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 Salesforce.com. “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
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.