cultural transformation in way we work.”

After the initial sprint, Warawa’s taking a step back to consider deeper questions about Sage’s position in cloud accounting - and the profession’s deeper needs.

Like many Sage executives, Warawa talks about the focus on customer experiences and needs. “It’s very easy for me to put customers first, because I was the customer,” she said.

Warawa used to own her own practice in Canada and regularly appeared at Sage conferences to talk about her experiences until the company asked her to join eight years ago.

“I saw that Sage wasn’t moving fast enough at the time. I was asking for stuff that wasn’t being delivered fast enough,” she said.

Fired by the belief that she could change things, Warawa first ran Sage’s accountants’ division in Canada and then assumed responsibility for the same operation in the USA. During this period she developed an informal network with European colleagues that was put on a more formal footing when Kelly introduced a new global product regime across all Sage’s divisions in the spring.

“I understand the profession and the challenges they face being business owners. I may speak to them about technology, but I can also talk about the business model transition and the future of the profession.

“I’m genuinely interested in where profession is heading. I see a tremendous opportunity that didn’t exist before.”

Warawa’s attention is now focused on what Sage can do to create the technology to support that transition. “It’s not a me-too play,” she said. “It’s about predicting how firms will work in the future and developing technology to leap frog ahead and get them there.”

But there’s still a way to go. Initial customer reactions to both Sage One and its cloud reporting companion Sage View (now bundled with Sage Impact) were underwhelming. During its initial years, Warawa admitted, “Sage One wasn’t where it needed to be, but it’s there now.”

However, Warawa thinks some of the resistance Sage encountered to its cloud products is down to uncertainty among accountants about what the new tools allow them to do.

Sage View, for example, failed to set the market alight in North America since it was introduced last November. “Accountants love it, but they don’t know where to start,” said Warawa. “They need help translating the alerts into advisory services.

“We were a little early for the market. They’re still trying to figure out how to transform their firm to make use of real time data. But we’re patient. We are working right now on how to overcome that with very tangible ways to make that transition.”

If the messages coming from Sage are all about cloud - just as they are from all of the market’s other leading accounting software providers - Warawa is keen to stress that continuity remains an important part of the company’s brand.

While bringing in a new team of programmers to create global Sage cloud applications, Sage has also pledged not to “end of life” any of its desktop products.

“We need to make sure we do right for tax and compliance on desktop,” she continued. “We won’t push them to cloud. “

But the advent of online bookkeeping has turned the software market into a global game. Sage, Xero, Intuit and Exact are all chasing are hundreds of thousands of start-up businesses looking for a new approach to accounting, and the accountants serving them.

“Our competitors can make more noise because they have consistent products and they say consistent things in every market. We have paid the price for playing geographies separately. We weren’t telling a consistent story and couldn’t get global momentum,” Warawa said.

But with operations in 24 countries she argues that Sage has a significant advantage.  “When you look at Sage One we win over competitors because we are in the local markets. Because someone is using our products there, we have a deep understanding of tax, compliance and payroll. We’re going to keep the local presence, but look at global opportunities for software development, technology partnerships and third party applications.”

The effect of Sage’s global outlook is reflected in accelerating product developments such as Sage Impact and Sage Life, the mid-market co-development with “When Steven started we were talking about whether we needed to build something for that market. Now we’re at the point where it was launched last month, and will be generally available in July. That pace is across everything,” Warawa said.

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight

AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.


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By puzzel
25th Jun 2015 20:39

“Sage One wasn’t where it needed to be, but it’s there now.”

Who are you kidding.

Not able to have various sections open at the same time, banking and nominal what ever you choose.

A bank reconciliation can take 2 hours more than normal, because you have to exit the bank reconciliation to make a supplier payment or post a payment for insurance. You can only adjust for bank charges and interest within the bank reconciliation.

It is no way as flexible as the desktop version, and many don't like Sage as it is.

Post a payment/journal whatever, then wait a minute or two for the bank data to update, otherwise if you go back to the bank reconciliation too quick, the entry that you have just made is not there.

Thanks (1)
27th Jun 2015 12:44

Sage Impact …

One trusts that Sage impact does not have the same impact as the debacle of SageLive !

As for

‘.. However, Warawa thinks some of the resistance Sage encountered to its cloud products is down to uncertainty among accountants about what the new tools allow them to do ..’

A bit of history would not go amiss here – suggest Ms Warawa looks up SageLive – IT IS NOT UNCERTAINTY – IT’s TRUST

Ms  Warawa still does’nt get it

‘.. “Our competitors can make more noise because they have consistent products and they say consistent things in every market. We have paid the price for playing geographies separately. We weren’t telling a consistent story and couldn’t get global momentum,” Warawa said ..’

No! no! no! – in the early days of ASP/SaaS Sage refused to engage and only woke up to the fact that they had missed the boat with their attempt at SageLive, which was an unmitigated disaster.

You can only be consistent with a product if you have one in the first place and Sage did not have a Cloud offering for many years

By ignoring ASP/SaaS Sage did their clients a great dis-service and affected the whole Cloud take-up scenario by setting it back a few years because with their involvement could have gained traction a lot earlier. All because they were either too thick to realise the potential of ASP/SaaS or were trying to put their own interests (selling boxes .v. subscription model) above those of their clients – either way they failed and hopefully they will pay the price

Being charitable, would you really want to form an alliance with a ‘thick’ software developer or one that put itself before its customers

And now that they have realised that Cloud is the way forward they want to jump on the bandwagon – so much for innovation etc.. anyway with a bit of luck their customer base will come to realise exactly what sort of company they are

For a start – how about some answers –

In the end they probably need to stick to being an advertising company – that way you can con all the clients all the time – because they are certainly not an innovative, capable software company

And this is from the software company that took great pride in advertising a few years back that they answered '21,000 support calls a day' - surely no support calls would have been the desired result?

Thanks (0)
28th Jun 2015 13:28


I continue to be baffled as to how sage not only still exists but it's share price continues to grow .

(Although with a PE of nearly 25 it is surely over priced)

Would appear that you can fool all the people....etc

Thanks (0)
29th Jun 2015 12:03

Possibility that the old dog can learn new tricks?

You've got some justified points, JC - for example on the Sage Drive crash that you alerted them (and us) to in May - but an awful lot of your latest diatribe is based on behaviours that took place several years ago.

As a representative of the desktop accounting software generation, Sage does have a lot of baggage. But then so does Intuit, and that company has been responding to the cloud threat and appears to be retaining its lead in North America.

I would share your conclusion that historically marketing has been their stronger point than technological innovation. As Jennifer acknowledged, the long acquisiton trail and leaving all the national subsidiaries to juggle their different product families (and code bases) as they saw fit would eventually bog down what development work Sage did undertake.

But does historic behaviour determine future behaviour, or to put it in a more common question, can a desktop developer make the switch to cloud? Intuit is making a pretty impressive stab at it, and what particularly interests me about Sage's recent shift is that they ARE beginning to write interesting code - and doing it pretty quickly.

In case anyone needs reminding, Sage beat both QuickBooks Online and Xero to market with a flexible KPI dashboarding too - and Sage One works with other systems (including desktop) than the cloud-based Sage One.

Sage has a big mountain to climb, particularly in North America, but putting a switched-on accountant in charge of product development looks like a very sensible step in the right direction. It was great to meet Jennifer and hear her point of view in person. And from what I heard, the global cloud software race is going to get very interesting in the next year or two.

Thanks (1)
29th Jun 2015 15:28

Does history reflect the future …

Possibility that the old dog can learn new tricks? – alternatively, can a leopard change its spots?

Interesting that you describe historic facts as a ‘diatribe’ – a word often used to denigrate without putting forward an alternative. Very simply, if one disagrees with the facts as stated, then produce a compelling argument explaining why they are wrong; but failing to contradict a statement whilst simultaneously trying to discredit it, is rather weak approach

Until there is a demonstrable change (paradigm shift) with Sage then one would suggest that history does reflect clear-cut patterns that are repeated in the future – we may not like the concept of the status quo but it has been shown to be true many times throughout history and so far Sage has done nothing (except rhetoric) to disprove things

Surely the point with Sage is that many of the issues may have historic origins but have not been fixed for years and even remain today in some of the existing offerings. Despite the fact that Sage know about these problems, nothing has been done to fix them. Hardly historic and indicative of an on-going mind-set demonstrating that history may indeed reflect the future, especially as these longstanding issues remain in the current versions of some of their applications

From a personal point of view I have absolutely no idea whether Sage ‘.. ARE beginning to write interesting code ..’ because so far as I am aware their code is not in the public domain and as such is not open to peer review. If on the other hand you mean a nice looking UI then that is another matter and surely subjective, but one has no idea what is going on under the hood

Of course a desktop developer can make the transition to browser based systems – although, it is worth remembering that browsers are a stateless environment and therefore some aspects of development can be more convoluted than on a desktop

On the Sage One front – I accept that ‘.. Sage One works with other systems (including desktop) than the cloud-based Sage One ..’

However, the one thing that nobody from Sage or anyone else has managed to explain satisfactorily is the statement from their web-site

‘.. Any changes you make will then synchronise through the cloud with your main site ..’

Perhaps you could therefore encourage Sage to provide a full explanation to the following questions on how Sage implements their client/server data updates

- How do they deal with contention between the same edited record being updated by two (or more) different people at the same time in different locations?

- If the same edited record from different locations is loaded, which users version of the record takes precedence if they are uploaded concurrently to their server data depository - and is user of the ‘losing’ record (overwritten one) notified that their change has been discarded?

- Expanding upon the above scenario - what happens if one introduces different time-zones into the equation so date/time stamps cannot be relied upon?

Only by answering this type of question satisfactorily will Sage engender any confidence on their capabilities in a Cloud environment or with Sage Drive - but to date they have yet to respond - perhaps Jennifer can make this one of her first tasks - ensuring valid questions are answered rather than avoided

Thanks (1)

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